By Rhaia Hull, Graduate Intern & Antoniya Marinova, Senior Program Officer, The Boston Foundation
Editor's Note: The Paul Revere was one of two schools highlighted in a report from the Rennie Center, "School Autonomy in Action: A Case Study of Two Massachusetts Innovation Schools" that was released at the 2018 Pozen Prize for Innovative Schools awards. The Paul Revere was the runner-up for the 2017 Pozen Prize.
In 2010, the Paul Revere School, an elementary school in the city of Revere, became the first school in Massachusetts to be named an “Innovation School” under the state’s new school performance legislation. While remaining part of the Revere Public Schools, the school now had access to autonomies that allowed its staff to experiment with creative strategies to educate and support students.
Given new flexibility, the design team behind Paul Revere’s innovation plan made revamping the school schedule its first order of business. Motivated by a desire to “work smarter, not harder,” the team restructured and consolidated the school’s schedule to eliminate inefficiencies and create a calendar that allows time for meaningful collaboration between teachers and rigorous instruction and enrichment programming for students. Prior to 2010, the typical school day for students at Paul Revere began at 8:20am and ended at 2:45pm, with teachers required to be at the school 15 minutes before classes started and 20 minutes after classes ended. Teachers were also contractually obligated to stay at the school on certain nights to provide homework assistance, attend department nights, and participate in professional development. While all this added up to the total time teachers had to work each week under their collective bargaining agreement, these slots were far too short to allow them to engage in productive activities or interact fruitfully with students or each other. Meanwhile, students who needed more academic assistance or additional enrichment often had to seek those elsewhere. There was also an additional concern. Working parents often had to drop off their children before the start of the schools day, and before most teachers arrived. That raised serious concerns about student supervision and safety.
Scheduling flexibility helped change that. Paul Revere’s design team, which included teachers, parents, a union representative, a consultant, and the principal, worked with the Revere Teachers Association to add up all the hours that teachers were contractually obligated to work and balance this against the number of hours students were required by the Commonwealth to be in school. As Barbara Kelly, Paul Revere’s principal at the time noted, “We created the new schedule with two clocks in mind: one that measures teacher time and another that measures student time.” Without changing those commitments, the new schedule redistributed the required time for teachers and students into longer, more substantial blocks each day.
Classes now begin earlier in the day, at 8:05am, and end at 2:45pm. And the school itself opens at 7am, an hour before classes start, and closes at 3:45, an hour after classes end. The two new one-hour blocks each day have allowed for additional enrichment clubs and activities for students—in effect, extending students’ day from 7:00am to 3:45pm. In addition, on Wednesdays, classes are dismissed at 12:30pm to allow teachers two hours of professional development each week; on those afternoons, students have the option of attending after-school activities instead.
Collectively, the scheduling reforms added hours of additional enrichment time for students each week, without adding any additional time to teachers’ contract. Students at Paul Revere now have access to enrichment clubs led by teachers, non-profit partners, and even retired staff. They can attend clubs, such as yoga, chess, and karate. On Wednesdays, while teachers attend professional development, typically about half of all students stay after the early dismissal to participate in after-school activities. These are delivered through partnerships with non-profit organizations like the Revere Historical Society, Strong Women Strong Girls, and the Boy Scouts. Meanwhile, parents can rest assured that their child is safely being looked after, both early in the morning and in the afternoon.
The weekly schedule was also restructured to create new daily 40-minute block times for teacher preparation, along with the two-hour professional development sessions on Wednesdays. Teachers and staff use these meetings to review student data, troubleshoot instructional approaches, and plan school-wide activities. They collaborate on lesson plans and on best practices for struggling students. The extended planning times have had other unexpected benefits, as well, for example by giving school leaders time to share important updates with the entire staff at once, ensuring that everyone is aware of what’s going on at the school.
Together, the scheduling changes at Paul Revere have reinforced a sense of community and family throughout the school that is now well established. Teachers have developed stronger, more supportive relationships with each other, in an environment that lets them connect with students on a personal level that extends beyond the classroom. These relationships have produced successes throughout the school that have started to be noticed—and others are now copying their steps. This school year, the Revere School District introduced similar scheduling changes at all of its elementary schools, intended to increase teachers’ common planning time and professional development. Neighboring school districts like Malden have followed suit, as have other innovation schools like the Eliot K-8 Innovation School in Boston.
Beyond supporting creative ideas, the Revere school district has had a long history of productive collaboration with the Revere Teachers Association. This context, along with Paul Revere’s innovation status, created the conditions that enabled the scheduling reforms and fostered their success. A more traditional district school with less autonomy over its calendar—or a less collaborative relationship with its district or union—may find it more challenging to implement calendar innovations. But a more flexible school schedule merits serious consideration because it has so many benefits for teachers, students and their parents.
Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. (May 2018). School Autonomy in Action: A Case Study of Two Massachusetts Schools. Boston, MA: Rennie Center for Educational & Research Policy.