SAD 17 to release one hour early on Wednesdays

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OXFORD HILLS — The school day for students in the Oxford Hills School District will end one hour earlier every Wednesday this school year.

Students in Oxford Hills Middle School and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School will be released at 1 p.m. while elementary school students will be released at 2:10 p.m. on Wednesdays only. The move will not affect the required minimum 175 number of days for student attendance, nor the required 180 days for teachers.

All other days, students will be released at their normal time 2 p.m. and 3:10 p.m .

The different release schedule is being done to provide more professional time for teachers to address new state requirements, particularly the pending statewide implementation of proficiency-based diplomas, Superintendent Rick Colpitts said. The new schedule is being considered a one-year pilot program for the 2016-17 school year.

The move will provide the equivalent of an additional six days of professional development time for the teachers.

Proficiency-based education – which is now required in all school districts statewide on staggered implementation dates – requires students to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level or receive a diploma, according to the state statute.

The law has created the need for educators to take a whole new look at issues such as long-standing grading systems.

Colpitts said that if they addressed the need for additional professional time through the teachers’ contract by adding days to their mandated 180 day calendar, it would cost $110,000 for each day or $550,000 to get five additional days if they had to pay for adding time through the teachers’ contract.

“We can’t just ask our teachers to work more hours with out additional pay,” Colpitts said.

Colpitts said the district researched the number of times teachers were released to work on proficiency-based diploma learning in the past and found there were a total of 339 days teachers were pulled from their classrooms.

“We’re taking the best professionals out of their classrooms to do this work,” Colpitts said.

During that time, substitutes are placed in the classrooms, Colpitts said. The majority of substitutes only have high school diplomas and are not equipped to handle the caliber of classroom work the teachers do, he said.

Although teachers leave lessons plans for the substitutes, generally subs are having students watch videos or do work that involves filling out papers or other similar assignments.

“It’s an interruption,” said Colpitts. “Every time we have to put a substitute with a high school diploma in charge of classroom there is a loss of instruction [for the students].”

State law allows substitutes with only high school diplomas to work no more than 10 school days and one assignment in a row. Those with secondary education degrees can substitute for a much longer period.

Although teachers normally have staff meetings after class time on Wednesday afternoon, the new schedule would allow teachers to meet for a contiguous two and one-half hours each week without the need to put substitutes in the classroom.

Colpitts said it was a compromise to take one hour instead of two hours that many school districts are now implementing to meet this and other state mandates, such as suicide prevention training, bullying, sexual harassment and other issues. Colpitts said by combining the extra hour with the teachers’ meeting time they will make the most effective use of the time for staff and students.

Colpitts said he is not a big fan of early release days, but looking at other districts he has found many have instituted an early release time – often two hours early – once a week to meet professional development needs.

RSU 10, for example, has a one-hour delay once a week to meet professional development training needs in the Western Foothills Regional School District in Dixfield.

In March, Lewiston Public Schools announced once a month, two-hour early release days except for December and June this coming school year. School officials had resisted implementing the change because of concerns over working parents, according to an earlier Sun Media Group report.  The union had supported weekly early release days.

While the new schedule is not ideal, and some parents have complained, Colpitts said they have tried to give as much warning as possible to parents so they can plan their child’s after-school care, if necessary.

The SAD 17 Board of Directors approved the new calendar in March 21 and it was made public the next day. Notices were sent home in April. Despite every effort to make sure parents were aware of the change early on, there are still some parents who have called as recently as last week to question the change.

“We were very concerned and knew it would be an imposition on some parents, which is why we went with one hour instead of two,” he said.

Colpitts said for those parents who need it, after school care is provided at all schools except Otisfield through privately funded on-site day care centers. Those students in Otisfield who need the after-school care are transported by school bus to Oxford Elementary School.

“We have done our best to communicate,” Colpitts said.

Anyone with questions is asked to call the school administration office for more information at 207-743-8972.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net