Early release days
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Highlands County students came back to school Tuesday after getting 13 school days off for Christmas, but January could be a bumper year for those who would rather not be in the classroom.
Published: January 9, 2013
Published: January 9, 2013
Another holiday awaits them Jan. 21. That's in addition to two early release days for high school and elementary students and three for middle schoolers.
Parent Jennifer Carnahan "loved" the longer Christmas break but doesn't care for the extra early release days.
"Hard to make arrangements for those days," she said.
Harry Pope thinks "it's crazy the amount of time the kids get off from school."
Tuesday was the first day back this year, and today middle school students are being let out two hours early.
"What are they thinking?" he wondered about school officials.
After changing this school year's calendar in a big way, the Highlands County School Board is set to consider the schedule for next school year at its meeting Jan. 15.
The calendar includes approved holidays and early release and professional development days, all which have to be accommodated within a mandated 180 days of school for students, 45 days each for every nine weeks.
For the last few years, the calendar debate has been about how many early release days to allow, especially for middle school students, whose teachers use the extra time they get for planning their curriculum and having workshops.
This year, that could well be the heart of the discussion again.
Newly elected school board member Jan Shoop, who once had school-going kids, understands how parents could be inconvenienced with constant schedule changes, but said her focus is to see what is best for students and their learning.
A committee gets input from teachers and administrators before coming up with a proposed calendar for the school board to consider.
"They have to figure out what's best for the students," she said.
The school district has not yet released its proposed calendar for 2013-14, but this year's calendar has 19 early release days for middle school students and 14 for everybody else.
From what Shoop has been told, the high school principals want the least early release days while the planning time is needed the most at the middle schools.
While the middle school teachers Shoop has encountered have liked the extra early release days and have used them well, school board member Bill Brantley said the ones he has spoken with have told him they are more of a distraction than a help.
"We are going to have to re-discuss this," he said.
School board member Donna Howerton, who is a liaison on the calendar committee, said she's not sure, either, if the early release days are the answer and she's asked School Superintendent Wally Cox to see if there is money in the budget to give middle school teachers back their planning time and cut the need to let out students early.
It will cost the school district $1 million to do that and she's waiting to see what Cox proposes.
Study halls have somewhat alleviate planning time crunches at the high school and it's not an issue at the elementary schools.
"The middle schools have no avenue," she said, other than early release days. "We have to configure somehow more planning time."
We asked readers on Facebook what they thought about the long Christmas break and early release days. Here are a few responses:
Loraine Smith Morris: Way too long. It was ridiculous. Considering the students are now cramming for midterms right around the corner. Now it's going to take them at least a few days of lost energy just trying to get the kids back into the swing of things. The early release day are also ridiculous. But yet summer vacation goes by in what seems like just mere weeks. hmmmmm.....
Megan Darr Brenda: The middle school teachers get the "extra" planning time because they really don't get it at any other times. The elementary teachers get their planning time when the students are at Specials, like PE or Library. All of the high schools are on the alternating A/B Day schedules, so they get at least one planning period a week. The middle school teachers have had to teach all the way through the day, from 8:15am to 3:00 or 3:15pm, with no break except a very short lunch. Some don't even get that lunch break. If they do have any extra time during the normal school day, it is often taken up by meetings (parent/teacher conferences, faculty meetings, etc.) And planning for what they're going to teach their students doesn't just take 5 minutes. It takes longer than you think, especially if they are teaching multiple subjects or multiple grade levels. The more preps they have, the longer the planning takes. Also, the teachers can't plan every single thing they are going to teach before the term because they can never tell how long it might take them to go through certain areas. It just depends on the specific students they have and if those students will understand what they're being taught the first time through or if the teacher might have to go over it again in a different manner. I mean, the whole goal of education is for students to pass, right? So in order for the teachers to help make that happen, then they need to be able to go at the pace their specific students need, which means taking more time to plan accordingly for their lesson plans. Since the middle school teachers don't get any of this time during a normal school day, I don't see anything wrong with the few extra early release days.