2015-03-06 / Front Page

School board weighs late start or early release approach for next school year

By Michael Kelley

School administrators are hoping a change to the 2015-2016 school calendar will give staff the time they need for professional development and fulfill necessary training and requirements.

Late last month, the Board of Education got its first look at a school calendar that includes late starts every Wednesday to give staff more time to work together.

The late start proposal increases late starts from 10 to 32. Monique Culbertson, the district’s director of curriculum and assessment, said late starts would not occur the first two weeks of school or the last two weeks of school. The late starts would mean a 10:15 a.m. start for K-2 students; 9:45 a.m. for Wentworth School students; 9:10 a.m. for Scarborough Middle School students and 9 a.m. for students at Scarborough High School.

Kelly Murphy, chairman of the board’s policy committee, and Jodi Shea, chairman of the board’s outreach and communication task team, sat down with Superintendent George Entwistle this week after hearing concern from parents and teachers in other districts regarding the late start model.

Murphy said many parents said early release days work better for their schedules, so as a result, a new proposal was drafted. The new proposal suggests having early releases on 28 Wednesdays throughout the year. This would mean 1:45 p.m. dismissal for primary school students, 1:15 p.m. dismissal for Wentworth students, 12:40 p.m. dismissal for middle school students and 12:30 p.m. dismissal at the high school.

Regardless of which approach is taken, the intent is to give teachers time to work together on personal development and fulfilling professional requirements.

“The teachers cannot do what they need to with the time they have” Superintendent George Entwistle told board members Feb. 26. “We are maxing out in after school time. We are maxing out with other available time.”

Under either calendar scenario, the school year will begin Tuesday, Sept. 1 and conclude in mid-June.

“It is valuable. The teachers need the time, ” Murphy said. “This is ongoing. It is not just a one-time thing. The job of a teacher has changed.”

Board member Christine Massengill wondered if having a full day of teacher development makes more sense than the early release or late start model.

Entwistle said full-day workshops are “the most ineffective model.”

How other school districts deal with providing time for teacher development differs greatly. Murphy said RSU 21 (Arundel, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport) has weekly late arrivals at the middle school and high school and monthly early release days for elementary students leave early. Greely, she said, has 28 late starts and Yarmouth doesn’t have any, but extends the teacher contract year to accommodate staff-only days.

Board member Chris Caiazzo called Kennebunk’s approach a “unique solution” and one worth exploring in Scarborough. Murphy said that approach was looked at but Scarborough “couldn’t make it work with our geographic spread and the numbr of buses we have.”

Board members will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each model and make a decision at their next meeting on Thursday, April 1.

“It’s a commitment for one year with reevaluation,” Entwistle said. “I think it should be like that every year.”

Culbertson said “all teachers at all levels” have expressed a desire for more time to devote to goals set out in the 24-month improvement plan, and to plan for unfunded mandates, such as proficiency-based diplomas and the reaccredidation of Scarborough High School.

Many times, Culbertson said, teachers have to be pulled out of the classroom and a substitute teacher used.

“It’s the quality of the work that will suffer if we don’t give our staff the time,” said Board Chairman Donna Beeley said last month.

With the new proposal, “every week there is time set aside for staff to improve,” Culbertson said. Whether it features early release, late start, or another approach, the 2015-2016 calendar will be aligned with other districts which, like Scarborough, send students to Westbrook Vocational Center and includes 177 instruction days for students, two more than is required by the state.

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