Oak Harbor middle school day cut; seven teachers lose jobs

Oak Harbor middle school students will have an extra 15 minutes to sleep in next year. At the school board meeting Monday, board members unanimously voted to shorten the 2011-2012 middle school day by 30 minutes.

Under the new schedule, students will have six periods instead of the current seven. The four periods of core classes and two electives will remain, but the extra period designated for extra help and reading enhancement will be lost.

Total instructional time will change from five hours and 43 minutes (seven periods at 49 minutes each) to five hours and 15 minutes (six periods at 52 minutes each). Each of the six periods will gain three minutes, taken from the cut 48-minute seventh period, and the remaining 30 minutes of seventh period will be lost. The current plan is to start the day at 8:15 a.m. and end at 2:15 p.m., which may cause the high school to start 15 minutes later, at 8 a.m., due to busing changes.

The shortened day allows the district to eliminate seven teaching positions without increasing class sizes by moving the teachers’ planning period to after school. Because the Legislature cut K-4 Enhancement funding, which currently pays for 10 teaching positions in Oak Harbor, staff cuts are inevitable.

In statements made last week, both middle school principals appeared to support the proposal and listed a number of educational and staff benefits that would be gained from its passage.

North Whidbey Middle School Principal Laura Aesoph said that having a common planning period for teachers before or after school would allow them “to meet and discuss how to help individual students or synchronize lessons to reinforce specific concepts.”

Aesoph also pointed out that teachers may be able to attend parent meetings more easily because they’d have similar schedules to work around.

Student-wise, Aesoph said the six-period day may make lives more manageable. She said the 15-minute later start could help students avoid tardiness and the earlier release time would allow student athletes to miss less instructional time when traveling to away games after school. Now students leave up to 45 minutes early on some game days.

Oak Harbor Middle School principal Shane Evans reinforced Aesoph’s ideas.

“(The proposal) provides the opportunity for further enhancement of our after school extra help program (I.C.U. – Intensive Care Unit) and allows teachers to work collaboratively as they did with the teaming model used in the middle schools for many years,” he said. “I see this proposed change as a great opportunity to strengthen our middle schools and the education that we provide to our students.”

At a budget committee forum earlier in the month, the principal’s secretary at Oak Harbor High School, Evon Steinsiek, said she thought one of the most challenging aspects of the new proposal would be the schools’ ability to find impromptu substitutes. She said at the high school, often teachers will call in sick or have an emergency and there isn’t time to find a substitute, so other teachers will help cover the absent teachers’ classes during their own planning periods. She said if the schools don’t have that option for subs, unexpected absences could create very difficult situations for staff members. However, neither Aesoph nor Evans felt this would be an issue.

“As for the concern that the common planning time would have a negative impact on occasions when we have fewer subs than we need, I do not foresee any exacerbation of this situation,” Aesoph said. “Currently we only have sub shortages three to four times a year. When that happens, building administrators, counselors and librarians help to cover for missing staff.”

The proposal to switch the kindergarten program from five half days each week to alternating full-day classes also passed unanimously. Next year, students will be on an A/B schedule and attend school every other Monday, and then either Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays. The all-day format adds 15 minutes of educational time to each school day which equates to about three week’s worth of extra time to the school year.

The board members said they will work extremely hard to guarantee parents and daycare providers understand the new schedule. Though some concerns still lingered with the new plan, the board members saw it as their best option.

“We’re getting to the point now where there’s a not a whole lot of choices,” board member Dave McCool said.

The all-day format will save the district about $61,000 in mid-day transportation costs. According to Superintendent Rick Schulte, the district’s transportation budget is already underfunded by the state by about $500,000.

Additional kindergarten options may be available to parents next year if there’s enough interest to fill classes. For a fee, students could attend full-day kindergarten five days a week. The current fee is set at $259, but that number could change next year. The other option would be to continue offering half-day kindergarten five days a week, with no transportation provided. Parents would be required to drop off and pick up their children.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon said the Arlington School District, among others, has the A/B format and has had reasonable success with it.

“I wouldn’t be bringing this forward if I didn’t think it would have at least an educational-neutral effect,” he said.

Schulte said he was surprised he didn’t hear from more parents about the proposals. The district sent out about 5,000 emails to community members soliciting input, but only received about 20 responses on each of the topics. Schulte said most of the messages he did receive favored the new plans.


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