NEW BEDFORD (WBSM) — The head of New Bedford’s teachers union said that even though New Bedford High School students will get an earlier dismissal after the holiday break, they will still be spending more time in class than other high schools in the district.

New Bedford Educators Association President Thomas Nickerson said that when student dismissal at New Bedford High switches to 2:12 p.m. beginning on January 2, students will still have an academic day of six hours and 44 minutes.

“It is currently at seven hours, 12 mins,” Nickerson said of the current 2:40 p.m. dismissal. “At six hours and 44 minutes, that’s still longer than Trinity Day or Whaling City.” He noted it was also still longer than the contracted time of six hours and 39 minutes between the union and the administration.

“The workday is still the same for teachers,” Nickerson said. “This will allow teachers to in part use that time to help prepare for their next day.”

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In an appearance on WBSM Thursday, Nickerson noted that the current seven hour, 44 minute day came about in 2014 when New Bedford High School was designated “underperforming” by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“As a result, the NBEA bargained the impact of that designation with the district,” he said, noting that the union and the administration then signed a Memorandum of Agreement to make changes to the contract. “One of those changes was the longer school day for students and a proportionally longer school day for educators.”

Nickerson said prior to the “underperforming” designation, the dismissal time for students was 2:09 p.m., which is still reflected in the teachers’ contract. He said both the contract and the Memorandum of Agreement include time at the end of the work day after student dismissal for educators “to complete their professional responsibilities.”

“That time is commonly used to meet with students, conduct parent outreach, meet with other educators for planning purposes, or to adjust lessons and prepare materials for the next day,” he said. “When the student day ends, educators continue their work day. The work that they do in that time is in support of students and the student needs.”

Nickerson said that time has been diminished as the school department has struggled to find an adequate number of substitute teachers to fill vacancies and cover teacher absences.

“The result of that can be and has been that teachers are losing their prep periods in some cases more than we like to see,” he said.

Since the announcement came of the impending dismissal change, some have questioned why students should have less time in class in order to give teachers more time to complete their duties, but Nickerson said more time in class does not equal a better education.

“Educational research indicates that a longer academic day does not yield increases in academic performance necessarily, citing oftentimes student fatigue resulting in diminishing returns,” he said. “The increase in the quantity of time tends to lead to a decrease in the quality of the learning experience.”

“At one point, longer days were seen as perhaps advantageous, but as is often the case, when we start looking through other lenses, we may perceive an advantage on one hand, but there are going to be detriments,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, do the benefits outweigh the detriments, and in this case I think the answer here is the longer day is not showing the results they hypothesized it would 10 years ago.”

Nickerson said the bottom line is that the change in the student day is to improve the quality of their education, while there won’t be a change to the work day for educators.

“As educators, we all want what’s best for our students,” he said. “As an educators’ association, we want the best working conditions for our members to help meet the needs of our students.”

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