PRESCOTT – Starting Monday, Jan. 24, Prescott School District students will be released two hours early on Mondays in order to provide teachers with what they say is much-needed collaboration and …
PRESCOTT – Starting Monday, Jan. 24, Prescott School District students will be released two hours early on Mondays in order to provide teachers with what they say is much-needed collaboration and preparation time.
The Prescott School Board approved the early release for the remaining 17 Mondays of the 2021-22 school year. The vote was 4-0, with Board Vice President Steve Sizemore abstaining (his wife is a teacher).
According to school district administration including building principals in a December school board presentation, the request is supported by the majority of district teachers. As the district transitions to a more learning-centered rather than grade-focused approach,
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and addresses learning gaps exacerbated by COVID, overworked and overstressed teachers are in need of more time to plan lessons, provide feedback to students and collaborate with their peers, Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza said.
“It’s about giving teachers an opportunity in a workday, not to have to go beyond their workday to do the work that they need to do to improve student performance,” Spicuzza said. “It’s hard and I know that our parents are probably just as tied as our staff are.”
One reason staff don’t have the preparation time they need is increased demands on their time due to staffing shortages. A dramatic substitute teacher shortage has forced teachers and administration to cover for their colleagues during prep hours and lunches. Meetings that took place before school before are not always possible now because teachers supervise students having breakfast when they arrive at school.
Spicuzza summarized the following frequently asked questions from parents in regards to the early release: Why are early release days needed every week and not one day per month? Continuous, short cycles of improvement and adjustment are more beneficial in making sustainable change, Spicuzza said.
Why Mondays? Adjustments need to be made early in the week to be able to implemented and sustained throughout the week, especially when students know they will be absent. Planning later in the week for an unknown following week would be unproductive. Meetings with families, including IEPs, are preferred by families in most cases, Spicuzza said.
However, if polled, most parents would probably pick Fridays for early release (minus meetings), he admitted.
“But it’s about the staff and their ability to adjust student plans throughout the week,” he said. “There is no perfect day to pick.”
How will 4K be impacted? The AM and PM classes will be adjusted on Mondays. The AM class will meet 7:45-10 a.m., while the PM class will meet 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. At this time, there’s no need for additional time to be added to 4K classes.
How will this impact special education students, programming or IEPs? Adjustments to instructional schedules will account for IEP instructional minutes.
How will this impact transportation home or to child care centers? End of day busing home will occur two hours early. If this doesn’t work for families, the school district will provide supervision on site until 3 p.m. In-town child care center shuttles will run at 3 p.m.
How does this improve instruction and programming? This will allow for the needed shifts to occur in current programming and meet the needs of all students, both at school.
Will there be enough instructional minutes?
Schools will still be over state requirements: K-5 will be over by 42 hours; grades 6-12 will be over by 14 hours. With innovative teaching, additional days should be avoided.
Spicuzza admitted while there is no perfect solution, this measure will help retain talented staff.
From a student perspective, board student representative Shay Stenroos said kids know their teachers need help and are stressed out.
“For those that may be concerned about loss of instructional time, as a student, I believe that having this two-hour early release will actually help improve our education,” Stenroos said. “It’s very obvious that our teachers are stressed right now. It’s very difficult to get extra help from our teachers right now with how many classes that they’re subbing for or what they’re filling in for for other teachers.”
Board Treasurer Tanya Holub pointed out the district was discussing an early release pre-COVID. Spicuzza confirmed PHS had a late start on Wednesdays up until two years ago for teacher preparation and collaboration time.
“So much of teaching and education happens outside of the classroom,” Holub said. “We have to carve time for those things to happen, or kids are in a classroom that haven’t been purposefully planned for, because of a lack of time.”
Board Clerk Pat Block appreciates parent concerns about losing face-to-face time, but wants to give teachers the time and tools they need.
“When we remove students away from a teacher, it’s logical that they’re not learning and so I do understand and respect those points,” he said.
Board President Mike Matzek said while he understands, as a parent, how the schedule change might be a hardship for parents who work away from home, he believes the two-hour release approval is a “no-brainer,” especially considering how short-staffed all schools are. Teachers already put in overtime without being asked, he said. Block also added that student tutoring and aide-led intervention time during two-hour release Mondays will help address learning gaps.
Before the meeting, two parents spoke out against the early release during public comment time, while one spoke in favor.
The board unanimously improved the 202223 school year calendar, but will revisit adding two-hour release days on Mondays next year or another day of the week. If two-hour release days are added next year, five minutes would be added to each school in order to meet state instructional minute requirements.
Matzek challenged staff to bring back other options, such as early release on another weekday, late starts, or per-building plans.
The calendar, which has 171 student contact days, starts the school year on Thursday, Sept. 1 and ends the first week of June 2023. Summer school will commence after a one-week break. Notable days off include Thanksgiving break Nov. 23-25, holiday break Dec. 23 through Jan. 2 and spring break March 13-17. Ramp-up to Learning Days will take place Aug. 30-31.