Professional Learning Communities do not need to resort to early dismissals of students

Are Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) part of a nationwide scheme to justify early dismissals of students? That is the question I wondered when I noticed how many school districts were justifying early dismissals by saying they were promoting PLCs.

Checking the website of  the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement,  I found that early dismissals were the very last choice listed as a means of scheduling PLCs. Even in this case, the examples do not mention the irresponsible option of weekly two-hour early dismissals, a practice seen in both Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia. The examples given by the Center for this type of adjustment are much less disruptive: “For example, every other Thursday, student start time is delayed 20 minutes; classes start late one day and teachers arrive 30 minutes earlier on that day.”

Since there are much better ways of scheduling PLCs, the option of early dismissals should never even be considered. The other options mentioned by the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement  include scheduling classes to create common planning periods, expanding particular school days to “bank time for professional learning,” building the schedule so that teachers are freed up by “specials” (music, art, physical education, student assemblies, etc.); using monthly faculty meetings and district professionals days for PLCs; and combining classrooms to free teachers to meet.

The use of specialists, such as art, music, or physcial education teachers could also seen as a means of job creation, an urgent national priority.  Some districts  also use paraprofessionals for duties such as monitoring recess to give classroom teachers more planning time. Those who may argue that budgets don’t permit this are very shortsighted if they think that the drastic step of dismissing students early is at all acceptable.

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Child care to be offered during early dismissals

Reacting to complaints from parents about the new policy of dismissing students an hour early every Monday, the board of education (BOE) in Windsor Locks recently voted to use paraprofessionals to provide one hour of child care for younger students affected by early dismissals.

Gregory A. Scibelli of Reminder News reported  that a protocol for parents wanting to have their children supervised at school is pending. School began August 29 in this Connecticut school district. BOE Chairman Patricia King said that parents will be responsible for transportation home at the end of the hour.

Superintendent Wayne C. Sweeney had written a letter to parents in June announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.


Chicago plans a longer school day and year in 2012-13

On August 23  Chicago Public School officials  announced plans to extend the shortest school day in the nation by an additional 90 minutes and two weeks to provide the critical instructional time needed to boost student achievement. National research and experts all point to the correlation between a longer day and year and improved student performance in the classroom. CPS will implement a strategy to extend the day and year for the 2012-13 school year beginning this fall and will engage stakeholders to help build a plan to ensure a successful transition.

The Chicago Sun Times earlier reported  that Mayor Rahm Emanuel “said that if the school day grows by 18 percent— going from five hours and 45 minutes to six hours and 45 minutes or more — that doesn’t necessarily mean teachers’ pay will also be boosted 18 percent by the cash-strapped school board.” Read the rest of this entry »


Teachers in Oklahoma school district agree to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes

Members of the Edmond Association of Classroom Teachers  in Oklahoma ratified contract language Monday that will  lengthen the school day by 20 minutes while also increasing salaries.

In addition to adding nine additional makeup days to the calendar, the longer school day will provide teachers an additional 100 minutes of instructional time per week. Students will arrive 10 minutes earlier in the morning and be dismissed 10 minutes later. The new schedule will go into effect Wednesday, Sept. 7 when students return from the Labor Day holiday.
“That would give families several weeks from the start of school in which to plan for this change to the school day,” said Superintendent David Goin. “We want to make sure that they have enough time to make the adjustment.”

Mark Schlachtenhaufen of the Edmond Sun  reported that the teachers will still have 7.5 hours per day in their contract; however instead of having 30 minutes before and after the student day, the teacher will have 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon.

This means the following will be the schedule for teachers and students at the different levels:

• High school teachers on a 1-6 hour schedule will arrive at 7:20 a.m. and leave at 2:50 p.m.; students will begin class at 7:40 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

• High school teachers on a 2-7 hour schedule will arrive at 8:20 a.m. and leave at 3:45 p.m.; students will begin class at 8:40 a.m. and leave at 3:25 p.m.

• Middle school teachers will arrive at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m.; students will begin class at 7:50 a.m. and leave at 2:40 p.m.

• Elementary early schools: Teachers will arrive at 8:05 a.m. and leave at 3:35 p.m.; students will begin class at 8:25 a.m. and leave at 3:15 p.m.

• Elementary late schools: Teachers will arrive at 8:30 a.m. and leave at 4 p.m.; students will begin class at 8:50 a.m. and leave at 3:40 p.m.


