McCOOK, Nebraska -- The McCook, Nebraska, Public Schools board of education Monday evening unanimously approved a calendar for 2011-12 that includes six all-day teacher in-service and/or work days and 16 early dismissals for teacher training.
No one from the public commented at the meeting on either calendar proposal -- one that is similar to this year's calendar and a second, "enhanced," calendar that includes 2 p.m. dismissals twice a month from September through April.
Superintendent Grant Norgaard explained that teachers meeting consistently to discuss curriculum, instructional strategies and assessments is "the only process" that makes significant improvement in student achievement.
Norgaard said that moving parent-teacher conferences from October to September means that October would have one full week of class, rather than no full weeks of class in an earlier calendar proposal. He also said that MPS is requesting that other school districts share the responsibility of hosting the annual Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) music contest, which means that there are no classes at the junior and senior high on a day in April. "We want to host it occasionally. Just not every year," Norgaard said.
Norgaard also said that he is suggesting that two days be added to the end of the school calendar -- on Monday and Tuesday, May 21 and May 22 -- to make up for two snow days during the winter.
He also recommended dismissing at 2 p.m., rather than 1 p.m., on the last day of each quarter.
Teachers attending the meeting said they like the "enhanced" calendar that gives them the opportunity to collaborate on educational strategies and assessments on a regular basis. Barry Schaeffer said, "I can see lots of benefits in this calendar. Meeting every couple of weeks will keep us on task."
Krystal Weber said that teachers' collaborative efforts will be beneficial to students and student achievement. She said she envisions "limitless possibilities to improve curriculum and assessments." Tracy Flaska said the regular meetings will allow teachers to collaborate on assessments and new technology. "Assessments can be overwhelming," she said. "A collaborative effort shares the burden."
Special education/resource instructor Ryan Goetsch and SPED director John Hanson agreed that collaboration and coordination between buildings will be particularly beneficial to students in special education classes.
Board president Tom Bredvick admitted to the teachers that he is "a firm believer" in a "butts in the seats learning" concept, that having students in school, in their desks, learning, consistently, is vital. He suggested that the education association may need to discuss more days in the teachers' calendar, to which teacher Kathy Jones said that "meeting often" is the benefit of the new calendar.
Bredvick gently reminded teachers and staff of "early-out" calendars in the past that were misused, and parents and patrons questioned the value of them when they picked up their children early and then discovered teachers were also "out" early. Bredvick suggested the situation may have also been a lack of administrative accountability as well.
Norgaard said time for early-outs in the 2011-12 calendar would be used constructively, promising to be "good managers of time."
Principal Dennis Berry asked for more staff time, and Norgaard said, "Is this enough time? We'll use it wisely."
Bredvick also recommended making up each day lost, reiterating that he is "a believer in 'butts in the seats,' and 'a day for a day'."
Norgaard said many school districts build into their calendars one to two snow days, and make up any additional snow days at the end of the year.
Although the board left the snow-day make-up decision to the discretion of the superintendent, Norgaard recommending leaving the potential snow day make-up days on the end of the calendar, just so parents know that it's possible their students can be in class those last two days.