Education — Classes at all levels will begin an hour late on Wednesdays to allow for professional development, as decided by the school board

ST. PAUL — With five professional development days spread across the calendar, it wasn’t the amount of time that set back teachers in the St. Paul School District a year ago. Rather, it was the amount of time in between those days, which could be as much as two months, that slowed their progress down.

That’s why the district, like many others in the state, has elected to add a late-start day each week this year, beginning classes an hour late on Wednesdays.

“Part of our big push was to come up with a plan that’s going to be easy for the community to deal with and understand, so we just went with a straight one-hour deal,” St. Paul superintendent Joe Wehrli said. “Leading up to this we held community meetings and gathered input from the community related to the positives and negatives. We heard both sides and it gave us an opportunity to talk about our professional development priorities and what we’re asking for. It’s been pretty well received.”

St. Paul also reached out to other districts in the Willamette ESD to explore options and best practices before ultimately deciding on the one-hour format, which will replace three of the five days for professional development.

Fully implementing the Common Core State Standards and preparing students for the Smarter Balanced state assessments, along with implementing more technology into instruction, were the two main goals driving the change.

Wehrli said staff installed the common core standards last year and the plan will be to simply refine what they’re doing this year.

Most of what the district has done is based on sample Smarter Balanced Tests, along with information from other states and the Oregon Department of Education, but it hasn’t seen the actual assessment tool yet, so it plans to make adjustments once that be­comes available.

“As I watch the staff work through this, a lot of what it has to do with is not necessarily teaching different concepts and materials, but some of it is teaching the same material in a different way,” Wehrli said. “Some of it is aligning it, looking at what level does Smarter Balanced assess a certain skill and checking to make sure we’re providing that instruction to kids prior to the time that they have to perform on the test.”

Last year, the St. Paul school board dipped into its reserve fund to provide $30,000 for new technology in the district, which Wehrli said helped replace about 25 computers that were eight years old.

That funding has been secured again this year, part of which will be used to create a pilot program using iPads in high school physics classes. For the money that has been set aside for elementary schools, the district plans to have teachers present applications to determine which programs to fund.

Wehrli said that the same amount of money has been delegated for the 2015-2016 school year and the hope is to build it into the annual budget. In addition to infusing new equipment on a yearly basis, annual funding would help the district better mitigate the ever-increasing pace at which technology becomes outdated.

“The more technology you implement, the greater your technology needs become because it becomes very dated very quickly,” Wehrli said.

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