School Board approves early release Fridays

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Proposal passes unanimously despite reservations

By Linda Ireland

The LaRue County School Board approved early release days for students. Students will be dismissed at 1 p.m. every Friday next fall in order to provide teachers with more planning time.

The vote at Monday's meeting was unanimous, but some board members voiced concern that the two hours of instructional time lost each week equals 10 days off the school calendar - something that could be detrimental to students.

Board member Norbert Skees said his concern was that the early release would "send students the wrong message."

"How will we know if it is beneficial?" he said. "How will we monitor success?"

Board member Anita Cruse shared Skees' concerns.

Denise Skaggs, district instructional supervisor, said walk-throughs would be the best way to monitor, while Amber Thurman, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School principal, said "student achievement" would be the ultimate measure of success.

Skaggs said surveys were sent to staff members and parents, with 73 percent of staff and 77 percent of parents who returned the survey favoring early release days, with Fridays being the "overwhelming" choice.

Amanda Reed, district instructional supervisor, said the surveys showed "overwhelmingly" that "parents want consistency."

Reed also said research shows 30 percent gains in assessments for students who have early release days.

Skaggs studied two area school districts, Taylor County Schools and Russellville Independent Schools, who release students early on Fridays, and said the two hours are used for teachers to collaborate and plan. She also voiced confidence that the improved planning of teachers "will carry over into the classroom."

Thurman also said the growth and strengthening of the professional learning community within the school "will move us to another level," and that with the current amount of planning time, it is hard for teachers to collaborate and plan during the school day since so many other things have to be done.

Penny Cecil, Hodgenville Elementary School principal, said, "adding days to the year would not benefit us if we don't improve how we are doing things."

Another concern of board members was that working parents would have to find daycare services or take off work to pick up their children.

Skaggs said she feels like "there will be options for students," and that classified employees would still be on the clock, which would open up opportunities for tutoring or mentoring for students, and she said if the laptop initiative moves forward there would be the possibility for Internet cafés. The initiative would provide the use of a laptop for each high school student.

Board member Dick Greenwell said he came into the meeting in opposition of early release days, especially after seeing a failed attempt more than 10 years ago.

Greenwell said he remembered seeing teachers out in town as early as 1:30 p.m.

"That can't happen," he said.

Superintendent Sam Sanders said he also had reservations about the plan, but that seeing what other school districts have been able to achieve through early release days swayed him to support the initiative in LaRue County.

Greenwell also said Friday afternoons are the least productive of the week and other board members agreed Friday afternoons would be the best time for early release.

Greenwell said he would support early release "very apprehensively" for a year and said he will be "looking at assessment scores" to gauge the success and requested a survey be given around this time next year to see if staff and parents are still in support.