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Menomonee Falls round table addresses school calendar, early release

Parents, school board discuss necessity of releasing students early on Wednesdays

Dec. 9, 2012

Menomonee Falls - More than two dozen parents of elementary, middle and high school students attended a round table discussion last week hosted by the school board to address concerns about the proposed school calendar.

The parents did not argue for or against adding an early release day every Wednesday of the school year for elementary schools and North Middle School; rather, they were curious as to why it was necessary.

The calendar will not be voted on until Jan. 28. The vote could be pushed later in the year if administrators and the board still feel it is necessary to discuss the issue. Until then, they are hoping for plenty of feedback from parents.

The proposed schedule limits the amount of half days throughout the year and places spring break the week before Easter instead of after. When asked which week parents preferred, none at the round-table had a preference.

The early release days would allow for teachers districtwide to meet in groups in order to analyze student progress, assess student data and share techniques to apply in the classrooms.

These meetings are in response to an educational overhaul at the state and national levels. The shifts require public school districts to move to curricula known as the common core. They also require every single student to show progress in their learning, according to Superintendent Patricia Greco.

"The state and national governments are shifting what we teach and the level of expectation for student performance," Greco said. "The 2014-15 school year is the shift and right now we are doing the curriculum alignment."

Time is of the essence

Currently, teachers at each grade level are meeting every six weeks to look at individual student progress, said Valley View Elementary Principal Tina Posnanski. Teachers look at a data wall to determine what type of learning plans individual students need.

"We are finding we don't have enough time," Posnanski said.

Teachers are also meeting before school; however, more often than not they have to use that time period to meet with parents or fulfill other duties. In addition, the district has been replacing teachers with substitutes during the school day so they can attend training on the common core and on new student assessment tools.

"We've been relying on staff development time during the summer," Greco said. "We've been relying on substitute time where we're pulling people out of the classroom to work together on curriculum teams and that isn't ideal, which is part of what we're trying to remedy with the calendar schedule."

She said teachers don't have enough time to prepare for the shift in accountability being implemented at the state level. Having an early release time on Wednesdays is a way to fix that and limit the amount of time teachers are pulled out of their classrooms.

One parent questioned why the district chose Wednesday and not Friday. Greco said historically the Wisconsin Athletic Association scheduled fewer sporting events on Wednesdays because it was considered a holy day. Therefore, the many teachers who also act as district coaches do not have to miss meetings due to extracurriculars.

Child care will be available on-site

Having child care on early release days was also a concern expressed by a parent.

At the middle school, supervised quiet study areas will be provided for students until they can be picked up.

Each elementary school provides morning and after-school child care. Typically, a child needs to use the service a set number of times per week. Community Education and Recreation, which offers the service through child care provider Kids Inc., will begin offering an option for child care one day a week. After school care costs $8.50 per day, said CE & Rec Supervisor Jason Husslein. He said the one-day-a-week care option should be about the same price.

Children can stay as late as 6 p.m. at their respective school if they use the service.

"We recognize it's a shift and cost to families, but staff believes the shift is significant in student learning," Greco said.

Evaluating changes at the high school level

The high school already releases students early on Wednesdays.

Teachers are working together to find ways to intervene when students need help and challenge those who are at a higher level of learning.

The math department at the high school is testing ways to shift to the common core by using the Plan Do Study Act method for evaluating changes.

"We need Wednesday time because we get together to make assessments because we are designing all of our materials," said math teacher Jeff Thompson. "There is no text book for the common core. We're enthralled in training, we're overwhelmed by it, but we're making it work."

He said the teachers need support from the parents in order to make Falls students competitive with their peers around the state.

To view the proposed calendar, visit sdmf.k12.wi.us.

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