Board OKs shortened school days

Parents, teachers express concern about 2010-11 calendar changes

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Juneau students will get out of school one hour early on the second and fourth Monday of most months during the 2010-11 school year, according to changes the School Board approved unanimously at its Tuesday meeting.

School also will start and end a week earlier, and there will be one more instructional day in the school calendar.

The bi-monthly early release time is intended to allow teachers the opportunity to collaborate using the new data from new, district-wide, periodic testing, and to allow them to undergo professional development, things district administrators and board members say are directly correlated with improvements in student achievement.

Board member Sally Sadler said the board needs to explain to parents who wonder "exactly how will this enhance my child's learning?" that the change is "making teachers more effective by permitting them to analyze student work and hit the classroom running."

At the meeting and in written comments, some parents and teachers expressed concern with the changes.

Parent Thea Howard, who said she was a former teacher outside the Juneau School District, advocated for an increase in instructional time at the meeting.

"This is just another veiled attempt to get teachers doing something other than their jobs - teaching children," she said.

In anonymous written comments submitted online since this calendar draft's initial reading Dec. 8, commenters were divided in their support of the proposed changes.

Some teachers expressed concern with potential loss of teaching time.

"I would rather be with kids," one teacher wrote.

Others, however, expressed support. "I am excited by the prospect of having collaboration time with my colleagues next year," another wrote. "Fellow teachers are the best resource to improving our own practices. Currently there is no time to work as a team and share."

Thunder Mountain High School, Juneau-Douglas High School and Mendenhall River Community School already have incorporated weekly collaboration time into their schedules, something School Board Vice President Andi Story pointed out is one drawback to the new calendar, as those schools will actually lose collaboration time.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said "one of the greatest cons" is that the collaboration time is not every week.

"Staff has become appreciative of the opportunity to talk with each other," she said. "For those that have taken the leadership, it is a loss for them."

Collaboration involving late start or early release will be new at nine schools, however, Scandling said. That combined with the fact that educators "are conditioned to believe that seat time equals achievement" makes it "seem wise" to start out with early-release collaboration time every other week, she said.

"We know that those districts and schools that have made significant changes in student achievement ... do so because teachers are collaborating," Scandling said.

"This isn't about having our teachers not work," said President Mark Choate. "All the research tells us this is the most important process, is to let teachers talk with one another in a professional way that is very structured."

In other business:

The board also heard a first reading of its soon-to-be-implemented voluntary drug-testing policy meeting Monday night.

Under the proposed policy, a positive test would be reported only to the student and the student's parent or guardian. "We as a school district never know," said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich.

Participating students will receive a card with their name and picture that will enable them to get discounts at area businesses, and other advantages. Should a student test positive through the voluntary program, the number on the card would be deactivated; it would be reactivated after a negative test, said Gelbrich.

A positive test would not result in academic, disciplinary or activity consequences. It would also not be reported to police.

Gelbrich said at the meeting that since the district implemented the mandatory student-athlete drug testing in the fall, 145 student-athletes have been randomly tested, and there have been no positive tests.

The board will consider formally adopting the voluntary drug testing policy at its Feb. 9 meeting; the district currently intends to implement the policy by mid-February.

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