Wednesday, April 12, 2006

District may redesign school schedule

Early Wednesday release possible next year

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County students may soon be dismissed two hours early on Wednesdays. The county school district is considering redesigning the school schedule, which may include an early release for all students on a regular basis.

"Obviously, there is not enough time to make sure teachers are growing, as well as the students. More professional development opportunities for staff should have a direct relationship for our children," said Mary Gervase, Blaine County School District assistant superintendent.

Gervase will present plans for a redesigned school day during the school board's regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, at the district office in Hailey. The board will consider a recommendation to pilot an early-release program the second half of the 2006-2007 school year to allow for professional development. The board will likely vote on the matter in May.

"We have teachers who are really struggling with the No Child Left Behind work," said Jim Lewis, Blaine County School District superintendent.

At the end of the 2005 school year, the Blaine County Education Association conducted a survey during the teachers' contract negotiations. The BCEA found that 80 percent of the members polled were concerned about the increased workload from the federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements.

The district formed a committee of administrators, parents and teachers to explore options to allow more time for professional development.

The committee surveyed school districts across Idaho to examine scheduling options. In Idaho, 18 school districts operate with modified schedules. Options vary from a late start in the morning to an early release in the afternoon.

"We have to find something that fits with our community," Lewis said.

The Blaine County School District favors early dismissal on Wednesday afternoons. Lewis said Wednesday allows students to go hard for two days, take a break and then resume studies for the rest of the week.

Lewis presented the school redesign concept to parents at the Hailey Bellevue Parent Teacher Association meeting last week. He said the regular school day might be extended to make up lost class time.

If students were to be excused early every Wednesday, regular school days would be extended by 12 minutes. Early dismissal every other Wednesday would require the regular day to be extended by 5 minutes.

The district is considering early release to give teachers a two-hour block for professional development. The district presently requires three professional development days per year.

"In order to make the curriculum a living document, its important we meet, and meet across grade levels," Gervase said.

Teachers would use the early-release time to develop their curriculum, analyze student work, conduct research, plan with teaching teams, hold parent conferences, update databases and conduct meetings.

Parents attending the PTA meeting questioned what students would do during the early-release block of time.

Lewis said the committee is looking to coordinate with organizations like the YMCA, Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Blaine County Recreation District to provide programs for children on the early-release days. The district's para-professionals may be employed to coordinate activities for students in the afternoons. The superintendent also said students could use the time for medical appointments.

The committee selected the Vallivue School District, a rural school district that surrounds Caldwell, as the best model for Blaine County to emulate. For the 2005-2006 school year, Vallivue implemented an early release every other Wednesday to provide professional development time.

Donna Johnston, secretary to the Vallivue School District superintendent, said the school district encountered problems with busing expenses and sports conflicts. The Vallivue district plans to modify the professional development days to occur for a full day once a month, instead of continuing the early-release schedule.

Despite Vallivue's experience, the Blaine County School District plans to move forward to explore an early-release option.

"We are trying to measure this in with neighborhood schools; is this the time to do it?" Lewis said.

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