Early Release Days Raise Concern: Board Discusses 2018-19 District Calendar

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Thursday March 29, 2018

The school district calendar is established annually, and a regional calendar needs to be in place by April 1for planning purposes. The regional calendar is required to have school days, start and end times, and vacations in common. Then, based on contractual obligations, there is some slight variation between districts. For example, 175 days of instruction are required, and the South Burlington School District requires 189 by contract. The calendar presented March 21 nearly mirrors the prior year, according to Director of Learning Stuart Weiss, but concerns around early release days persisted.

The draft calendar presented showed a total of seven early release days at the elementary level, plus two-half days for Pre-K-8 parent conferences, while the middle and high schools have eleven late start days. Last year, educators came before the district requesting additional days for professional development due to ever-changing education standards such as those in science and math, as well as the transition to proficiency based learning and personalized learning plans. Training in these areas is of particular importance at the elementary level where teachers instruct in every subject as opposed to specializing in a given content area as is done at the middle and high school level.

According to Weiss during both the early release/late start days and the in-service days, the teachers participate in training on a rotation of issues including trauma, science and math standards, and literacy. This training is part of a three-year professional development calendar to prepare for the changes that need to be implemented by 2020.
Weiss explained that this time has been essential for teachers and added that the days noted on the calendar only reflect a portion of the professional development in which teachers are engaged outside of class and after school. “This is only the tip of the iceberg of what they are doing and what is needed … it’s hard to do everything in 189 days,” Weiss said.

Average Daily Membership (ADM), or what the district can count as a full school day that meets the regional calendar requirements, is when students are provided with lunch. In this calendar proposal, elementary school students would be released at 12:30 on the noted days rather than last year’s dismissal time at 11:30.

Alex McHenry wondered why all of the early release days take place on Friday afternoons; noting that when the teachers learn something new, they can’t put it into practice right away. They have to wait two days to execute it. Weiss explained that the SBHS schedule flips from blue to grey days every Friday and this way, the students aren’t always missing the same class. At the elementary level, Friday wasn’t as much of an issue but still a better day for teachers in general. Also, the early releases seemed to have less of an impact on childcare.

School’s Out has been very flexible, Weiss explained, in accommodating parents, but Burkhardt, a parent of two young children herself expressed concerns, especially about families who do not use School’s Out. “It is a real concern,” Burkhardt said, “after a week and a half-long break in March, then there is an early release day, meaning we need to make alternate childcare arrangements at least one day per month. How much time is going to other activities that should be used for instruction?” Burkhardt added that early release days are too close to school vacation breaks and even though the district keeps hearing that these circumstances are difficult for families, “nothing is done about it.”

Elizabeth Fitzgerald expressed similar concerns and noted feedback from a community member who said there are only four two-week periods all year that are not broken up by vacations and early release days and that the schedule is becoming unsupportable.

Burkhardt said that it was important to track trends and not be susceptible to “creep.” She requested to see a spreadsheet that outlined the number of instructional hours, prior to voting on the calendar, and the other board members agreed to pause the vote.

 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent