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Elementary teachers push plan time case

By Bryan Richardson

Elementary school personnel advocated for more teacher planning time during the USD 383 school board meeting Wednesday.

The personnel lobbied the board during what was presented as a public hearing on the question of increasing the amount of time elementary teachers have for professional development, collaboration and planning.

The session followed by one month a presentation by a task force commissioned by the board to explore options for taking teachers out of the classroom during the school day to provide more time for those activities. After surveying teachers and practices in other districts, the task force came up with three plans for the board to consider.

All of the plans contain 330 minutes of planning time a week, an increase from the current 300 minutes per week.

Many of the teachers who addressed the board Wednesday advocated for the plan deemed the best by the task force. That plan has eight professional development days, and eight early release days and 60 minutes per week for collaboration time. But that plan is also the most expensive, with an estimated cost of $450,000 to hire the minimum of 9.8 faculty members that would be needed.

Carolyn Scott, clinical instructor and principal’s assistant at Northview Elementary, said the amount of time allowed to collaborate with other teachers makes this option ideal.

“The inequalities between elementary and secondary plan time and collaboration time have long been a point of contention for the elementary versus secondary staffs,” she said.

Amanda Arnold principal Larry Liotta said nothing great happens in isolation. “We limit ourselves as an organization because we’re not capitalizing on our own expertise, especially when we look at teachers who have technology expertise who could share it,” he said.

A second plan, labeled by the task force as “next best,” has eight days for professional development time and eight early release days for collaboration. At a minimum, a total of 2.8 additional faculty at a cost of approximately $128,800 would be needed.

The plan setting aside the least planning time has 6.5 days for professional development, four early release days and three half-days for collaboration. At a minimum, a total of 2.8 additional faculty at a cost of approximately $128,800 would be needed.

Summer Lunsway, a math teacher at Eisenhower Middle School, said the professional development council has requested more development time every year. She said it’s based on supporting data and research.

“I understand there’s a financial obligation associated with professional development, but I would like to see the board consider it from its impact and outcomes, which is student achievement,” said Lunsway, council chair.

Karen Bargabus, a first grade teacher at Bluemont Elementary, said she has teaching experience at elementary, middle and high schools. “Beyond a shadow of doubt, I have more planning to do in elementary than I ever had as a science teacher in high school,” she said.

Lisa Heller, a math teacher at Manhattan High, said there needs to be more discussions with teachers about the process. She also said high school teachers are supportive, but don’t want to be harmed. Board president Dave Colburn said at the Jan. 9 meeting that the board hoped to find savings in the high school schedule in order to fund the additional elementary planning time.

Board members have discussed a revised high school schedule allowing for a 10 to 16 percent staff reduction (11-18 teachers) and a cost reduction of $506,000 to $828,000.

“There is support to get things a little equal, but taking from one and overloading the other isn’t going to solve the problem either,” Heller said.

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