MANATEE -- A traditionally contentious issue for parents won school board approval Monday night after it was added to the agenda late last week.
The school board voted 4-1 to approve an early release schedule one Wednesday every month next school year to allow teachers to prepare for common core curriculum through professional learning and seminars.
Bob Gause was the lone board member to vote against the modified schedule.
The new early release Wednesday will help prepare teachers for transition
into a common core curriculum.
The school district first adopted early release Wednesdays for all schools in the 2007-2008 school year. The weekly schedule continued until the school board voted to discontinue it in the 2012-2013 school year.
School board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said the program was pulled after several years with no noticeable change in student achievement.
"It was supposed to improve student test scores, but they just flat-lined," Carpenter said. "The board also did a survey to hear from parents and got a lot of pushback saying the early release was an inconvenience."
Carpenter said the district could change the day of early release to Monday or Friday. However, Carpenter said most school holidays land on Mondays and Fridays, so the possibility of an extended weekend means there might be difficulty getting teachers to participate in the sessions.
"We want to see teachers learn to manage the common core curriculum, and we want to increase student performance," Carpenter said.
Rowlett parent Christine Sket said a monthly early release is better than once a week. She said an early release on Friday would be more convenient.
"Some parents will be inconvenienced, and for some it will give them the chance to spend time with their kids," Sket said. "The bigger importance will be how it affects our teachers. We will wait and see."
Dismissal times on early release days will be 1:15 p.m. for elementary schools, 2:10 p.m. for middle schools and 12:30 p.m. for high schools.
School board Vice Chairwoman Julie Aranibar said students would lose momentum mid-week because of early release in the past.
"It changes the work flow when school closes at noon," Aranibar said.
Aranibar also said early release can be a problem for parents, especially working families. She voted in favor of the modified schedule, but said she didn't like the item being added to the agenda so late.
"Arrangements have to made to pick up all these children," Aranibar said. "I'm not saying that it can't be done. I understand we have to have this training, and I'm trusting that it will be helpful for the district."
The school board said in the past the district did not handle teachers' instructional workshops consistently, and there were downfalls in instruction the teachers received.
"In the past we were able to write the plan, but we could not implement it," Aranibar said.
Despite past issues with early release Wednesdays, Superintendent Rick Mills said there was a "resounding request" during school visits to bring it back.
Mills said it will be an opportunity for teachers to have common core workshops and for school leadership teams to meet.
There will be seven early release Wednesdays in the 2013-2014 school year, one per month with the exception of January and April. This will result in about 21 hours in teacher instruction over the school year.
Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instruction, said the cost to train teachers to implement common core over the summer is around $100,000.
While summer training is still an option, Greene said the modified Wednesday is an alternative to paying teachers over the summer or having to pull teachers out of class for training during the school year.
Greene said the first early release Wednesday will be Sept. 4.
A calendar with the early release dates will be available on the school district's website.
Gause said the district should recognize training as a budget issue and pay only for teachers who want to attend instructional workshops.
"We can't make teachers attend," Gause said. "If we make teachers do training that they do not want, then we will not get the benefits that we want. It will be easier on trainers if the teachers are paid, but choose to be there."
Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, said teachers need this time during the day for training and instruction.
"If training is after school, you are disenfranchising those who want to attend but cannot attend," Barber said. "It is an erroneous assumption to say that teachers would not sign up just because they don't want to. Some would be interested but can't."
Barber said many teachers work second jobs with salary cuts or work in after-school programs such as tutoring or athletics.
"There would be competing interest around after-school activities," Mills said.
Instruction will be provided by Greene and the executive school directors. Gause said it will be hard to provide instruction for all district teachers in one day.
"I can only hope that we are successful with this new team and focus," Mills said.
"We are looking to move forward, which is something we really need."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.