Manatee school board needs fresh input on early-dismissal Wednesday policy

The Manatee County school board is once again reconsidering early-release Wednesdays, a day when students are dismissed a few hours early to allow teachers additional time for lesson planning and professional development.

The idea behind the policy, instituted five years ago, remains sound but is the execution effective? And what about the burden on parents, especially families where both work daytime jobs and can ill afford to take time off to retrieve their children or pay for day care?

A year ago in March, the district surveyed parents for their opinions, but the daytime robocalls only collected information from a certain segment of that population -- certainly not from two working parents with those daytime jobs, the ones most likely to object. The flawed poll of about 9,700 parents found a lukewarm 48 percent in favor of early-dismissal Wednesdays, 36 percent opposed and about 15 percent undecided. That doesn't rank as a groundswell of support.

Some parents expressed positive views in support of teacher and curriculum development as leading to a supposed improvement in the quality of student education. With Manatee mired among the poorest performing districts in the state -- ranking 47th out of 67 -- that assumption holds little water.

Teachers have complained that the professional development often consists of training in areas outside their classroom field, a waste of precious time.

The school board plans to make a decision on retention for the upcoming school year by the end of May, with a workshop before then.

If the board is intent on gauging the effectiveness of those few hours, we suggest a more scientific survey of parents as well as an anonymous poll of teachers -- likely to result in far more revealing and valuable feedback.

Cheers to school volunteers

Speaking of public education, how about all those school volunteers who were honored at an awards luncheon in mid-April?

Some 3,700 strong ranging in age from elementary students to retirees, those generous souls provided 154,000 hours of service this school year.

The district estimates the donation of time would have cost $3 million in labor expenses. Kudos to all the volunteers, the 90 nominated for awards and the 13 recognized for extra special contributions.

Quote of the week

"I am absolutely speechless. I am so overjoyed and proud of my students." -- a teary-eyed Shannon DeGaetano, the Sugg Middle School social studies teacher who initiated an annual collection of plastic bottles for recycling in 2009, speaking Thursday after a district and community effort established a new world record by amassing 29,500 pounds of bottles over eight hours.