This chart shows the number of times teachers and administration have had to cover classrooms due to substitute teacher shortages since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.Chart courtesy of Prescott School District
News
Prescott teachers ask for 2-hour early release

Time would allow for collaboration

PRESCOTT – At least one Prescott School District principal choked up when asking the school board to consider approving a two-hour early release for students on Mondays effective Jan. 24. Teachers and staff are running on fumes, are stressed and stretched thin and need the extra time for collaboration and preparation, school administrators said.

Student needs have increased and changed due to COVID, Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza said. COVID has been difficult and enduring on staff and not much can be done to alleviate the burden. Staff have been working overtime, covering other classrooms when teachers are out sick, giving up prep hours and skipping lunches.

“When I meet with the teachers, there is a serious concern about whether or not they can continue to perform at the levels that we expect as a community,” Spicuzza said.

Malone Intermediate Principal Michael Kosmalski said teachers are resoundingly clear about the need for more time.

“It’s the most valuable thing in education is our time,” Kosmalski said.

Teachers aren’t asking for more time to prep and grade, he added. They’re asking for more time to learn from each other, to work interdependently, to move toward their goals. More than 90% of teachers said they are experiencing their toughest year in education ever.

The district has added interventionists to the staff in order to address learning gaps sprouting from the pandemic. Interventionists work with students who need the most help one-on-one, along with their regular classroom teachers. To do this, collaboration time is needed.

The recent Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction report card lists Prescott in the top 15% of schools in the state, and in the top 3% for growth of students. While not an easy feat, this show Prescott’s dedication to the students, Kosmalski said.

“We want to work at a school and have our children attend a school district where we guarantee learning for all,” Kosmalski said. “And that means all.”

The district is aware of the potential hardship on families, but has solutions proposed for those two extra hours.

“We’re able keep all of our students who need to stay,” High School Principal Josh Fiege said. “We’re not just throwing them in a holding tank.”

Students can stay at school and work with educational aides for additional homework support or outdoor gym opportunities. Early releases on Mondays were in place last year; a survey regarding last year showed that 8% of parents said the early release was an obstacle.

What’s changed?

High School Principal Josh Fiege said one word comes to mind when describing the changes happening in education the past two to five years: Complexity. Along with greater complexity comes the need for more time. He outlined several ways in which education has increased in complexity the past few years:

•Increased technology use, such as smartboards, iPads, Chromebooks, software (Google Classroom, Google Meets, SeeSaw), Google (shift from what you know to what you can with what you know), social media, and the fact that most 6-12 students carry a computer in their pocket

•Direct, one-size-fits-all instruction is fading as the main method

•Focus on learning and retention over rote memorization

•Individuality is appreciated more and students have increased choice and voice

•Greater public focus on accountability, academic performance of ALL students

•Increased professionalism of teachers – interdependence on Professional Learning Communities •Focus on student safety – physical, social, emotional

•Seeing an uptick in student mental health and behavior issues Another question Fiege addressed is “Where has collaboration time gone?” Why don’t teachers have enough time to get all of their tasks completed?

•Teachers are providing more support for students: Breakfast supervision starting at 7:30 a.m. in the classroom, lunch supervision, bus and pick up duty.

•Teachers are providing academic support for students who are out of school -Synchronous Google Meets -Asynchronous Google Classroom, SeeSaw, communication with families, providing packets, coordinating coursework for virtual learning •More time spent disinfecting spaces to keep it safe

•Early release at PHS was eliminated (Pre-COVID, PHS students were released 45 minutes early on Wednesdays Recently, 174 students were absent, due to vacations, medical reasons, COVID, waiting for COVID test results, or mental health treatment. Staff still provides those students an education, which adds to their regular workload.

Fiege said last week he had two students in his office discussing their stress. But the students were more focused on their teachers than themselves.

“‘I’m really stressed and I can tell my teachers are stressed. I saw my teacher crying today,’” Fiege said a student told him. “This student, this sophomore, recognized that his teacher was getting burnt out. And to me that’s really, really powerful.”

Fiege addressed comments floating around on social media that teachers don’t need the twohour release.

“I know there’s a narrative out there right now that teachers don’t need this, teachers don’t want this, and what I would ask you to do is if you’re in that pool, talk to a teacher or call me,” Fiege said.

Prescott is not unique in that a massive teacher and substitute teacher shortage is occurring across the country. Covering for others takes time away from grading, prep, interventions, etc.

