Wake schools may shorten a day

Plan to add prep time for teachers might face resistance from parents

Staff WritersMarch 25, 2009 

— Wake County parents face being asked to soak up higher child care costs as part of a new school system initiative to release schools early once a week to give more planning time for teachers.

Under a proposal that was preliminarily approved by the school board Tuesday, all schools would dismiss an hour early one day a week; elementary and middle schools would also add two more half-days a year.

While school leaders are touting the academic benefit of the changes, they acknowledged that they will likely lead to parents paying more for child care to cope with all the extra early dismissals.

"This is going to be difficult for parents in the community to make this adjustment," said school board member Lori Millberg. "I want to assure them that this will be time well used."

A final vote on the changes, which could begin as soon as July, is scheduled for March 31.

In addition, the board is considering changing the schedules of 11 schools this fall. For example, East Wake High School might start later, at 8:05 a.m., while four high-poverty elementary schools could start earlier, at 8:30 a.m.

It won't be easy winning over parents such as Kim Clifford, PTA president of Lockhart Elementary School in Knightdale, who said the regular early dismissals could cause plenty of problems.

"That's going to hurt a lot of parents who work and mess a lot of schedules," said Clifford, who has children in second, seventh and 10th grades. "For a lot of our families who get paid by the hour, that could really hurt them."

To create the additional planning time, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators recommended adding 10 minutes to each school day. This would create an additional 30 hours of time a year to help comply with a state requirement for 1,000 instructional hours a year.

Superintendent Del Burns said it's likely that schools will add the time by ending the day later. The board specifically told him that high schools, the majority of which now start at 7:25 a.m., won't start earlier.

These additional 1,800 minutes would allow schools at all levels to let students out one hour early once a week. It would be the same day of the week for every school.

Elementary and middle schools would get six half-days a year -- known as early release days. Currently, they get four a year.

Before the changes are adopted, the committee recommended contacting after-school program providers about the details.

Jennifer Nelson, spokeswoman for the YMCA of the Triangle, said the organization, which serves about 7,000 children a day in various programs, will adapt to the new schedule.

"The good thing for us is, when we run after-school programs, a lot of times they're at the school," Nelson said. "We're all over the community, so the facility issue is not really a problem. We would make the accommodations necessary to help families out."

Jennifer Lanane, a teacher and member of the committee that recommended the changes, said the net result would be a loss of five instructional hours a year. But she said it would be offset by creating more time for "professional learning communities" -- otherwise known as joint planning time for teachers.

"If parents know the children will get a better education from this, that's all they want," said Lanane, president of the Wake chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, which represents 5,000Wake school employees.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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