Teacher, parent surveys sought by Manatee school board on scheduling

MANATEE -- School board members appeared to be leaning toward doing away with "early release Wednesdays" during a workshop Tuesday, but they want to know how parents and teachers feel before making a final decision.

The district will collaborate with the Manatee Education Association to survey all of the district's 2,800 teachers on the topic, and Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal will coordinate an effort to reach 600 parents belonging to school advisory councils. The district will also post a survey for parents on its website,

The goal is to gather fresh feedback within the next two weeks for the school board to use June 11 when it decides whether to keep or eliminate what is officially known as "modified instructional Wednesdays." That's the formal term for a schedule approved in 2007 that releases all schools 90 minutes early every Wednesday to provide teachers more time for planning and professional development.

McGonegal had recommended to the board that the early release Wednesdays be eliminated and that the district implement a traditional five-day schedule involving six hours and 20 minutes each day. His proposal would provide students an additional 35 minutes of instruction every week, but would no longer provide teachers a long period to focus on planning and professional development. The plan would not reduce the overall amount of time teachers had for planning but would reduce profession

al development time by 25 minutes a week.

Board Chair Harry Kinnan said regardless of what the surveys showed, the board needed to be prepared to move forward with a decision. "I do think we have to push the ball out of the court," he said.

Board member Julie Aranibar said the most important point of the change is to equip teachers to help improve Manatee County's academic ranking, which is 47th out of 67 Florida school districts. Board member Barbara Harvey said her biggest concern is whether teachers feel they have enough time to accomplish all that is expected of them.

"I believe we want to get away from Wednesdays, but I want to make sure we are not making a negative impact on our classrooms," she said.

Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, said previous surveys her organization has conducted show teachers are split almost equally about early release Wednesdays. Many appreciate the planning time they provide, but many also find it difficult to deal with "four days of one length and one day of a different length."

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.