A new girls charter school and early release Wednesday on Manatee School Board agendas

MANATEE -- A review of whether to continue early release Wednesdays and a contract for a new all-girls' charter school are among the issues facing the Manatee school board this week.

The board's agenda for its regular meeting this evening includes consideration of a contract with Just for Girls for a new charter school, slated to kick off with 144 students and grow to 288 within five years. The school's goal is to provide "gender-specific programming that will address many of the identified issues that contribute to the underachievement of some girls in American schools."

"An all-girl school will eliminate girls' sense that people expect less of them than they do boys," the contract says. "The culture of this school and its cooperative learning environment will encourage girls to inspire each other to work hard and do well." School organizers also hope the all-girls atmosphere will eliminate social and fashion competition among female students so they can focus more on academic achievement.

The Monday meeting is at 5:45 p.m. at the Student Support Center, 215 Manatee Ave. W.

A five-year-old practice of releasing students early on Wednesday afternoons will be the main focus of a board workshop that starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will also be held at the Student Support Center.

Board chair Harry Kinnan called for the workshop about three weeks ago, saying that frustrations by parents make it worthwhile to determine whether the "early release Wednesdays" are worth continuing.

The board decided in 2007 to implement the altered Wednesday schedule so that teachers would have more time for collaborative planning and professional devel

opment. Currently, Wednesday afternoons are used, on a rotating basis, for teacher planning time, professional development required by the school district, and professional development required by individual schools.

Kinnan said between 50 and 100 parents had complained over the years about transportation and child care hardships created by the early release Wednesdays. By contrast, a survey conducted last year showed that parents overwhelmingly supported the concept. Teachers have expressed mixed feelings. Many wonder how they could cope without the planning time provided to them on Wednesday afternoons, while others have said they would prefer more classroom time with their students.

The board is scheduled to hear a variety of options prepared by staff members to ensure planning time is retained.

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.