Lehigh Valley

East Penn proposes eliminating elementary early dismissal on Weds.

EMMAUS, Pa. - A plan to eliminate early Wednesday dismissals of elementary school children in East Penn School District was presented to the school board Monday night.

East Penn's administration proposes that school begin five minutes later than it does now for elementary students.

School would start at 9 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. every day – including Wednesdays, when elementary kids currently attend classes only until 1:30 p.m.

The change would mean those students get 45 more minutes of instructional time every week.

The presentation was made to the school board Monday night by assistant superintendent Kristen Campbell and elementary curriculum supervisor Michele James.

Campbell said the goal is to increase instructional time for elementary students, while meeting the collective bargaining agreement that guarantees elementary teachers a "very valuable" 225 minutes of in-school preparation time every week.

If approved by the school board, the new schedule will be implemented when classes resume at the end of summer.

The board took no action on the plan Monday. Board president Alan Earnshaw said it will come back before the board for approval at a future meeting.

Earnshaw discouraged the board from debating the merits of the proposal, suggesting board members only ask questions to clarify points made in the presentation.

"This is marvelous news that we have a potential way forward," said Earnshaw after the presentation. After the meeting, he said early dismissal on Wednesdays for elementary students has been a controversy in the district for years.

The proposed plan will be posted on the school district's website for review by parents and teachers.

Campbell explained a formal presentation was being made to the school board first, before being presented to parents and teachers. She indicated the administration had only a "very preliminary conversation" with teachers, adding: "We are looking forward to their feedback as well."

After the meeting, Earnshaw said the board's decision will largely influenced by the feedback received to the plan from the public and teachers.

Currently, elementary students begin arriving at 8:40 a.m. and school begins at 8:55 a.m.

The administration proposes the school day begin at 9 a.m., with student drop-offs beginning at 8:45 a.m.

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, dismissal is at 3:30 p.m. But on Wednesdays, elementary students are dismissed at 1:30 p.m.

James said elementary students now receive 30 hours and 55 minutes of instruction each week. With the change, she said, they will get 31 hours and 40 minutes of weekly instructional time -- a gain of 45 minutes every week.

Kindergarten times also will change.

Morning kindergarten now goes from 8:55-11:25 a.m., while afternoon kindergarten goes from 12:35-3:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, kindergarten kids get less than one hour of instruction because of early dismissal.

The district proposes having morning kindergarten sessions go from 9-11:45 a.m. and afternoon sessions go from 12:35-3:20 p.m.

That change will give both morning and afternoon kindergarten children
15 more minutes of instructional time every day, according to the administrators.

Impact on teachers

"In order to accommodate the proposed adjusted student schedule, we had to make some adjustments to the teachers' schedule as well," said Campbell.

Campbell said elementary teachers now get 300 minutes of preparation time every week. She said the proposed change will give teachers 310 minutes of prep time each week.

Campbell said teachers work seven hours and 20 minutes a day, as defined in their collective bargain agreement with the school district.

They start at 8:35 a.m. and are finished at 3:55 p.m.

Campbell said teachers will start earlier, at 8:15 a.m., and end their day at 3:35 p.m.

That will give them a 30-minute block of preparation time in the morning, before the first students begin arriving at 8:45 a.m.

Campbell acknowledged having students leave at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays gives teachers a sustained block of time for prep work, including time for "collaboration at a higher level" – such as teachers from an entire grade level or even multi-grade levels getting together.

To address the need for teachers to have sustained periods of time of collaborative planning, Campbell said the district is proposing four early dismissal days for elementary children– probably one in each quarter.

Because the same school buses are used to transport both elementary and middle school students, James said the proposed elementary time schedule change also may require a five or 10-minute adjustment to daily schedules for middle school students.

Increasing the instructional day by two hours on Wednesdays also will require more support for special educational students in the district, said James.

Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger said the worst-case scenario is the proposed elementary schedule change will cost East Penn about $70,000 a year to extend the hours of instructional assistants in special education.

Board member Charles Ballard said previous studies about eliminating early dismissal on Wednesdays indicated additional staff would be needed to make it happen. Except for more hours for the special education staff, he was told no additional staff will be needed.

East Penn does not have early dismissal on Wednesdays for middle and high school students, said the superintendent.

New board secretary

Also during the board meeting, Janine L. Allen of Allentown unanimously was appointed the new board secretary and executive assistant to the superintendent.

She will replace Cecilia R. Birdsell, who is retiring after 40 years with the school district.

Allen will begin July 1, at a starting salary of $54.000.

Allen will work for the new district superintendent, Dr. J. Michael Schilder, who also starts July 1.

Schilder will replace Seidenberger, who is retiring as East Penn's superintendent at the end of June. Seidenberger was hired by East Penn in 2007.

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