Letter for Parents concerning Early Release Day Fridays

posted Jul 1, 2019, 3:30 AM by Dave Fournier

To:  RSU #71 Parents and Guardians and Belfast Area High School Students

Re:  Early Release Day Fridays 

Dear RSU #71 Families and High School Students,

With the approval of a weekly Early Release for all students by the Board of Directors, we want to share with you the plans that will support our district goal of improving and expanding professional development, training and common planning time on teams for all district educators and staff.  We already have many wonderful learning activities in all of our schools, though there are many indicators that we can and must do even better by our students. School and district improvement will be realized in ways both measurable and immeasurable if we provide teachers and other staff members with much-needed support and time to work together.

Specific details regarding the Early Release Plan are as follows: 

  • K-5 students will be released at 12:00pm on every Friday afternoon.  

  • 6-12 students will be dismissed at 1:15 - 1:30pm every Friday afternoon.

Sports practices for THMS and BAHS will follow the regular schedule. WCTC students in the afternoon session, will be dismissed at the usual time (1:50 pm), with bus transportation provided to students needing to be transported home.

We are very fortunate to have community partners able and willing to provide families with enrichment opportunities for their children on Friday afternoons.  While these plans will need to be arranged and paid for by parents, we do intend to provide assistance to families that need help planning and/or paying for these services. Transportation to after-school activities will be provided by the school system within each  catchment area, though parents will be responsible for transporting students home from there. (For example, the Waldo County Y will be offering after-school care at Ames Elementary School for up to 24 children in the Tritown until up to 5:30 or 6:00 pm; but parents will need to pick their children up at the end of the day.) Parents who need assistance in the logistics of planning or paying for after-school care are asked to please indicate this need on the enclosed form and return to my office in the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope by July 19.  We are also looking for high school students -- especially those involved in PE Leadership, Peer Leadership, National Honor Society, Student Senate, National Arts Honor Society, Theatre, Chorus and the Civil Rights Team, as well as students who may be thinking of a possible career in early childhood education or social services -- who would be willing to volunteer their time on Friday afternoons. There is also a form that interested high school students are asked to fill out and return. The list of community partners offering student enrichment activities thus far is as follows:

  1. Waldo County Y - Morrill, Belmont and Searsmont - after-school programming in the tri-town, located at the Ames School, with two trained YMCA staff members for up to 24 students who are registered with the Y’s Early Release Fridays Only program

  2. Waldo County Y - THMS and BAHS - Y will be opening early on Fridays for middle and high school students in the teen access program

  3. Waldo County Y - Bus from CASS to the Y at dismissal on Fridays for those students registered at the Y in the afterschool program with the understanding that the Y is limited by licensing standards as to the number of youth it can serve 

  4. Waldo County Y - Parents may register at the Y for K-5 after-school activities as space allows

  5. Waterfall Arts - CASS - Bridge Jr. Art Afterschool - a creativity club with a different project every week, plus time for free-draw and independent work. Led by art educator Bridget Matros

  6. GameLoft - opening early on Friday afternoons

  7. Kids Unplugged - Nickerson - bus from Swanville to Kids Unplugged

  8. Bank of America Volunteers - teaching chess to elementary students at East and Nickerson

  9. BAHS Students - We are hoping that students in PE Leadership, Peer Leadership and those interested in a career in Early Childhood Education may be willing to volunteer some time in our K-5 schools to augment supervision of students who need it. (My sister and I did this in high school and it spurred our interest in a career in education.)

Three specific areas targeted for professional development in instruction, teaching and learning are:

  1. Transforming Schools Through Student Engagement 

  • 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 be planned and overseen by building principals, directors, teacher leaders and me to ensure that time is being well used as a vehicle to better meet the needs of our students. All professional staff will 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.  Teachers collaborate on lesson and unit planning, analyze student assessment data, and plan school-wide activities (school, grade level or department meetings).

  • 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 score 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 SIT (Student Intervention Team) to create 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 (ESEA and Comprehensive Needs Plan).

  • Curriculum and Assessment Work - Rather than pull teachers out of classrooms to work on K-12 curriculum and assessment designs, 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 TrainingSupport 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/First Aid

  • Behavior Management 101

  • Building Positive Culture on Teams (Custodial and Bus Garage 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 supported such that they may improve and maintain higher levels of day-to-day performance.  

Please return the enclosed need & interest form if you are: 1) a parent or guardian looking for assistance in planning and/or paying for Friday afternoon enrichment activities for your children or 2) a parent or guardian or family member interested in volunteering or contributing resources to families in need or 3) a high school student interested in volunteering some of your time on Friday afternoons.

Please feel free to be in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns.


Mary Alice McLean, Superintendent of Schools, RSU # 71

*Click the PDF below to access the full letter and need & interest form.

Dave Fournier,
Jul 1, 2019, 3:30 AM