Early Release - Late Start & Professional Development Daysposted Apr 15, 2014
Board President, Bryan Smith, recently entertained a few questions from a member of the community dealing with the amount of time our teachers spend away from students on Wednesdays (early release/late arrival) as well as on professional development days. The essence of the questions dealt with whether or not the time away from students was worth it and how were teachers and administrators held accountable for that time. I’m sure the same questions are on the minds of several community members, and thus I welcome the opportunity to respond.
We are required by the state to provide education to our students in grades one through twelve for 180 days and at least 990 hours each year. The requirements for kindergarten students are less than those for our older students. Two of the 180 days of instructional time may be exchanged for parent/teacher conference. As a result of a new law passed during the 2014 legislative session, four additional days of instruction may be exchanged for teacher development and/or planning.
The Box Elder School Board actually contracts with our teachers for 183 days or three days beyond that which is required by the state. The extra three days are designed specifically for planning and professional development. Typically either two or all three days are taken before school begins. Those schools who only take two days before school begins use the other day between trimesters.
Time before the school year is spent in organizational meetings, professional development and in providing an opportunity for teachers to finish preparations for the new school year. In most cases, the teachers have already spent time in grade level or department meetings and preparing their rooms on their own time, without pay, before the “official” start of a new contract year. They are accountable for their contract time during the three “extra” days to their building principals.
Although the state has granted as many as four instructional days out of the required 180 days for professional development and/or planning, the adjusted calendar approved by the Board on April 9 uses only two of those days. This year those days, August 25 and September 24, are currently scheduled to be used for professional development. The focus will be on the development of SLOs (Student Learning Objectives) which will become an integral part of the new teacher evaluation system scheduled to be fully implemented during the 2015-2016 school year. For their work during these two days, the teachers will be accountable for a specific product to their building principal, who, in turn will be accountable to the district office.
Regarding the early release and late arrival of students scheduled for every Wednesday, the purpose of that time is to focus on four key questions as a grade level team or a department. Those questions are as follows:
What should our students know and be able to do? (Curriculum)
How do we determine if they actually know or are able to do what we expect? (Assessment)
What do we do if they don’t know or aren’t able to do what we expect? (Intervention – remediation)
What do we do with those who do know and/or are able to do what we expect? (Intervention – extension)
The goal is to improve student performance by focusing on the essential skills that students should know and be able to do, measuring how each individual is doing toward mastering those skills, and then providing remediation for those that need additional help and extensions for those who can go deeper for additional understanding.
The teachers are first accountable to their students and the other members of their PLC (Professional Learning Community) team. The teams look at data generated from both summative (final/long term) and formative (practice/short term) assessments to determine what needs to be retaught and to whom the additional instruction needs to go. They also look at the materials and strategies they are using individually as well as collectively to determine what works best so they can jointly benefit from success. Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, increases in a teacher’s salary will be based on how well students perform on state-wide summative assessments and/or SLOs, administrative evaluations, and feedback from parent and student surveys.
During the past three years, I have also set at least one expectation for all PLC teams each trimester. The information is collected by building level principals and sent to me. I summarize that information and provide a report to the Board during a public meeting.
I believe it is also important to note that the State of Utah has provided a great deal of money to districts for such things as professional development and planning in the past. When I returned to the state seventeen years ago, the program was called Career Ladder. It was changed to the Quality Teaching Block Grant a few years later. At one time, the state provided enough money to pay teachers for several extra days for planning, professional development, and preparation. In some districts, teachers got as many as ten extra days beyond their base contract. The additional state money for extra days was eliminated during the recession and has not been reinstituted. What you are seeing are attempts to provide teachers with some additional time for those valuable activities without costing taxpayers more money.