Schools could start one hour later once a week for teacher collaboration

by: FILO PHOTO - A kindergartener stacks blocks at Bridgeport Elementary. District officials are talking about enacting late-start days once a week for teachers to work on Common Core and curriculumStudents in Tigard-Tualatin schools might head to class a bit later next year.

But they aren’t playing hookie. District leaders are discussing a plan to enact late-start days at all district schools one day a week.

Known as “school improvement days,” school would start one hour later on Wednesdays, allowing teachers more time to work together collaboratively, as well as prepare for new state standards set to take affect in 2014.

The late-start days are the brainchild of the district’s Curriculum Director Dan Goldman, who has been meeting with parents and community members for the past two weeks to get public feedback.

“We are trying to help teachers understand the new Common Core standards,” Goldman said on Tuesday. “This is a vital change for teachers and students.”

Common Core, a new set of standards and testing adopted by the state, are a major shift from what districts across the state have been using for years, Goldman said.

“The standards are much higher and the rigor for students and teachers and curriculum is much higher,” Goldman said.

The hope is that setting aside time for teachers to work together would allow them to prepare for the new standards and give teachers time to work together on addressing issues, something they seldom have time for, Goldman said:

“In other professions, people are expected to collaborate,” Goldman said. “If you are a lawyer or a doctor, you are expected to not work in isolation or work alone. Instead you work with peers and learn together to make the best possible decision, and in education, we don’t have a history of that.”

Instead, Goldman said, teachers often work solo to raise the achievement of their students.

“And that doesn’t work anymore," he said. "Kids come in at all different places, and teachers need to share their expertise with one another.”

Won't cut instructional time

Taking an hour a week away from children’s school days would have to be made up for somewhere, Goldman said, potentially through longer school years to make up the instructional time lost to the late-start days.

Those changes would require negotiations with the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association, the teachers' union which has a set number of school days in its contract with the district.

Brian Haliski, a teacher at Metzger Elementary School and president of the union, said some teachers have heard the district’s presentation, but the union has yet to comment on the idea.

“I think most people will think it’s pretty positive, but there are a lot of issues,” he said. “There are a ton of issues that need to be addressed, and there is a lot of work still to be done.”

At a community meeting at Metzger Elementary School on Tuesday night, parent Heather Deibele said she would support the idea as long as students weren’t losing out.

“The most important thing is that the district is trying not to cut down on instructional time for the students,” said Deibele, whose two children attend Bridgeport Elementary School. “That, to me, is the biggest thing.”

Tigard-Tualatin isn’t coming into the idea cold. The district’s three middle schools have had late-start days for years.

That practice began about a decade ago, Haliski said, as a way to give middle school teachers more time to prepare for classes.

“The high schools had so much more prep time than the middle schools, and this was a way to get closer to equity,” Haliski said. “But if (a district late-start day) becomes a reality, where does that contractual hour of prep time come in for the middle schools? That’s an issue.”

'A huge impact'

Haliski and Goldman agreed the talks were still in the early stages and that more conversations were needed with teachers and community members.

“It is a huge impact,” Haliski said, “especially at a school like Metzger, where we have so many families who are disadvantaged financially that this could be an issue.”

Goldman said options would be available for students who can’t stay home later during “school improvement days” after their parents leave for work.

“No kid should be left in the lurch,” Goldman said. “The busses will run an hour later, and families who cannot supervise their kids during that hour can bring them to an early care program for families.”

Haliski said programs like that were necessary for the teachers’ union.

“We cannot leave any children alone at home,” he said. “We cannot.”

The School Board is expected to consider the matter sometime in February, Goldman said.

The teachers’ union is expected to look into the idea over the next month.

If approved by the board, late-start days could start as early as this fall.

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