Two important points on Columbia County's proposal for early release days in elementary school:
First, parents who have relied on bad information to trash this proposal are showing an appalling lack of respect for the educators who care for their children every day. If they believe school officials are so untrustworthy that they'd sneak around and try to ram bad medicine down their throats, then those parents need to quit sending their children to Columbia County schools.
Second, if Columbia County's school officials are even mildly surprised that a proposal that includes sending elementary school students home two hours early has caused such a ruckus, then they need to spend less time talking to each other and more time talking to parents.
This proposal is just that: a proposal. School officials haven't even finished the rough draft yet, much less brought it forward for approval. And there's a lot more to it than just sending children home early one day a week.
This all went public back in December when a county strategic planning committee presented ideas for improving student achievement in elementary school. After months of work identifying key characteristics of high-performing schools, the group found, among other things, that elementary teachers need more planning time: currently, high-school teachers get an hour a day, and middle-school teachers get 90 minutes. Elementary teachers get just 30 minutes.
Their suggested solution is the radical idea of shortening elementary children's school day by two hours on Wednesdays.
"My first response... was pretty much a thumbs-down," says Superintendent Tommy Price, who later warmed up to the "dramatic" proposal. "This is not about teacher planning," he says. "This is about student achievement. If we didn't think it would improve student achievement we wouldn't propose it."
Still, Price told trustees this past week there are two significant challenges that must be worked out: No change can be an undue burden on parents, who expect consistency in their children's school schedule; and, there must be an accounting for the loss of classroom time.
Obviously, more study is needed to relieve parental fears. But as School Board Chairman Regina Buccafusco rightly reminds worried parents, just because the idea has been proposed doesn't mean it will happen: after all, the county's block scheduling plan went through exhaustive study, too, before being abandoned.
School officials released a time line for continued study of the plan, which includes multiple opportunities for parental input and review. At the earliest, the committee could bring a proposal back to the school board in June.
Like Price, at first blush we aren't comfortable with the idea. Public schools have established a social contract in which parents expect the school day to keep a consistent schedule. Parents are right to question any drastic changes.
But those parents must reciprocate by acknowledging that educators have the best interest of their children at heart. The committee, led by Martinez Elementary Assistant Principal Tami Flowers, is performing a tremendous service with their willingness to explore all ideas for making the schools better -- even if, at first glance, those ideas are unpopular.
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