The Jefferson City School District Board of Education will vote Monday on whether to approve the proposed 2021-22 school calendar, which includes weekly 70-minute early release days on most Mondays to allow for more frequent and consistent staff professional development time.
Weekly early releases would allow teachers to better meet the needs of students, JC Schools Communications Director Ryan Burns said.
“The proposed weekly early releases would give staff an opportunity to plan and develop on a more frequent, consistent basis, which in turn will directly benefit our students as their teachers are fully equipped to meet their needs in the classroom,” Burns said.
District leaders received input on the calendar from staff through surveys and meetings. The key input was that frequent and ongoing professional development is a top priority to staff, as teachers and staff expressed they need more time for professional development, according to district officials.
The district recently shared answers to frequently asked questions with all district staff and parents that addresses after-school child care options for the early release days.
Child care would be provided for students enrolled in Y-Care or the Boys & Girls Club. To ensure adequate staffing, JC Schools staff, such as paraprofessionals, would help Boys & Girls Club and Y-Care staff supervise during the 70-minute time slot.
There are currently about 550 students enrolled in either the Boys & Girls Club or Y-Care across the district’s 11 elementary schools, Chief of Learning Shelby Scarbrough said. Some buildings offer one program, and others offer both. Both programs have indicated they have additional capacity, which would allow for about 175 additional enrollments, Scarbrough said.
The YMCA and Boys & Girls Club both indicated they would be willing to pursue an expansion of their licensing enrollment if the demand exceeds their current capacity, Burns said. That decision would be up to each organization.
This school year’s cost to attend the Boys & Girls Club is $135 a month. If the family qualifies for child care assistance through the Missouri Department of Social Services, it’s $25 a semester.
Y-Care is $135 a month for YMCA members and $165 a month for non-members.
Y-Care has not provided after-school care on early release days this year because of COVID-19-related staffing challenges, but district leaders don’t expect this to be an issue next year because JC Schools staff will help, according to the frequently asked questions document on the district’s website.
The supervision during the 70-minute early release time frame for elementary students would occur at the same location it typically does. Those who participate in a program held at a school building would continue to stay at the school, and those who are typically transported to an off-site location would be transported to that same location.
The supervision for middle school students would occur on-site at the school.
After-school activities would still take place on early-release days. If a coach does not hold a teaching position with the district, the after-school practices may begin at time of dismissal. If the coach does hold a teaching position, paraprofessionals or substitute teachers could provide supervision at the buildings or building staff members could use a supervisory rotation to offer tutoring or other academic opportunities for those students, according to the district.
Of the more than 10,000 staff, parents and guardians who received the answers to frequently asked questions, 1,467 opened the document and fewer than five sent a response directly to the district, Burns said.
The district also received fewer than five direct responses when information regarding the proposed weekly early releases and the 2021-22 student calendar was sent directly to families in January.
Of the 20 Missouri K-12 school districts with enrollment most comparable to JC Schools, 11 currently have weekly early releases, Burns said.
District leaders began discussing the possibility of more frequent early releases with staff in the fall “in an effort to identify a solution to the lack of time available,” she said.
The proposal has been a topic of discussion at monthly Faculty Council meetings, meetings with principals and district leaders, and Rounding with Larry meetings where Superintendent Larry Linthacum visits a different school each week to meet with staff.
The Faculty Council is a group of JC Schools educators that meets with Linthacum monthly to learn more about district initiatives and share their perspectives as well as the perspectives of the building staff they represent.
“Staff is regularly encouraged to use these communications channels to share feedback, along with an open door policy that district leaders, and Superintendent Linthacum in particular, frequently offer,” Burns said.
Last month, the district surveyed staff again at every school about the weekly early release proposal. Of those who responded, 69.4 percent were in favor of the proposal.
The Board of Education received an anonymous letter Feb. 10 that expressed concerns about the proposal, four board members confirmed. The letter claimed to be from a group of teachers from three district elementary schools.
“Many of us were happy about this change initially, however we have heard from many of our parents and families, and friends in the community about how difficult it will be for them,” the letter states. “The calendar change on top of the recent changes in start times are going to squeeze families at both ends, and people are frustrated. Therefore, we cannot in good conscious support this plan any longer because of the challenges it will put on our families and kids.”
“As elementary teachers, we want the absolute best for our kiddos and we appreciate the district administration looking for ways to increase learning in our schools. Many of us have also heard from our building principals about how we need to ‘get behind this proposal’ and support it, regardless of the feedback we have received from the families we work with, or what we think as professionals.”
The letter goes on to claim that some of them have building administration who have shared they do not support the proposal but “have received clear pressure from the superintendent’s office to do so.”
“We ask you not to adopt the calendar for next year with 70 minute release times built in, and to consider how you as a board can involve the district staff, families, and parents more in future discussions in an open and honest way before you are asked to vote on district wide changes,” the letter states.
Board members say they’re reviewing all feedback they’ve received on the proposal.
“This is a complex issue, and I believe every member of the board is trying to carefully consider the impact on staff, students and families as we make a decision,” board Treasurer Ken Enloe said.
Board members Lorelei Schwartz and Lindsey Rowden said they are reviewing feedback they received from various stakeholders to ensure they’re prepared at Monday’s board meeting.
Board member Brad Bates said he appreciates and listens to any school district employee’s thoughts and suggestions.
“As the letter said, the teachers want the absolute best for their kiddos, and they appreciate the administration looking for ways to increase learning,” Bates said. “I think that is a recipe for success when you have committed teachers and admin looking for ways to help our kiddos. As a board, we are committed to doing the same thing.”
To view the frequently asked questions document, visit jcschools.us/domain/56.