Students will head home so teachers can plan
By Elizabeth Gwilt
Despite some backlash, the Hillsborough County School Board decided last week to continue the practice of early release days.
Students will head home early on 15 days this year so teachers will have more time to plan. They will be dismissed two hours early on 14 Wednesdays throughout the year, starting Sept. 15. On the final day of school, now set for June 13, students will leave 2½ hours before regular dismissal.
The agreement makes other tweaks to the calendar. All schools will be closed the week of Thanksgiving and a four-day weekend is now slated for March 18-21. And in a surprise some board members say they didn’t realize they had approved, the new calendar bumped the final day of school to a Monday, June 13.
The board approved the changes 6-1, with Jennifer Faliero voting against, saying “14 early release days is too disruptive for all.”
Faliero, who said 40 percent of elementary school students don’t even attend school on early release days, was not alone in her opinion. Several parents attended the meeting in an attempt to convince the board that children will be missing too much instructional time if early days appeared on the calendar.
Though she voted in favor of the contract, board member Candy Olson sympathized with parent concerns about an erratic calendar
“I do have a problem with the number of weeks that are not normal,” she said.
The contract also includes a 2 percent increase in teachers’ salary, up to $1000. The vast majority of teaching and non-teaching staff members supported the contract, with 96 percent and 97 percent voting in favor, respectively.
There are mixed emotions about the new calendar among students and parents.
Noah Keene, a freshman at Steinbrenner High School, is content with the approved changes.
“I was hoping there would be ‘half days’ this year,” Keene said. “Sometimes I need the break.”
When Keene attended Martinez Middle School, he thought teachers took early release days seriously.
“It depends on the class, but for the most part there was a new lesson those days,” he said.
Classmate Stephanie Morris didn’t see it that way. She recalls early release days as pointless.
“We didn’t learn anything on early release days. I skipped school for most of them,” she said.
Now that she’s in high school, Morris said she might consider going to class on early release days.
Students in Janice Heiden’s classes should do the same thing. The fourth-grade teacher at McKitrick Elementary School said early release days are business as usual in her classroom.
“We never show movies; we do regular class work like any other day. We still teach and don’t do any less of what the norm is. We can’t sacrifice any time,” she said.
As a former teacher, Denyce DiCaprio of Lutz said the 2 percent raise is well deserved. “Being a teacher myself and knowing how little they get paid, I believe it is a good idea,” she said.
But she didn’t like the calendar that pushes spring break until the final week of April.
She would have preferred spring break at the end of March because “the kids get so burned out and need that long break.”
Board members rejected pleas to move spring break earlier, citing the need for more time to prepare students following the state’s decision to push FCAT testing from March and into April. But they still may have one more tweak on the calendar.
To close Thanksgiving week and add an extra off day in March, the district bumped the final day of school into a new week. Following Tuesday’s meeting, some board members said it was an oversight that needed to be fixed.
Scheduled early release days:
Sept. 15, Sept. 29, Oct. 13, Oct. 27, Nov. 10, Dec. 8, Jan. 12, Jan. 26, Feb. 9, Feb. 23, March 9, May 11, May 25, June 8, June 13*
All two hours early except the final day, which is 2½ hours early.
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