Auburn Middle School Principal Celena Ranger watches students get on buses to go home Monday. The School Committee will vote Wednesday night on whether to authorize 13 half-day Wednesdays next year for grades seven to 12.

AUBURN — Parent Barbara Howaniec thought she’d be “graduating” from early-release Wednesdays next year when her two sons will enter the seventh and ninth grades.

Howaniec was unhappy to learn the School Committee will vote Wednesday night on extending early-release to grades seven to 12. As proposed, there would be 13 Wednesdays in 2017-18 when students are released at 11:30 a.m.

Students in grades K-six will continue to be released at 12:30 p.m., as they have been for years.

The goal, Superintendent Katy Grondin said, is to give teachers time for professional development, to incorporate new mandates and ways of teaching that will help students.

A nurse practitioner, Howaniec said Auburn is generous with teacher training.

“I need a lot of hours with licensing and certification,” she said. “I do it on my own time.”

Parents opposed to early-release Wednesdays for grades seven-12 “are not anti-teacher,” she said, they’re opposed to how it’s being proposed. Howaniec and other parents are questioning how much the early-release Wednesdays help.

“My daughter openly says on half-day Wednesdays they don’t do much,” Howaniec said.

Parent Matthew Kovacevich said he was “horrified” to learn about the proposal.

“We want to see our kids in school as much as possible — that’s where learning takes place,” he said. Releasing students in grades seven-12 early 13 times next year is a lot of time they’ll miss from class, he said.

The proposal “seems rushed to me,” he said.

Parent Amy Hesby said the proposal is “placing the priority of the needs of teachers over the needs of children and families.” If teachers need more training, “they should not start taking 1,000 kids out of school at 11:30 to be unsupervised,” she said.

A better way, Hesby said, would be to start school later, considering that research shows teenagers who start school later perform better.

Grondin said she understands some parents aren’t happy about extending early release to the upper grades. But, she said, the change is in the interest of students.

“It only benefits students to give teachers and staff time to dive into how to best meet student needs,” Grondin said. In recent years, big mandates — from technology to proficiency-based learning — which mean teachers have to adopt new techniques.

“In the last couple of years, work we’re doing at the elementary grades is farther along in growth toward expectations than the secondary level,” Grondin said. The upper grades would have similar growth if teachers had the same support, she said. “We need to give the teachers the time they need.”

It would also be a cost-effective way of providing teacher development time, Grondin said. For every teacher workshop day added, it would mean $80,000 added to the school budget.

Ways would be developed to minimize lost class time, Grondin said. For example, Edward Little High School students have seven minutes to change classes. The time would be reduced to four minutes, carving out three extra minutes between periods for lessons.

On the 13 early-release days, there would be no recess at Auburn Middle School. And the middle and high schools would have all of the regular periods but shorter classes. At the high school, classes would go from 80 minutes to 50 minutes.

As for students being unsupervised in the community, Grondin said she understands the worry.

“That is why we’re giving parents enough leeway to work out a plan,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to do it earlier rather than later.”

If parents need help supervising students, “that is something we could explore,” Grondin said.

What: Auburn School Committee vote on early release for 13 Wednesdays during 2017-18 for grades seven-12. Students would be released at 11:30 a.m. 

When and where: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, Auburn Hall.

School districts that have early-release days: Lewiston, Turner-Leeds-Greene, Poland-Minot-Mechanic Falls;  Gray-New Gloucester, Portland, Monmouth, South Portland, Biddeford, Sanford, Brunswick, Scarborough, Topsham, Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook and Gorham.

Source: Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin


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