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School Board considers early release Fridays

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If approved, changes would take affect next fall

By Linda Ireland

A shorter school week may be in store for LaRue County students next fall.

The LaRue County School Board meets Dec. 21 to consider dismissing classes two hours early each Friday in order to provide teachers with more planning time.

The curriculum coordinating committee will recommend early release days be built into next year’s calendar, according to Superintendent Sam Sanders.

The time will provide teachers with a chance to collaborate and will be documented in some fashion, depending on the topic. Usually, minutes will be taken. Each principal must submit to the central office the early-release agenda showing the topic and focus of that week.

“This is meant as a time when teachers can work closely together, analyzing data, and doing other things that will lead to helping our students to improve and learn,” said Denise Skaggs, district instructional supervisor. “Because of conflicting schedules, it’s very hard for them to be able to meet as a group after school.”

Information provided by the curriculum coordinating committee states “our students receive more instructional hours than what the state currently requires; therefore we would not have to add additional days to our calendar to account for the early release time.”

The purpose of the release time is four-fold: Teaching " looking at what LaRue’s teachers are teaching, how they’re teaching the subject matter, and how they assess what they teach; Curriculum " assessing the curriculum and improving it; deciding when and how those curricular changes can best be implemented; Instruction " examining how LaRue’s teachers deliver instruction and how it can be approved; and Assessment " analyzing student test data to determine what strengths and weaknesses. Teachers also will analyze the validity (a test’s measuring what it’s supposed to measure) and reliability of assessments.

Throughout Kentucky, other districts utilize early release or planning days. Some have full-day planning sessions; others have two-hour release every week. Still others release students early once a month or six times a year. The committee studied other districts that use early release days before making its recommendation.

The committee surveyed the district’s teachers as well as non-instructional staff to obtain their input on two options " early release, once a week, every Wednesday or Friday, or every other Wednesday or Friday. The committee is basing its recommendations on parent and teacher surveys.

Sanders said 957 parent surveys were returned to the committee, which is about 41 percent of the student population. Of those, 77 percent favored early release; 23 percent were against the idea.

Sixty-seven percent of those parents favoring early release requested Friday; 17 percent preferred Wednesday; 3 percent preferred every other Wednesday; and 13 percent preferred every other Friday.

The results for the staff surveys were similar. Seventy-three percent preferred early release; 27 percent opposed it.

Of those preferring early release, 46 percent voted for every Friday; 26 percent every Wednesday; 15 percent every other Friday; and 13 percent every other Wednesday.

Skaggs said one of the most common concerns among districts is availability of childcare on early release days. The committee has contacted every childcare facility in the county, informing them of the proposal and asking them to provide fee lists so parents will know what childcare is available and what it will cost.

Kids Crew has openings for any students who would need after school childcare on early release, said Skaggs.

The committee has been considering other options.

“Our Youth Service Center will coordinate a babysitting training for teens who are interested in supervising children from 1 to 3,” she said. “I will be meeting with principals to discuss possibly having an ESS time on Fridays from 1 to 3. Instructional assistants would work with students. No transportation would be provided for ESS " parents would have to pick their child up at 3.”

Sanders plans to recommend a calendar with opening day for students Aug. 5, 2010 and last day of school May 19, 2011.

Ron Benningfield contributed to this story.