Early Release Schedule for Professional Development

posted May 15, 2019, 3:34 PM by Dave Fournier   [ updated May 21, 2019, 9:36 AM by Jason Tozer ]

After considerable deliberation spanning several months, the RSU 71 School Board approved a weekly early release for all students district-wide in order to support a district goal of improved and expanded professional development time for educators and training for district employees.

The Board of Directors has been entertaining the concept of a more consistent professional development model for the last several meetings, with in depth discussion occurring on February 25th,   April 29th, and May 13th. The ideas that were presented regarding expanded professional development options included:

  1. late start vs. early release,

  2. elimination of a week of vacation,

  3. snow day make-up

  4. scheduling  PD days in August before the students arrive in September and then doing weekly follow-up during early release days.

The purpose of expanding professional development opportunities  are as follows:

  1. Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment

  • Putting the powerful tools of measuring progress back in the hands of students

  • Igniting the capacity of students to take responsibility for their own learning and build independence, critical thinking skills, and perseverance

     2. Collaborative Culture

  • Helping educators build classrooms that are respectful, active, collaborative, and growth-oriented

  • Helping schools build school-wide structures, expectations and practices to elicit keen engagement, investment, and performance on the part of students and staff

      3. Learning That Lasts

  • Challenging, Engaging, and Empowering Students with Deeper Instruction

Common Planning Time (CPT):  The primary purpose of common planning time is to

bring teachers and other staff together to learn from one another and collaborate on projects that will lead to improvements in lesson quality, instructional effectiveness, and student achievement. These improvements result from (1) the improved coordination and communication that occurs among teachers who meet and talk regularly, (2) the learning, insights, and constructive feedback that occur during professional discussions among teachers, and (3) the lessons, units, materials, and resources that are created or improved when teachers work on them collaboratively.

CPT will need to be planned and overseen by building principals, directors and teacher leaders to ensure that time is being well used as a vehicle to better meet the needs of our students. All professional staff will need to be trained in Team Leader Training in August, 2019 with the expectation that, over time, all professional staff will serve as leaders of their teams.  The uses of CPT will include:

  • Professional Discussions  - Teachers review lesson plans and assessments that have been used in a class, and then offer critical feedback and recommendations for improvement.

  • Assessing Student Products and Performances  - Teachers assess one another’s student work products and performances,  with an eye to seeing patterns and trends in student performance that reflect instructional strengths and weaknesses.  Teachers then offer up recommendations and make commitments to try alternative strategies to elicit even better results. (For example, teachers may assess student writing using the district writing rubric for that grade level.)

  • Diving into Assessment Data - Teachers analyze student-performance data to identify trends—such as which students are consistently failing or underperforming—and work collaboratively to develop and commit to using teaching and support strategies to help students. By discussing the students they have in common, teachers can develop a stronger understanding of the specific learning needs and abilities of certain students, which can then help them coordinate and improve how those students are taught.

  • Discussing Professional Literature - Teachers familiarize themselves with educational research through reading and sharing relevant texts.
    Focused and protocol-driven conversations help teachers discard teaching strategies that research and experience show to be ineffective, consider alternative methods, and then share with colleagues the impact of the change (e.g. “white board example” at BAHS).

  • Creating Courses and Integrated Units -  Teachers collaboratively work on lesson plans, assignments, projects, new courses,  integrated units. capstone projects, celebrations of learning (e.g. science fairs), learning pathways, personal learning plans, and  portfolios.  Unified Arts teachers and specialists (i.e. art, music, theatre, PE, health teachers and school nurse, school counselors, school psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, etc) consider where their content areas overlap and bring alive another’s content area though planning together..

  • Response to Intervention and Individualized Student Plans -   Teacher teams work together to plan interventions for struggling students.  Teachers, parents, school counselors, and administrators form a SIT (Student Intervention Team) to create an individualized plans for students who need these.

  • School Improvement Leadership Meetings -   Leadership meetings allow time for schools to identify goals and create plans to meet those goals.

  • Department Meetings -   Department meetings allow teachers to collaborate on lesson and unit planning, analyze student assessment data, and plan school-wide activities..

