Students will get out of class earlier more often if Bainbridge district adopts change to early-release days

Early-release days for students may move from once a month to once a week in the Bainbridge Island School District.

Students are now sent home for a half-day once a month to give teachers time for professional development. But given the crush of new initiatives and staff improvement requirements, Bainbridge teachers say they need more time devoted to professional development.

The solution may be sending students home early every week, instead of once a month.

If the change is eventually approved by the school board, students would be released 90 minutes early each Wednesday. Students are currently let out of school 180 minutes early during one Wednesday in the middle of each month.

Assistant Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said the demand is growing on teachers' time, due to common core standards, the implementation of new curriculum for literacy and math, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives and other efforts.

"These are very important things all directly related to student learning," Bang-Knudsen told the school board at its meeting late last week.

He also noted that the state has cut three days of staff training time over the last five years.

"While we're getting more and more expectations, both internal expectations as well as external expectations ... we're getting less time and money to do that," he said.

Teachers and parents have been surveyed, and there is support for changing the early-release schedule, Bang-Knudsen said.

David Layton, an American Studies teacher at Bainbridge High School, said they weren't surprised when staff gave them "an incredibly overwhelming response that the current model is a valiant effort but incredibly inadequate."

A snow day, for example, can prompt a two-and-a-half month delay before Layton has a chance to meet again with everyone in his department.

"The model is just ... dysfunctional with the slightest bump," he said.

Layton said the feedback from teachers has been consistent across grade levels and buildings in the district: "There is so much more we need to be doing."

"That was really reassuring," he added.

Expanding staff training time isn't exactly a new topic in the school district. It came up during contract negotiations last year with the Bainbridge Island Education Association, and both the district and the union agreed more time was needed for professional development if education in the district is to improve.

Bang-Knudsen said the recent survey showed that 70 percent of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that a weekly early-release schedule was preferred.

The weekly early-release model is common in neighboring districts and school systems across the state.

Some teachers on Bainbridge have been exposed to the proposed model in other districts, Layton said.

Their response: "Trust me, it's going to be much more effective to meet our goals," Layton recalled.

Bang-Knudsen noted that 60 percent of the parents who responded to the survey supported the change.

Still, questions remain.

Bang-Knudsen said there were about 40 percent who expressed concerns about the change, and 22 percent were strongly against it.

The most concerned, he said, are the parents of the youngest students in the district and those who have childcare issues.

Some have asked officials why they don't just start school later in the day, rather than let students out early.

Bang-Knudsen said that would limit staff training time, because it could't be extended when needed because classes would be starting. Having staff training at the end of the day avoids that pitfall. Some parents may also have trouble arranging before-school childcare.

Others asked if early-release days could be moved from Wednesdays to Fridays.

The problem there, Bang-Knudsen said, is that many teachers are involved in extracurricular activities or sports on Fridays, so they would miss out on collaborative training meetings.

Bang-Knudsen said there also appears to be some confusion over training days versus teacher planning periods.

In planning periods, teachers are grading papers, preparing lessons, responding to emails or messages from parents or wrapping up other work.

It's not time spent learning a new curriculum or a new strategy, said Bang-Knudsen.

"It really is an oil-and-water issue," Layton agreed.

Much of his planning period is used for contacting parents, answering 15 or more emails a day, he said.

One thing is certain for the staff, Layton added.

While collaboration time is important, teachers don't want the switch to hurt how much time they have to actually teach.

"They have been very, very clear: You do not touch how many minutes I have in front of my kids," Layton said.

That said, if the district wants to maintain 1,000 hours of instruction, it may need to add another five to 10 minutes of instruction time per day if the change is approved.

Bang-Knudsen said a hard proposal for changing the early-release schedule will be developed and presented for the board and the community. The hope is to launch the change next year.



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