ECS pursues waiver from 185-day school year
by Kristin Zachary
Elkin City School Board, at a special-called meeting June 30, unanimously voted to apply for a waiver from the new state legislation requiring local school districts to increase instructional time to 185 days.
The State Board of Education, on June 24, approved a policy outlining the process for school districts and charter schools to apply for the waivers for the 2011-12 school year following the General Assembly’s approval of the legislation.
The legislation increases the number of instructional days from 180 to 185 and the number of instructional hours from 1,000 to 1,025.
In light of the legislation, the State Board of Education granted authority to the State Superintendent to approve waivers from local school districts or charter schools planning to use up to five instructional days as teacher workdays for professional development, according to a press release from the State Board.
“It’s a necessity for us to take advantage of additional professional development days,” said Cynthia Altemueller, ECS school support director.
“The way I looked at it, with the overall budget for the state, they’re cutting transportation dollars but want to add five days to the calendar,” she said. “We need to use them for professional development. It’s a great opportunity considering what we’re up against with the curriculum.”
According to the press release from the State Board, the new essential standards and Common Core standards are scheduled for classroom implementation in the 2012-13 school year.
“We’ve got a team of teachers that are prepared to roll out curriculum,” said Altemueller. “Not only are we going to use our own people (to train teachers with the new curriculum), we are going to pull in two outside people. I feel we’ve got a good plan if it works out.”
Altemueller said the waiver only applies to the 2011-12 school year as it will not be an option for the 2012-13 school year or school years thereafter. She said the option was offered this year as many local school districts have already approved the 2011-12 calendars prior to the legislation change.
“The Board has long advocated increasing the instructional calendar year for students, and the recently passed legislation is a positive step in this direction,” said State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. “However, the reality is that school districts and charter schools have already adopted their instructional calendars for 2011-12 and this waiver policy provides the needed sensitivity to that fact.”
Altemueller said she is excited about the possibility of professional development in place of the five instructional days as teachers would be required to be in attendance. She said it is difficult getting participation during summer and evening professional development meetings and events.
If the waiver is approved, Altemueller noted the previously planned start and end dates for the 2011-12 school year will remain unchanged.
“Students will not know anything different,” she said. “Parents will not know anything different. We will take those days (the protected workdays) and change the meaning of the day. It will then not be an option for teachers.”
Altemueller said she has been in contact with surrounding school districts to determine their plan of action with the new legislation and the school districts that have decided to pursue waivers. Altemueller did not name the surrounding school districts.
The request from ECS was submitted to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction Director of School Business on June 30. The waiver application submitted by ECS and other school districts is required to show how the waived instructional days will be used for professional development on the new essential standards and Common Core.
The State Board press release said school districts that have this professional development outlined in the Detailed Scope of Work of the district’s federal Race to the Top plan can utilize this plan. However, if the professional development is not outlined in the Race to the Top plan, the school district must submit a detailed plan for professional development on the waived instructional days.
While the State Superintendent has authority to act on waiver requests by school districts planning to use up to five instructional days for professional development on the essential standards and Common Core standards, waivers requested for purposes other than professional development will be considered at the State Board of Education’s July 7 and Aug. 4 meetings, according to the release from the State Board.
N.C. Department of Public Instruction officials say that requests will be processed in a timely manner so that local school districts can make key decisions about their 2011-12 school calendar and professional development calendar.
Because it was unclear at the June 30 meeting if the waiver would be approved, the ECS Board treated the 2011-12 school calendar as a first reading. The 2011-12 calendar was placed on the agenda for approval during the next school board meeting to be held July 25 at the ECS administrative center.
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