With no additional costs to the district standing in the way and the opportunity for an improved academic experience among the chief factors, a split Whitnall School Board pushed through the administration’s proposed 2012-13 calendar Monday, a calendar that will result in several major changes for district parents starting next fall.
The calendar passed, 4-3, with board members Mike Clarizio, Bill Osterndorf and Stephanie Richter opposed.
“Our sole purpose for doing this is not to inconvenience anybody, but to provide improved educational opportunities for our kids,” Whitnall Superintendent Lowell Holtz said. “
The approved calendar allows for professional learning communities, collaborative opportunities for teachers to meet on a more regular basis. Those sessions, however, resulted in noticeable changes to school start times.
Under the final proposal, the high school day shifts from a 7:15 a.m. start and 2:18 p.m. dismissal to 7:45 a.m. start and a 2:45 p.m. dismissal. The middle school will shift from 7:45 a.m./2:50 p.m. to 8 a.m./3:05 p.m. and the elementary schools move from 8:40 a.m./3:22 p.m. to 8:35 a.m./3:35 p.m.
In addition, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month, the high school and middle school would start one hour later, and the elementary schools would experience an early release by an hour and 20 minutes every Wednesday. Those changes to the schedule caused the most concern to parents.
The late starts and early releases are required for professional learning communities, or PLCs: clusters of administrators and teachers who frequently work with the same or similar group of students, and allow those educators time to analyze and compare data, work to develop curriculum consistency, address individual strengths and needs of students, and collaboratively do a number of other tasks.
The proposal passed despite the district not having clear-cut options for parents who will need their elementary-aged child to remain at school for that extra 80 minutes each Wednesday. Edgerton Elementary School principal Chris D’Aquisto said the district intends to offer a free option to all parents using existing staff, and might offer low-cost options through potential partnerships with the YMCA or the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.
According to Holtz, the new schedule will not add any busses, or bussing costs, to the district’s current bussing contract.
“Unless there’s something I’m not thinking of, that no one has shared with me yet, there’s no additional costs at all,” Holtz said. “There’s no increase in staffing costs. We’re paying instructional aides for full, 8-hour days and they’d be available for the free (after-school) option. We’d prefer they are involved in the collaborative release, but we understand we can’t make it unbearably inconvenient for parents.”
Those who voted against weren’t necessarily opposed to the concept behind the PLCs.
“We have spent a lot of time the last couple years asking what are the costs and what do our parents think,” Osterndorf said. “It appears we don’t have additional costs to the parents … it’s the other question that comes into play. And I think we have a mix. This, to some extent, came down too fast for me.”
Board member TJ Anderson, who voted in favor of the calendar, asked that elementary school principals survey parents to gauge how many will use the district’s free option and how many want other after-school options. Before voting against the measure, Richter asked the district’s four principals to be in regular contact with parents regarding the changes. Clarizio said lack of communication is what kept him from voting in favor of the calendar Monday.
Regular communication “is something we should have done probably six weeks ago,” he said. “That’s communication that has to happen before we take a vote on it.”
The calendar and PLCs might make perfect sense for the good of the district, he added, “but because people aren’t ready for it, I represent them and I’ll vote against it,” Clarizio said.
According to Thomas Vogel, director of special education and human resources, had the board not approved the schedule as presented, students, particularly those in high school, were getting to the point where it would be hard to register and schedule classes for next year with a schedule in place.
“I think it’s shameful that there isn’t a secondary option,” Clarizio said.