June 26, 2008

School Committee to Meet on Early-Release Plan

By Ethan Forman, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

Jun. 26--DANVERS -- Parents who want to know just how many early release days there will be in the upcoming school year may find out at a special meeting of the School Committee next week.

A special meeting is planned Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Holten Richmond Middle School.

School Committee Chairman Bill Bates said yesterday he backs the plan to add more early release days to provide for more teacher training.

"All of the paid professionals in our system are in favor of expanding professional development and teacher collaboration during the school day," Bates said. "I plan to vote to support doing just that."

The early-release plan grew out of teacher contract negotiations and was first aired by the School Committee earlier this month. It calls for students to be sent home early every other Tuesday to give teachers more time for planning and professional development.

The proposal drew a mostly negative response from parents, however, at a meeting on June 18, with many saying they were surprised by the move. The School Committee voted in favor of the plan June 9, but it requires another vote to pass.

While parents acknowledged teachers need training, some worried about work schedules, the disruption to their children's routine and how much time students might lose in class. There were six early release days this past school year.

After a four-hour meeting, the School Committee held off making a decision, but did not set a meeting date that night.

Some parents of special education students were worried their children might not get enough time for therapies and learning spelled out in their individual education plans.

"I disagree with parents' assertion this schedule would have a negative impact on their students," Bates said. "We must, by law, provide those services."

The School Committee, at the request of the school administration, negotiated the early release and professional development plan in the recently signed three-year contract. Language in the contract allows the school district to revert to this year's calendar if the plan is not adopted.

Under the plan, the elementary and middle schools would be dismissed at 12:55 p.m., and the high school would be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. To make up for time lost in the classroom, five minutes would be added to the school day. School officials say there is more than enough time in the calendar to meet state time-on-learning requirements.

The state requires teachers to earn a certain number of professional development points every five years, and school districts are required to offer some training, which teachers can choose to attend voluntarily. Schools are not required to provide the training during normal classroom hours.

Administrators see the 36 hours of training during early release days as mandatory, Bates said, and teachers would be required to participate. The goal is to improve performance on MCAS and SAT tests, to teach a new reading curriculum in the elementary schools, and to work on the high school's accreditation.

The Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District releases children early every Wednesday to make time for teacher training. Ipswich also has an early dismissal schedule every Thursday, for professional development, curriculum development and teachers' meetings.

If you go

What: Special meeting of the Danvers School Committee

When: Tuesday, July 1, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Holten Richmond Middle School, multipurpose room, 55 Conant St.

On the agenda: Adoption of the fiscal 2009 school calendar and the adoption of early release days


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