Early release days will continue this coming school year giving students a total of nine hours off from classroom time and teachers nine hours to work collaboratively.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District implemented six early release days for students. On those days, after students left, educators worked together to improve teaching strategies.
The district administered an online survey in March to parents and certified staff members. More than 500 parents and nearly 400 staff members finished the survey.
In the survey, staff rated the effectiveness of the early release days. The average rating was 3.34 with 35 percent of staff reporting the days as effective and 24 percent rating them as somewhat effective.
“That tells us that teachers are using the time wisely,” said Sean Dusek, assistant superintendant.
Dusek said the district had two reasons for implementing the minimum school days. He said research throughout the country shows that when teachers are given time to focus on teaching strategies that the positive impact on students is significant. The second reason was that teachers requested allocated time to collaborate.
“They understand that in order to get a job done they need to be able to work together and be real focused on the needs of students,” he said.
Sarge Truesdell, Soldotna Middle School principal, said that in the past few years, teachers have tried to collaborate to improve student achievement. With teachers who are also coaches or advisors for student organizations, it was difficult to find time to work together.
Having designated collaborative time during the workday solved that problem.
“We used the time fully, 100 percent, for collaboration, and I thought it went really, really well,” Truesdell said.
Sheliah-Margaret Pothast, a social studies teacher at Soldotna Middle, said she has benefited from the early release days by sharing ideas with colleagues about how to meaningfully engage students. She said the social studies teachers have also collaborated with the language arts department to reinforce what is being taught in each subject.
Students noticed the collaborative efforts between the two departments. The departments combined some assignments with social studies-based content but the writing skills were learned in language arts classes, she said.
“Anytime you can build those real-life connections for kids and those ah-ha moments they have, then you’re in good shape and they’re going, ‘OK I get it now,’” Pothast said.
Joel Burns, seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Soldotna Middle, said he reviewed pre-and-post-test data with other science teachers. If results showed that students were already knowledgeable in a certain subject, the teachers covered that more quickly than weaker topic areas.
During prep periods, Burns said teachers also observed their co-workers teach to look specifically for start up activities and lab procedures to become more effective during classroom time. During collaboration, the teachers then discussed what they observed to learn from one another’s strengths. He said the dedicated, focused time helped in the classroom.
“Some people might think it’s just wasted, sit around and drink coffee and eat doughnuts time, but for us it was very specific,” Burns said.
Dusek said as the district develops assessments through the early release days, it will show that students benefit from the teacher collaboration.
“We’re able to individualize instruction better,” Dusek said. … “We’re relying heavily on teamwork to meet those challenges that are going to, in the end, benefit student learning and their ability to be ready for college and career,” Dusek said.
All early release days this past school year took place on Wednesdays. The administration is recommending two of the six minimum days take place on Fridays.
More than half, 55 percent, of parents surveyed said they would prefer minimum days to be on Fridays. The majority of staff surveyed, 47 percent, selected Wednesdays as the preferred day, while 30 percent of staff preferred Fridays.
“We tried to balance the feedback as best we could,” Dusek said about the chosen dates.
He said with Fridays a concern is that coaches may be gone for sporting events. The selected Fridays, Dusek said, should see a minimal impact from that.
The chosen Wednesdays are right before parent-teacher conferences.
Early release days for the 2014-2015 school year are scheduled for
■ Sept. 17
■ Oct. 29
■ Nov. 26
■ Feb. 4, 2015.
■ March 27, 2015
■ May 1, 2015.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org