McCOOK, Nebraska -- McCook Public Schools board of education members got their first look at calendar proposals for the 2011-12 school year at their February meeting Monday evening, and found one calendar similar to this year's, and another that includes two early dismissals each month September through April for teacher training.
The calendar proposals were for discussion only; action will be taken in March.
Each calendar provides 176 students days and 185 teacher days. The second calendar proposal, the one with the early dismissals for training, has six fewer students hours for kindergarten, junior/senior high and seniors, and seven fewer student hours for McCook Elementary and Central Elementary.
Each calendar proposal provides for two end-of-quarter no school/early dismissals and traditional holiday schedules. Graduation would be Sunday, May 13, on each calendar.
Each calendar proposal exceeds the minimum number of hours required by the Nebraska Department of Education.
The first calendar proposal has six all-day teacher in-service and/or work days and six 1 p.m. dismissals for teacher in-service.
Superintendent Grant Norgaard explained in detail the second calendar proposal, the one that includes six all-day teacher in-service and/or work days, and 16 dismissals at 2 p.m. to allow teachers to attend in-service training.
Norgaard said that teachers need time for teacher training to focus on curriculum, assessment and instructional practices. The trainings will provide a consistent basis to discuss those three items and to develop the methodology that works best for MPS students, he said.
Norgaard said that student achievement improves with two things -- great curriculum and master teachers in all courses. After those two things are achieved, he said, "everything else takes care of itself."
Central Elementary and junior high principal Dennis Berry said he approves of the second calendar proposal. "It's a great opportunity, for very little difference in school hours," he said.
McCook Elementary Principal Lynda Baumbach also supports the second proposal, explaining that the trainings will keep teachers teaching at the same pace. That's difficult to do without the time to collaborate on pacing and curriculum guides, she said. The training will encourage teachers to work together and plan together, encouraging all teachers to "teach at a higher level," Baumbach said.
Baumbach said she "loves the calendar. It's the direction we need to move." She even suggested more training time.
Norgaard said that if this system works, "we don't need more time ... just a little bit of time consistently."
The 2 p.m. in-service training dismissal is an hour later than the 1 p.m. in-service dismissal schedule in use now, Norgaard said. Finance director and former teacher Rick Haney said that a 2 p.m. dismissal is more appropriate, with students in class long enough to actually get something accomplished, rather than the much more abbreviated 1 p.m. dismissal schedule.
Haney supported the 2 p.m. dismissal schedule, saying that in "a world of assessments, teachers need time to study assessment data."
Teacher Barry Schaeffer agreed, saying that he often hears from teachers, " 'we need time.' This calendar gives more time for teachers to discuss curriculum and curriculum across grade levels."
Board president Tom Bredvick said his concern with the second proposal is that neither October and April would have a full week of school. "Every week has something interrupting the schedule," he said. October has two 2 p.m. dismissals for teacher in-service, no school K-5 and a 1 p.m. dismissal 6-12 for the end of the first quarter and no school K-12 for teacher in-service/parent-teacher conferences. April's calendar is similar, with no school for Easter break, two 2 p.m. dismissals for in-service and no school 6-12 for district music contests.
Bredvick said it's sometimes difficult to explain to patrons, "what are the teachers doing?," yet it's easier to define training and continuing education.
Bredvick said the calendars proposed are similar to other rural communities, allowing travel time for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. "It's a convenience factor," he said.
Each calendar starts class in the fall on Monday, Aug. 15 for teachers and Wednesday, Aug. 17 for students, with 1 p.m. heat dismissals Aug. 17, 18 and 19. Teacher and coach Jeff Gross said school continues to start earlier each year because of the NSAA (Nebraska Schools Activities Association) activities calendar.
Board member Larry Shields said that starting earlier in August tends to "shorten" the summer, upsetting students who would like to be able to attend popular concerts during the Chase County fair scheduled during the end of August.
High school principal Jerry Smith questioned the need to continue a no school/1 p.m. dismissal at the end of the first and third quarters, Oct. 14 and March 8, on each calendar proposal. He said teachers once had to pass around grade books and report cards to record grades for students, "but we don't do that anymore. We just push a button and the grades are done."
Norgaard told board members, "We can't make everyone happy. No matter what, the calendars provide 185 teacher days and 176 student days."
The board will take action on the calendar proposals at its next meeting, March 14.