Since school started 77 days ago (at the time of the meeting), Fiege has covered for teachers 45 times, while Middle School Principal Kyle Igou has covered 27 times. The schools are trying to stay open any way possible, but some services, such as counseling, may shut down temporarily if those staff members have to cover classrooms.

Director of Pupil Services Mark Inouye said special education requires complex interventions, which in turn requires more people. There are two special education teacher assistant positions that are unfilled, while 61 days so far this year have seen at least one special education teacher absent.

Another added burden taking up time of administrators is positive COVID cases. Kosmalski said at the MIS last year, he handled nine positive cases, which involves communication with parents and staff, contact tracing, notifying close contacts, etc. A single positive COVID case takes hours to process. So far this year, he’s handled 34 positive cases.

Last year, masking was required in Prescott schools; this year’s it’s optional.

“COVID is not done with us,” Kosmalski said.

He had to pause for a moment when his emotions overtook him as he told the board about fifth grade teacher Helen Raebel pushing multiple classes together, running herself ragged teaching multiple lessons at the same time, trying her best to help students whose teacher was absent. She’s an example of the kind of district they want to be, he said: Learner-centered, collaborative and empowering.

Benefits of two-hour early out

The two-hour early release would increase teachers’ ability to collaborate with their peers in order to meet the academic and social/emotional needs of individual students, Kosmalski said. The two hours allows staff to look at standards, unit plans, progress monitoring data – all things staff needs to consider when making decisions in the class room and across a grade level.

The time would allow teachers to better meet the individual needs of learners, he added. It would increase their ability to continuously learn and improve with each other. It would allow for collaborative time with their teams and others in the buildings whose schedules don’t align with their own or they don’t see due to COVID protocols.

It would help the district recruit and maintain high quality staff who feel appreciated, less stressed and more prepared at the start of the week, Kosmalski said. It would provide teachers the necessary time to give timely feedback on student work.

Collaboration is a premium as education shifts from a one size fits all to more individualized learning, Kosmalski reiterated. Education is moving toward providing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate efficiency. Gone are the days of failing a test and that’s that. Retakes and redos are allowed, Kosmalski said, a major shift in education. Teachers are focusing more on timely interventions and teacher-led direct instruction is shifting to student-led exploration.

FAQS How will the time be used?

•Collaboration between Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), specials, special education and interventionists

Address lesson planning that’s been encroached by other duties

Address meeting Child Find and special education referrals that are more prevalent at the elementary and intermediate schools due to child development

Being responsive to staff and student needs

Interventions can be done during this time How will this impact transportation home or to childcare centers? At the end of the day, busing will happen two hours early. If this doesn’t work for families, supervision will be provided at school until 3 p.m.

How does this improve instruction and programming? This will allow for the needed shifts to occur in current programming as well as meet the needs of all students, both at school.

How will this impact special education students, programming or IEPs? Adjustments to instructional schedules will account for instructional minutes.

Do we have enough instructional minutes to avoid extending the school year? Schools would still be over state required minutes. Grades K-5 would still be over by 42 hours, while grades 6-12 would be over by 14 hours.

For those who say the two-hour release is causing a loss of learning time, quality will be gained over quantity, Kosmalski said.

The two-hour release in the afternoons vs. a late start make sense for many reasons, he added. A late start may cause students to have to get ready alone in the morning while parents are at work. Teachers often have meetings in the mornings before school. More and more is being put on teachers’ plates that didn’t happen 20 years ago, so meetings outside of school hours are becoming the norm.

Student Council representative Shay Stenroos said during early releases, student-athletes often use the time for peer tutoring, music practices or homework before their sports practice begins.

Board Vice President Steve Sizemore said granting the two-hour early release request is one way the board can improve the morale in the schools.

There’s a reason Japanese student are ahead of American students, Kosmalski said. Japanese teachers are allowed four hours of prep and collaboration time per day, and spend four hours actually teaching.

The board will vote on the two-hour early release Monday at its Jan. 12 board meeting.

Academic calendar

The board will also vote Jan. 12 on the 202223 academic calendar. A staff survey with 127 responses provided the following preferences: Having Wednesday of Thanksgiving week off Having the Friday after fall parent-teacher conferences off A week-long spring break Evenly distributed professional development days In 2023, observing Jan. 2 as a federal holiday (Jan. 1 is a Sunday) 20% of staff have language in their contracts providing MLK Jr. Day off The earliest start date for school would be Sept. 1, with Ramp Up to Learning Days held Aug. 29-30.

The district may build in two-hour early release days, along with professional development, collaboration and assessment days.

December 28, 2021