2014-03-14 / Front Page

Board listens to early-release proponents

School district chooses to stay with late-start Wednesdays next year
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

To start late or to release early, that is the question. Two years ago the Scarborough School District replaced early release days on Fridays with late start days on Wednesdays, in order to offer professional development opportunities for teachers and staff in the least disruptive way possible.

Now there is pressure on the Board of Education to change back.

“The late start model has worked well for other school districts. The research shows it is less of a disruption for kids, less of a disruption for teachers and less of a disruption for parents,” Superintendent George Entwistle said in June 2012, when the Board of Education voted to make the change. “When we can minimize disruptions to education and regain instructional time, it is the right thing to do.”

Heather Markham, a seventh-grade student at Scarborough Middle School, disagrees. Markham appeared before the Board of Education last week to ask that they consider switching back to early releases. Markham said she started a petition in the fall to revert to early release days again and got the signatures of 530 people who supported the switch.

“All the people I spoke with, both parents and students supported this,” she said. “Those opposed to this were few and far between.”

Markham said for working parents, it can be difficult to get their children to school on the 10 late-start Wednesdays. Primary school students start those days at 10:10 a.m. rather than 8:50 a.m. Wentworth students start their days at 9:40 a.m. rather than 8:20 a.m. and students in sixth through 12th grade start at 9 a.m. instead of 7:45 a.m. and 7:35 a.m., respectively. To help parents who can’t get their students to school at the later time, the Community Services department offered a special childcare package for the late-start Wednesdays.

A better, more convenient approach for parents, Markham said, would be to have early release on Fridays, which the district did as recent as the 2011-2012 school year.

Board of Education student representative Kristen Murray would support such a change.

“By Friday afternoon, I am checked out and not paying attention and not getting as much out of it as I could,” said Murray, a junior at Scarborough High School.

Markham’s mother, Michelle, said many of the surrounding school districts, including Portland, South Portland, RSU 23, Falmouth, Cumberland/North Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham and Windham/Raymond, have early release days, although most of those are during the middle of the week.

“I think the schedule should accommodate the best interests of the majority of the students. They are best prepared to learning in the morning,” Michelle Markham said.

Entwistle said Scarborough made the decision to go to late start as a way to give staff a better opportunity for professional development.

“Going to late start was not to coordinate with other school districts, it was to give teachers an opportunity to come into their workplace, focus and get started on improving their own instruction without having to worry about answering a ton of emails at the end of the day,” he said.

Board of Education member Chris Caiazzo said the change was made two years ago due to student concern as well.

“Some of the concern was safety related with kids getting out too early and not being supervised,” Caiazzo said.

Assistant Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore said what they were finding was students were getting out early and hanging around town unsupervised until their sports practice or after-school activity.

“It can run more normally as a school day when it is a late start rather than an early release,” said Board of Education member Kelly Murphy.

Jackie Perry, a longtime member of the Board of Education, said the group has tried a number of methods of professional development over the years.

“During my tenure on the board, we have had many variations on this theme,” she said. “The least acceptable for everyone seemed to be the day, the full day. It seems to me, over the last two years, this seems to be the one that works the best,” Perry said.

While board members understood where the Markhams and Murray were coming from, they unanimously accepted the school calendar with the late start model. Next year’s late starts will occur on Sept. 10, Oct. 8, Nov. 19, Dec. 10, Jan. 7, Feb. 11, March 11, April 8, May 13 and June 3.

“It takes a lot of courage to come up and do what you did,” Caiazzo told Heather Markham. “Believe me, it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at leader.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top