  • Curriculum and Assessment Work - Rather than pull teachers out of classrooms to work on curriculum and assessment, and hire substitutes to teach students, time would already be built into the school calendar to do this important and foundational work..  

  • Professional Development and Training in the Use of Instructional Best Practices - Each school and area of the district will follow up on the professional development that was provided in August

  • Training Mandated by Law - Districts are required to document and submit to the state evidence of training on a wide array of topics, including:  Blood Borne Pathogens, Affirmative Action, FERPA, Suicide Prevention, and Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect.

  • SAFETY TRAINING - We need to train all staff in ALICE (Alert-LockDown - Inform- Counter and Evacuate  i.e. active shooter training) and our RSU 71 School Safety Plan and Protocols.

Support Staff Teams and Training:  Support staff also need time to build capacity, to receive training, and to work as members of a team.  Topics include:

  • Safety Protocols in RSU 71.  

  • New and improved methods in the fields of cleaning and maintenance

  • Review of job description and evaluation tools

  • CPR

  • Behavior Management 101

  • Building Positive Culture on Teams (Custodial Teams)

  • Attendance/Truancy Protocols and Policies

  • District Policies and Protocols

INTENDED OUTCOMES: Weekly Early Release Days will promote a variety of positive professional interactions and practices among staff in our schools:

  • Teachers and Educational Support Staff (ESP) will assume more leadership, responsibility, and greater personal investment in the school-and-system- improvement process.

  • Teachers and ESP will feel more confident and better equipped to address the learning needs of students, and more willing to engage in the kind of self-reflection that leads to professional growth and improvement.

  • School cultures will improve as work relationships grow stronger and more trusting, with staff interacting and communicating more productively.

  • Instructional innovation and 21st century pedagogy will be in evidence in all of our K-12 classrooms, with teachers and educational technicians consistently and daily applying new learning about effective  instructional techniques.

  • Helped Out - Teachers will use more evidence-based approaches to designing lessons and delivering instruction.  Staff who are effective will be supported to become highly effective. Staff who are ineffective or not effective enough will be “helped out” to improve and maintain higher levels of day-to-day performance.  Staff who do not demonstrate necessary improvement in a timely way will be “helped out” of the district (to other employment).

The discussion on May 13th revolved around understanding the timing of dismissal, goals of teacher use of the PD time, and possibilities to support families in securing childcare for early release afternoons.

During the Board meeting on May 13th, Board Member Josh Solebello, “We are investing in our teachers and we are going to have a better experience for our kids. Our kids are going to get a better experience because we are going to have stronger teachers because they are going to have an opportunity to collaborate that they don’t have today.”  

Superintendent MaryAlice McLean stated at the same meeting,  “The elementary schools will get far more professional development time with this model, but that compensates for the fact that currently they have virtually no common planning time where the middle school and high school have some of that time currently built into their schedule. We have tremendous strengths but there is room for improvement; and that really rests on time to come together as teachers and support staff.”

While the Board of Directors is keenly aware of the challenges that families will have to account for with an increase in early release days, the Board believes that in order to meet our goals as a district common planning time must be included for teachers to collaborate around curriculum and students.

Specific details regarding the Early Release Plan are as follows:

  • Full day Professional Development days during the school year have been eliminated and replaced with 5 professional days in August.

  • For the 19-20 academic year K-5 students will be released at 11:45pm every Friday afternoon.  (The order of the typical dismissal time would be reversed, with elementary schools released first because elementary teachers have so much less planning time, and minimal common planning time.)

  • 6-12 students will be dismissed at 1:15pm every Friday afternoon.

  • Sports practices for THMS and BAHS will follow the regular schedule.

  • All district teachers and staff will be working normally contracted hours on those Fridays.

Agendas of all RSU 71 school board meetings are posted 7 days ahead of time on the RSU 71 website, and videos of all meetings are posted within a few days of each meeting. http://www.rsu71.org/home/board-of-directors/board-meeting-videos.

Public participation on agenda items at each meeting are always welcome.

Mary Alice McLean

Superintendent of Schools RSU #71