Each month, many contentious issues fill our Blaine County School District board meeting agenda. Few are as contentious as changing the school calendar. We are currently engaged in this process and have received hundreds of emails detailing the concerns of parents, many on the topic of a potential early Wednesday release for students across the district.
We received one public comment that especially stood out to me: “The marginal value the change [early Wednesday release] might provide is not worth the chaos it will cause for working parents.”
I would like to communicate “the why” behind this proposed change. For me, the expected value of the early Wednesday release is transformational, not marginal.
A high-performing school district embraces a culture of continuous improvement, and is laser focused on the mission of improving learning in each student, regardless of where they are assessed versus grade-level benchmarks.
By many indicators, despite our educators’ best efforts, there are areas where we are falling short of the continuous improvement goals that our own school leaders have set for our students. The post-pandemic challenges facing our educators to measurably move all kids toward grade-level benchmarks (and beyond) has been further exacerbated by the arrival of over 200 “newcomers” to our district this year.
Providing our educators with the necessary tools to succeed in this environment is essential to our collective mission.
Twenty years of research indicates that fully and effectively implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLC), on a weekly basis across our district, will result in significant achievement gains for all students.
Rather than working in isolation, educators in the PLC process work collaboratively and take collective responsibility for all students’ learning. The expectation inherent in full PLC adoption is that the collaborative team will replace the isolated classroom as the fundamental building block of our school district’s culture, and high-frequency data on student learning will inform real-time decisions.
PLCs enable teachers to continually learn from one another across the district through in-depth critical examination of what does and doesn’t work to enhance student achievement. With a well-supported PLC process in place, our most effective school leaders in one school contribute to student success in other schools.
PLCs entail whole-staff involvement in a process of intensive reflection upon instructional practices and desired student benchmarks, as well as monitoring of outcomes to ensure success. For more information on the PLC process, see the district’s website.
For PLCs to have the greatest impact, frequent, protected, district-wide teacher collaboration time needs to be built into the school schedule. The early release of students on Wednesdays (with the missed instructional time made up over the other four days) will create the essential dedicated time for district-wide grade-level collaboration.
I recognize that any change in the Wednesday release time has an impact on parents, especially given the limited after-school care options in our valley. After listening to parent feedback, we have made adjustments to minimize that impact as much as possible, while still committing fully to the PLC process. This commitment means making time for district-wide collaboration.
We are not proposing to change our school schedule while hoping for marginal gains. Hope is not a reliable strategy. Instead, I believe that we are moving toward a proven model to give our educators the necessary tools to lift all students. It is an ambitious goal, my expectations are high, and it deserves the full support of our community.
Dan Turner represents Zone 4 on the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees. He lives in northern Blaine County.
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Continuous improvement efforts are necessary in every profession and I commend the board and superintendent for looking for ways to implement a program that helps our educators improve. However, the burden should not be placed on the students families and caregivers to rearrange their weekly schedule to accommodate for whatever program is decided on. Educators could attend this training before or after school and if we have to pay them for an extra hour, so be it. They deserve the pay. Throwing this wrench into the schedule of every student's family in Blaine county is reckless and creates animosity between the families and school district that is not healthy and unnecessary. Come up with a better plan, listen to the families.
Welcome to the discussion.