Bainbridge school board says ‘yes’ to adding curriculum to K-4 grades

The Bainbridge Island School Board had two choices last week when deciding how to implement more planning time for kindergarten through fourth-grade teachers.

It could stick to what it knows works or try something new that could potentially increase educational opportunities for K-4 students.

The board voted unanimously to take route number two — which some called a leap of faith — and directed district officials to add a new curriculum to elementary school schedules.

“We have to think about the future of the district and how every single decision that we make either positions us better for the future or shuts a door and keeps in the status quo,” said Board Director Patty Fielding.

A recent decision by the Bainbridge Island School District and Bainbridge Island Education Association increased planning time for elementary school teachers from 40 minutes per day to 50 minutes.

The increase is consistent with the average planning time available for secondary teachers on Bainbridge.

It also opens up 50 minutes per week that can now be used as additional instructional time.

The shift will go into effect by the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

In the meantime, district officials have been tasked to figure out how to implement the change.

The school board was given two options last month.

In the first option, schools could increase library, art, music and PE time by 10 minutes.

The cost of this option would be approximately $152,000 in increased costs under current contracts, officials said.

The second option would be to add a new curriculum to the daily schedule.

That approach could either provide added support to the current core content or add a new specialty area.

The cost of hiring additional staff with salary contracts and benefits would be approximately $227,000.

Officials noted there are scheduling challenges on both sides.

Both options decrease instructional time in a portion of the daily curriculum. Add to that: more transitional periods or less passing time between subjects, which adds to disrupting instructional time.

While there are more unknowns with option two, though, there is also more flexibility.

With option one, the question of what content fills the new time is answered by virtue of existing structure. Option two, on the other hand, gives the board the  opportunity to decide what content fills the time.

The added curriculum can also be offered in either one 50-minute period per week or broken up in two 25-minute periods per week.

Citizens and school employees at last week’s meeting, however, showed clear support for option one.

Chris Thomas, the band director at Bainbridge High School, asked the board not to vote for confusion.

“I just want to encourage you to realize and recognize that adding 10 minutes of contact time to enrichment areas is not about finding stuff to do,” Thomas said. “It’s absolutely about adding value and pushing achievements.”

“It feels like we’re shooting into the dark, if we go into that direction (option two),” he added.

Jessica Aubin, a parent of two elementary students and a speech pathologist, said that while the potential of adding a foreign language to elementary curriculum is tempting, she would like the board to support the will of the schools’ instructors.

“I’ve heard that there is a very strong percent of the staff that is supporting option one,” she said.

“And I think our staff is highly educated … In (the) Bainbridge Island School District the majority of our teachers are highly educated people, and I trust them to be making the best decisions, and best informed decisions for my children.”

Despite this, the school board voted unanimously to go with option two.

“When the state said we had to up the hours that we had to educate our secondary students, we didn’t choose to simply add on minutes to the classes we already have,” said Board Director Mev Holberg.

“We want to increase education opportunities for our secondary students, and I want to increase educational opportunities for our lower grades, too.”

Also in support of option two, Board President Mike Spence said it was going to be up to district administrators to make it a priority to get teacher input on implementing the time change.

“What I want to see happen is that we got to stop this top-down stuff,” he said.

“Don’t come to us and say that we had a meeting with two or three teachers and here’s what we’re going to do. I would like for once in this district to hear that the teachers are supporting something wholeheartedly from the bottom up.”

Spence added that the school board’s job is to challenge the status quo by exploring new opportunities to improve education.

District officials will develop a pilot curriculum to add to the 2014-2015 school schedule for K-4 grade students.

At the end of the year, the district will periodically evaluate the pilot curriculum and make necessary changes.

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