WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington School Committee is considering a proposal from Superintendent Glenn Brand to make some significant changes to the district’s school calendar for next school year.
The Big Change
Under the proposal, Wilmington students would experience a very different first week of school. School would still start the week before Labor Day. The first three days of school — Tuesday, August 27, 2019, Wednesday, August 28, 2019, and Thursday, August 29, 2019 — would become EARLY RELEASE DAYS for students, instead of full school days as they’ve traditionally been. Teachers, however, would work full days, allowing them the opportunity for start-of-year planning time and professional development after the students depart. This added time for educators would be in addition to Monday, August 26, 2019, when staff work a full-day without students. Wednesday’s early release days would serve as a replacement for a CIT (Curriculum Improvement Time) early release day that is usually held in late September.
Brand explained the rationale behind these early releases. He noted teachers experience a tension trying to complete all their start-of-year tasks and responsibilities during the one day (Monday) that is scheduled for staff before the students arrive. Brand also stressed that there is currently no opportunity for department staff district-wide to come together and prepare for the year. He also touched up weather-related concerns, noting the possibility of extreme heat and humidity in late August could again force unplanned early releases, which can be challenging for families.
“While students will be dismissed according to the Early Release Schedule, staff will remain and these days would be designated as ‘building-based’ to allow for the following: (1) time for general education teachers to meet with Special Education staff to review student plans and program requirements; (2) the opportunity for staff to review 504 plans for students; (3) the opportunity for teachers to receive and review recent test data and any other important information that can help support the transition of students,” explained Brand of the new Tuesday and Thursday early releases.
“This change will also provide an opportunity for department staff across district to come together to plan for the year,” added Brand concerning the new Wednesday early release.
Brand noted that front-loading professional development time at the start of the school year is common in other districts, which helps educators “really ramp up and get the school year off and running.”
School Committee members saw the merit in the proposed change, but some expressed reservations.
“Generally speaking, I like how the schedule eases in — a 3-day week, then a 4-day week, then a 5-day week,” said member David Ragsdale. “However, the first week could pose a difficulty for families as it pertains to childcare… I like that the staff benefits, but how much [negative] impact will this have on families?”
Ragsdale noted that the school department’s after-school program (CARES) doesn’t run on early release days.
Assistant Superintendent Paul Ruggiero noted that a discussion could be had with CARES personnel, suggesting the program could run on the first three days despite the early releases.
“I really like the [early release days] for planning time… but I also have concerns about families possibly extending their summer vacation due to childcare issues,” concurred member Jennifer Bryson, pointing out that student absentee could become an issue for that week. “I just don’t want to leave families in a little bit of a lurch.”
“I do wonder if we’ll see attendance issues because of childcare,” agreed member Jo Newhouse.
The proposal also calls for the elimination of school on the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday, November 20, 2019), which is traditionally an early release day.
Brand noted that student attendance on this day can be challenging, especially with families traveling for the holidays. He also pointed out that by eliminating this early release day, and adding a full day elsewhere, the district would be increasing instructional time for students.
School Committee members appeared supportive of this suggested change.
Vacations Remain In Place
December vacation (Saturday, December 21, 2019 through Wednesday, January 1, 2020); February vacation (Saturday, February 15, 2020 through Sunday, Febraury 23, 2020); and April vacation (Saturday, April 18, 2020 through Sunday, April 26, 2020) remain intact.
There is discussion, however, of potentially changing the day before Winter Break from an early release to a full day.
Brand noted that any calendar approved by the Committee must follow the standards established by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (including a 180-school day school year for students). The calendar must also be in line with the district’s teacher union’s contract, which calls for a work year of 182 continguous days, where one of the 182 days is to review and prepare for the start-of-year responsbilities and another of the 182 days is for the purpose of professional development.
That full Professional Development Day, which results in a day off for students, is typically scheduled for Election Day, as it will be in 2019 (Tuesday, November 5, 2019).
Kindergarten and preschool students would continue to start their school year one week after everyone goes back.
Next school year’s last day of school, with 5 snow days built in, is forecasted for Thursday, June 18, 2020.
School Committee To Discuss Further At Next Meeting
The Wilmington School Committee will discuss whether to adopt the calendar with the proposed changes, or a calendar without them, at its next meeting on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. Two of the committee’s members — Chair Julie Broussard and Steve Bjork — were absent for this initial discussion.
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