The one-day-a-week early release plan adopted in April is set to start next year in Riverside Elementary District 96 after school board President Mary Rose Mangia said she has no plans for another vote on the issue.

“I do not have any plans to re-vote the proposal,” said Mangia shortly after midnight during last week’s school board meeting, during which parents spoke both for and against the plan to release students one hour early on Mondays so teachers can work on professional development and learn how to teach to the new Common Core standards.

Mangia’s statement came after a question from school member Art Perry. In an interview last week Perry said he, too, thinks the district should go ahead with the early release plan that was approved by a 5 to 2 vote in April. 

Both Mangia and Perry said they value the work done by the most vocal opponent of the early release plan, Karen Judy Foley, who pointed to the loss of instructional time.

“I am happy to move forward with the plan that’s proposed,” Perry said. “I’m also happy that the plan proposed [June 17] recaptures some instructional minutes, although I will also say that I do agree with Dr. Judy Foley that recapturing instructional minutes and making the most of our school day should be done regardless of whether we have early release.”

Board member Randy Brockway said that he was open to reconsidering the issue, but with Mangia, Perry, Lisa Gaynor and David Kodama in favor of the early release plan there does not seem to be the votes to overturn the plan.

The teachers union, the Riverside Education Council (REC), strongly opposed Foley’s proposals to make up the one hour of lost instructional time by lengthening the school by 15 minutes on the other four days of the week or, if necessary, by paying teachers to do professional development after the regular school day or on weekends. 

Nearly 50 teachers attended the June 17 school board meeting in a show of force, indicating how strongly teachers felt about the issue. Approximately 20 parents and community members also attended the meeting as the early release issue has turned into a contentious issue.

In a statement to the school board, REC President Patty Gill said both options proposed by Foley constituted a change in working conditions that could not be adopted under the current contract without collective bargaining and agreement by the union or arbitration. 

Gill said the union is willing to negotiate the length of their workday in their next contract, but will not accept any changes next year, which is the last year of the its current contract.

“The REC stance is that we will negotiate the workday in our next contract,” Gill told the school board. “We will address professional development in the next contract.”

The teachers’ contract expires June 30, 2015. Gill pledged that the REC would negotiate in good faith over the workday in upcoming talks on a new contract.

“The union is hereby on record that it has no intention of bargaining in anything but good faith,” Gill said. “We have every belief the board will do the same.”

Perry said the issue of lengthening the workday to accommodate professional development is best left to the next contract.

“I think we need to move the conversation back to making the best use of the time for this year,” Perry said. “It’s going to be a very interesting negotiation with the REC for the collective bargaining agreement and we’ll see how that goes, but I would love to see some accommodations made in the teaching schedule, the school day, school year length, etc., if we can do it.”

Mangia also said that she is concerned that District 96 may lag behind other districts in instructional time as Foley has contended.

“The length of our school calendar and the length of our day [compared to other districts] was a revelation to me, and I think it is very important that we look at that carefully,” Mangia said. 

At the June 17 meeting, Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis presented a plan to recapture most of the instructional time lost due to early release. The 60 minutes of lost time will be made up in the elementary schools by shortening the three periods of teacher-directed physical education to 10 minutes from 30 minutes.  

The reduction in time for physical education will force the district to apply for a waiver from the state, because the district will no longer meet the state mandate for physical education. Such waivers are routinely granted. 

At L.J. Hauser Junior High School, 54 of the 60 lost minutes will be made up by eliminating the advisory period on Mondays, combined with reading the daily announcements during the advisory period during the rest of the week. In the just-completed school year the announcements were read in both first and ninth period.

“I am pleased that we have proposals to recapture the time,” Mangia said.

Sharma-Lewis emphasized that the early release plan is just for next year as the district tries to implement changes in its curriculum to teach to the new Common Core standards. 

Very little work was done to prepare for the Common Core standards, which go into full effect next year, under the administration of former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. Sharma-Lewis said that the training that teachers will get during the early release time is essential.

“It’s going to be everybody getting that consistent training, and it’s going to have an immediate impact on the kids,” Sharma-Lewis said. “When you get trained on Monday those teachers are going to be able to back into their classroom on Tuesday and teach and implement those lessons or skills that they’ve learned and be able to collaborate with their colleagues a week later.”

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