TAMPA — Extra reading time, a state mandate that has some school districts in knots, has been an easier adjustment in Hillsborough County, administrators say.
While the state's list of 300 low-performing schools includes 26 in Hillsborough, officials say they can adjust to the new requirements without too much disruption.
The list, based on reading scores, represents an expansion of the state effort, which used to target 100 schools for an additional daily hour of reading.
But, even with the large number of schools that are affected, Hillsborough officials say they're in a good position because they already provide more school hours than the state requires.
Students in kindergarten through third grade, even in schools on the list, already spend enough time in school to satisfy the state mandate, said deputy superintendent Jeff Eakins.
More time is needed for fourth and fifth grade in schools on the list, but only 30 minutes.
Within the student day, children will get an hour of reading time beyond what the other schools get, Eakins said. And, although the state does not require it, schools that made the list will provide four more weeks of summer instruction so kids don't regress.
In some cases, adjustments to the schedule have resulted in a day that will actually be shorter.
"We'll be sending students home at 2:45 p.m. instead of 3:30," said Julie Scardino, principal of Sulphur Springs Elementary School, which got a C this year from the state but is on the list.
Sulphur Springs is unusual in that none of its students ride the bus. They'll be able to start their day at 8 a.m., as they did last year.
At other schools, where buses are on a tight schedule, the 30 minutes will be divided into 15 in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.
The state mandate comes at a time when Hillsborough's reading proficiency rate for grades three through five is 60 percent, exactly the same as the state's, according to this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That's two percentage points higher than the 2013 results.
Scardino said students have plenty of opportunities to get individual help in reading and other subjects if they need it. Extended learning activities are offered before and after school. "The lessons are hands-on and engaging, meant to further develop students' understanding of content," she said. Saturday academies last year helped the students boost their writing scores, she said.
While Scardino looks forward to giving her teachers planning time at the end of the day, Robles principal Bonnie McDaniel is gearing up for an expanded day.
It's a surprisingly easy sell, she said.
"All of the parents who I've shared this with in our community are welcoming it," she said. "Our students will become more powerful readers. My students will be excited."
Rachel Walters, the new principal of D-rated Shaw Elementary, said she doesn't expect to have trouble getting children to school 15 minutes early.
"We're going to encourage them to be there at 7:15 for breakfast," she said.
At Booker T. Washington Elementary, which improved this year from an F to a D, days that run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are already a fact of life. For years, under a program called EdVenture, Washington and a handful of other high-poverty schools have stretched their hours to make time for music, sports and academic enrichment.
"It's almost business as usual with the extended time for reading," said principal Anthony Montoto. "We can just build that into the existing schedule."
Districtwide, the costs of even a modest increase in reading time add up to $9 million, budget officials said recently as they entered negotiations with the teachers' union.
Training will take place this month for the principals and reading coaches, said Barbara Hancock, the district's general director of elementary education.
"Our goal is always to improve reading proficiency and reading gains," she said. "Every year it does get easier."
Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.