Students out early for new program

Some parents say it's unwise to decrease instruction time

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

Glacier Valley Elementary and Mendenhall River Community schools will introduce a new program this fall that releases students two hours and 15 minutes early on Fridays so teachers can spend the rest of the day sharing teaching strategies.

Some parents complain that they didn't have enough influence on the program, and say they worry that the schools' respective 12:30 p.m. and 12:45 p.m. releases will take away valuable student-teacher interaction. Some say they wonder who will watch their children Friday afternoons.

On Wednesday parents, some of whom did not want to speak for attribution, told school site council members it is unwise to decrease instruction time by 10 hours a year.

About two dozen parents, teachers and staff members discussed the issue Wednesday night during a site council meeting in the Mendenhall River Community School library.

"We really want to create schools where everyone is learning, students and teachers as well," said Patty Newman, third-year principal at Mendenhall River. "We just want to minimize the impact on our families as much as we can."

new hours

mendenhall river community

• monday-thursday: 8:15 a.m. start; 3 p.m. dismissal for grades 1 to 5

• friday: 8:15 a.m. start; 12:45 p.m. dismissal for all students

glacier valley elementary

• monday-thursday: 8 a.m. start; 2:45 dismissal for grades 1 to 5

• friday: 8 a.m. start; 12:30 p.m. dismissal for all students

• meeting for glacier valley and mendenhall river: 7 p.m. aug. 9, in the mendenhall river community school library. at 6 p.m. the schools will discuss a montessori adolescent program that will share the mendenhall river campus.

The program came out of a task force of teachers and administrators that met January through May to discuss ways to better prepare students to meet federal standards, including the No Child Left Behind Act.

Newman said she had hoped the Juneau School Board would accept the program before the end of the 2004-2005 school year. But the legislative special session, with the implications it carried for state education, pushed the board's decision back to June 7. By the time the program was approved by the state and the bus schedule had been shifted, it was two weeks ago.

Parents began receiving letters about the new schedule on Wednesday. For some at the meeting, that was the first they had heard.

Sara Bicknell's two children attend Auke Bay Elementary School, but she was at Wednesday's meeting to see if the program would have any effect on her school. She called the Department of Education commissioner's office Wednesday morning to see if it was accepting public comments.

"I was worried that it would become district-wide, not understanding what this whole program is about or where it was going to lead our children or our teachers," Bicknell said.

"I feel sorry for the parents in Glacier Valley and Mendenhall River that it's such short notice," she said. "I wish they would have said, 'This is what we're going to do. This is what we're moving forward to.' Then people in the spring would have had a better understanding, maybe move their children to a better school or put them in a private school where they're going to get the extra 20 hours."

Although the early-release model is new to Juneau, many districts nationwide are using similar programs, Newman said. In Alaska, nine districts have early release programs.

"I think it will be an incredibly valuable opportunity for all of us and ultimately for all of our students," said Deedie Sorenson, a Mendenhall River teacher.

All of last year's bus routes will still be covered, Newman said. Fees will not change for full-time participants in before- and after-school programs, but students in after-school-only care will see a slight increase. The Boys and Girls Club may open its clubhouse and provide van service on Friday afternoons, Newman said.

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