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Nevada School Board debates instructional time vs. professional development time New school calendar proposes an earlier start date for 2014-15

The proposed Nevada Schools calendar for the 2014-15 school year brought about debate during Monday’s school board meeting over one of the possible changes that the calendar holds.

Board member Laura West was concerned about the proposal to hold two-hour staff development time “every Monday” in the coming school year, versus the present school year’s “every other Monday” approach.

West’s concern was the fact that the increase in professional development time means a decrease in student learning time. “We’ve taken four to five (additional) days of learning away from children over the course of the school year … at a time when kids need more, not less,” she said.

Superintendent Steve Gray said the proposed calendar is an attempt to balance the needs of instructors with the needs of students. “If we want to improve the instruction that we are going to offer, we have to invest in it. It’s not going to be better if we do not,” he said.

Gray said that by having staff development every Monday, the plan would be for staff to focus on the principles of Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) two of those Mondays, on the Iowa CORE one of the Mondays and on technology integration on the fourth Monday.

As he met with teachers earlier this year, Gray said he heard over and over that they want to use the laptops as effective teaching tools, but they’d like the district to offer training for that as part of their contracted hours, rather than something they’re trying to accomplish in their own schedules. Gray also noted that even with the additional time being given to professional development, the district would still be well above the state’s required (1,080 hours) instructional time, as the Nevada calendar proposed 1,118 hours of instruction.

But West wasn’t convinced, because the calendar cuts back on the instructional hours that kids have now. “So you’re doing 13 days of professional development (in next year’s calendar when you add up all the hours). I believe in supporting teachers and giving them tools, but we’re sacrificing kids’ learning time to do it. I’d like to see another way.”

Nevada Board President Marty Chitty said he understood where West was coming from - “you have students who are only going to do better or succeed with instructional time.” But, Chitty said he also understood what the superintendent was saying about needing to improve the professional development of the district’s instructors.

Board member Tom Maier weighed in on it by saying he’s OK with the increased development time if the district is, in the end, giving kids back a better teacher in the classroom. “If a teacher truly does bring back more to the classroom, I’d be OK with that,” Maier said.

High School Principal Justin Gross said he’d be quite honest. “If you don’t provide the time for teachers to do this (get professional development), they’re not going to do it on their own. That’s just the reality of life,” he said, noting that teachers are busy and have many commitments and family obligations outside of their contractual hours.

Gross defended the things that teachers are learning through the AIW initiative. And he said when it comes to technology and the fact that computers will be added at the middle school next year, the district needs to sustain technology training. As for putting time in on the Iowa CORE, “it’s something that takes time,” Gross said.

There was discussion about finding a compromise that would limit the amount of time being lost in student instruction, either by shortening each staff development session or by adding additional minutes to the school day. An addition of 20 minutes a day would equal the time that is being lost in student instruction because of the increased staff development hours.

The other big change in next year’s school calendar is starting school one week earlier than usual. The calendar sets the district’s first day of school for the 2014-15 school year at Aug. 13.

The earlier than normal start date, Gray explained, allows for the first semester to end prior to the winter break, and for third quarter to end prior to the weeklong spring break (March 16-20). The calendar also gives a few days in May for the possibility of inclement weather makeup days, before having to go into June.

Board members were OK with the earlier start date, especially after being assured by Gray that it doesn’t appear that early start will affect state fairgoers too greatly. Gray said this year’s Iowa State Fair is Aug. 7-17, “so we are occupying three days of that time. That will in no way inhibit students and FFA from taking part as they have in the past,” he said.

The calendar will come back before the board for approval at its next meeting on Feb. 10. Gray said before bringing it back, he will look to try to find ways to increase instructional time, while holding onto the needed professional development time.

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