"To be or not to be -- that is the question..."
Most would welcome an idea that would improve teaching and positively impact student learning. It is this premise out of which the idea regarding an early release of students was born.
Strategic planning groups at all school levels were convened three years ago and charged with identifying characteristics of highly effective schools. At the elementary level, the group found that highly successful schools were:
Utilizing best practices research to develop a broader repertoire of teaching strategies among the teaching staff;
Analyzing and using performance data for school improvement;
Utilizing multiple assessment strategies; and,
Providing for collaborative planning among teachers and schools.
As the group began planning to address these areas, the issue of time quickly arose. When and how would the schools work with their teachers to fulfill these issues?
At the elementary level, planning time is particularly a scarcity. Perhaps this is best reflected in the disparity that exists in the state's funding formula for planning time. The formula requires 90 minutes of daily planning time for middle-school teaching teams, and a 55- to 60-minute daily planning time for high-school teachers.
Yet there is no provision in the state formula for daily planning at the elementary level. Our system has managed to offer a range of enrichment classes, which include art, music and physical education, and it is while students are attending one of these enrichment classes each day that the teacher is free for planning. The typical time is approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
Thus, the case for more time at this level. Additionally, with the implementation of the new state curriculum, the State Department of Education is now advocating for release time for planning purposes.
It is from this background that the idea for an early release emerged. The study group identified several school systems that were using an early release concept to provide the time needed for professional growth and collaborative planning.
With any form of early release, two major concerns immediately come to mind. What do you do with the students who would not have parental supervision available? And, how do you justify the loss of instructional time in favor of teacher planning?
As one attempts to answer these major questions, the "devil is in the details" aspects begin to arise. The identification of these "details" is an important part of any study so that decisions can be based on thorough and complete understanding of the issue. With that in mind, the study group began meeting with each school council to explain the idea for the early release and ask for reaction and concerns.
As we fully expected, a number of very legitimate concerns and questions have been brought forth. Obviously, trading instructional time for planning time would appear misguided, but as Steven Covey pointed out in his Seven Habits, one's effectiveness is improved when he or she occasionally "sharpens the saw." Teacher planning is about sharpening the saw.
Nevertheless, the survival of the early release concept will be entirely dependent on whether we can, both effectively and efficiently, overcome these concerns and justify the proposal with our parents and School Board. Clearly, we must make the case that our students will be better served by implementing an early release program with minimal cost and disruption.
During the next few weeks, system staff will be working to address the expressed concerns, to redress the research in a more concise and defined manner, to consider alternative approaches and revise the proposal accordingly. Following that revision, another round of review will be held with our parents and school communities through a series of announced, evening meetings.
I welcome your input and involvement as we continue this study. Our goal is to continually improve the academic performance of our students and meet the expectations of our parents.
(Tommy Price is superintendent of Columbia County schools.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.