The Wake County school board is heading toward a mini-repeat of a fight that three years ago pitted parents against educators about which was the best weekday for students to go home early.
In 2009, students were dismissed early every Wednesday so that teachers could use the time for training, a decision that upset so many parents that it helped elect the Republican board majority that eliminated the practice. The board’s now Democratic majority is considering bringing back Wednesday early dismissals on a limited basis that would only involve six days per student.
“The goal is here to do what’s best for professional development,” said Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators (Wake NCAE), which represents about 3,500 of the district’s employees.
At issue are early release days in which students are dismissed 21/2 hours early. For the past few years, Wake has had the six early release days per student on Fridays instead of Wednesdays.
“It’s a little bit more family friendly on Fridays,” school board member John Tedesco, a Republican, said.
On Dec. 4, the school board will discuss whether to hold the early release days for the 2013-14 school year on Fridays or Wednesdays.
In the 2009-10 school year, students went home early every Wednesday, either 21/2 hours on the six early release days or one hour on other weeks. Supporters called it “Wake Wednesdays,” saying it provided regular training time that helped teachers do a better job of educating students.
But critics called it “Wacky Wednesdays,” arguing that the mid-week dismissals were inconvenient and expensive for parents as they arranged for childcare to cover those days.
The Republican board majority ended the weekly early dismissals, telling schools to arrange their own training time. In addition, the board moved the early release days to Fridays, where they still remain.
Several of the Fridays proposed for early release in the 2013-14 school year include during the State Fair and before Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.
But at the school board’s student achievement committee meeting earlier this month, Cathy Moore, the deputy superintendent for school performance, said there was “widespread interest” from principals to move the early release days back to Wednesday.
Moore said that Fridays aren’t the “most conducive” to holding professional development.
“By Friday afternoon, staff is drained,” added temporary Superintendent Stephen Gainey.
The Democratic school board members at the committee meeting were sympathetic toward using Wednesdays.
Board member Susan Evans said that she’s heard from teachers and staff at several schools that they’re not happy that everybody but them gets to have a long weekend.
Board member Jim Martin disputed the idea that only Fridays are family friendly. Martin said his children “loved” getting out early on Wednesdays because they offered a “breather” that provides extra time in the middle of the week to work on larger projects.
Board members asked about having half the days on Fridays and half on Wednesdays. But district administrators said that it would be less confusing for families if the half days fell on the same day of the week.
Nilles, the Wake NCAE president, said it would be easier to bring in trainers from outside the area for staff development on Wednesdays compared to Fridays before holidays. Nilles also said that having the training on Wednesdays makes it possible for teachers to immediately apply what they’ve learned opposed to waiting until after the weekend.
“It really comes down to what’s the better day of the week for professional development,” Nilles said. “Most of our members agree Wednesday is a better day.”
None of the other Triangle districts hold their staff development days on Fridays.
“We thought on Wednesdays people are fresher and more focused,” said Michael Gilbert, an Orange County schools’ spokesman.
But Tedesco, the school board member, said there’s no difference on staff development if the days are held on Wednesdays or Fridays, so the focus should be on what’s best for families.
“My concern is how are we impacting our families,” Tedesco said. “It’s better to give them the Friday option.”