School children in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will get out of school one hour early on Mondays next year.

On April 15 the District 96 Board of Education voted 5 to 2 to approve a weekly early release for students to free up time for professional development for teachers as the district implements a new and more demanding Common Core curriculum.

The vote was a victory for District 96 Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, who had pushed hard for the added time for professional development. The two school members voting against the weekly early release were Rachel Marrello and Michael O’Brien.

“It puts a terrible inconvenience on our students,” O’Brien said after the vote.

The district plans to provide child care for the hour that students would normally be in school. Who would pay for that child care, parents or the district has yet to be determined.

Prior to the vote adopting the weekly early release schedule, the school board voted down an option to have an early release for professional development twice a month. Marrello and school board President Mary Rose Mangia were the only two board members to vote in favor of the biweekly option.

Brian Ganan, the district’s director of academic excellence, said that added time for teacher training and collaboration is vital as the district implements the new Common Core curriculum.

“We need professional development; we need it now,” Ganan said before the vote. “We’re ready to move forward.”

The weekly early release days will free up an additional 36.75 hours for professional development for teachers and instructional paraprofessionals. On 21 days next year teachers and instructional paraprofessionals will stay for professional development until the end of the normal school day. On nine other days the teachers will have 1.75 hours of professional development and stay until around 4 or 4:15 p.m.

The current teachers’ contract limits the number of days teachers can be required to stay after school. Building in additional time beyond the regular school day for professional development will be a major goal of board negotiators in contract negotiations next year.

“We’re hoping we’ll have more time for professional development built into a future contract,” Sharma-Lewis said.

Prior to the board vote, numerous teachers who have worked on getting the district ready for the Common Core spoke in favor of the weekly early release plan, saying that it would allow them time to develop new teaching strategies and meet with colleagues to discuss what is working with students and what isn’t working, among other things.

“Professional development would allow us to be more accountable to implement these strategies and try them out with our students and come back into a learning community and get ideas as how we can better implement them in the future,” said Sarah Clark, a reading specialist at L.J. Hauser Junior High School and a member of the Hauser Leadership Team. “Investing in our professional development is also making a strong investment in the achievement of our students, because the correlation is very strong.”

The added time for professional development will also allow teachers in single-section schools to consult with their grade-level colleagues who teach in other district schools.

“We believe that the time lost from instruction next year would be more than made up in the enhanced quality of instruction given to our students due to the professional development that we will receive,” said Judy Sayre, a first-grade teacher at Blythe Park School.

Some parents also spoke in favor of the weekly early release plan saying that the consistency would make their planning easier.

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