Superintendent takes time away from students; parents in Connecticut district protest

Last month Wayne C. Sweeney, superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools, wrote a letter to parents announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.  After receiving this letter sent home with their children on the last day of school, several parents spoke at the June 23 school board meeting to protest the decision and the way it was made without consulting parents.

According to the meeting minutes, Amy Mackey asked why parents were not notified or included in this decision by way of a public forum so questions could be asked and opinions could be heard.  Kevin Brace discussed the economic effect this will have on parents. He said his employer is not going to be willing for him to leave early every Monday to retrieve his children from the school bus. Jennifer Webb said she was appalled that she received the letter about this new policy on the last day of school.  Andra Morrell and Mary Ellen Smith pointed out that other districts have PLC time before and after school so students will not lose any time.

Jason Harris of the Windsor Locks-East Windsor Patch reported that parents had another opportunity to criticize this decision at the July 14 school board meeting.

Parent Douglas Hamilton said that Windsor Locks ranks 146th out of 161 school districts in the state. He said that the cutting back on the number of interactive hours between students and teachers is “heading in the wrong direction.”

“Can our children really afford to lose those 33 hours of instruction?” parent Jennifer Webb said. “The assessment data is telling us no,” she added.

I posted a comment stating that parents deserve a voice in important decisions regarding school hours.


The Fairfax County school board did not actually vote to allow Monday early dismissals

How did the Fairfax County school board  approve early dismissals on Mondays? There was no motion to approve this major policy change, it was simply reported as a consensus of the board. Here are two  excerpts of the minutes of the school board meeting held February 25, 1971:

Summary of Actions Taken

Length of School Day. It was the consensus of the Board that the Superintendent and staff could assist schools in moving to a modified schedule where desired (no motion by the Board). [page 1]

——————

Mr.   Davis [Superintendent S. John “Jack” Davis] made some introductory remarks to the report on the modified elementary school day, indicating that several elementary schools that have extended their day are closing one-half day early per week. He stated he had not realized before the extent to which this adds to the clerical and administrative burden of these staffs, and expressed appreciation to the principals for the way in which they were handling this problem. Mr. Harold Ford, Area IV Superintendent, presented the details of the report regarding the elementary school day, indicating it was desirable from the standpoint of bringing about the program going on in the elementary schools. He reported one elementary school in Area IV switched to the modified school day during the second semester of the prior school year. By means of visual aid supplies, Mr. Ford showed the basic schedule for the elementary school and the modified school day. The present regular elementary school schedule contains 30 hours and 50 minutes per week, while the modified schedule calls for 31 hours per week. The modified schedule runes from 8:30 a.m., to 3:00 p.m., except one day per week from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mr. Musick, Principal of Kings Park Elementary School, was also present together with Mrs. Rita Gillespie, a teacher at the Laurel Ridge Elementary School. Mrs. Gillespie explained the application of individualized instruction under this modified school day and stated that it requires a large block of uninterrupted planning time for the faculty in thinking about the individual child and the diagnosis of his total needs, and the faculty planning together to meet those needs. In this way, they build viable relationships and realize the goal of individualized learning for the unique problems of each child. Mrs. Music also advised that their school used a plan of early closings on the modified schedule so that groups of teachers could plan together in carrying out a program for a group of children assigned to them. The faculty thus needs a large block of time for this cooperative planning and discussion. She stated this work has resulted in better diagnosis of the individual child’s needs, better planning, and better teaching. Also, there are more choices for groups of different skills. Mrs. Musick described how teachers evaluate pupils about the movement of children throughout the building, and indicated that multiage groupings are easier to accomplish. The teachers know the pupils better and have fewer discipline problems. The teachers have a better understanding of the child and do a better job in the total instructional program. She felt the most important advantages were that the children seem to be happier in their educational experience, and there was better teacher morale. Read the rest of this entry »


Strauss cites goal of more collaboration in teaching in Fairfax County

School board member Janie Strauss (Dranesville) told Leslie Perales of the Herndon Patch that she would like to see Fairfax County schools allow for more collaboration in teaching, including teaching across subject matter and grade levels.

via Strauss Seeks Another Term on FCPS School Board – Herndon, VA Patch.

I commented that collaboration in teaching was one of the points that Ms. Strauss had made on behalf of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs in 1990.  At that time FCCPTA opposed a plan to provide full day Mondays for elementary school students. I posted an excerpt from that testimony and then stated, “It is quite possible for teachers to collaborate even if students have five full days of school. More collaboration without more time for learning is not a worthwhile goal.”