School board digs into details of early release for all Aspen students |

School board digs into details of early release for all Aspen students

ASPEN – The idea of early-release Wednesdays for all Aspen public school students is gaining momentum, with a detailed plan unveiled at last week’s Aspen Board of Education meeting.

Under the current proposal – which is being fine-tuned for final approval later this month – all kindergarten through 12th-grade students would be released at 1:55 p.m. on Wednesdays beginning next school year. The move is an effort to save money and, more importantly, to offer “collaborative time” for all teachers.

“Based on everything we’ve heard and all that we know, collaborative time is imperative to our teachers’ and students’ success,” Aspen Superintendent John Maloy said. “And once you realize that there is no loss of instructional time – which is likely the No. 1 concern of parents – I think it makes a lot of sense.”

Still, some board members had reservations. And while they wondered if a larger discussion surrounding the use of the school day was in order, it was clear something like early-release Wednesdays for all students might be a good first step.

“I understand this change is a baby step,” said board member Sheila Wills, “but we need to keep our eyes and ears open to all options.”

Maloy agreed.

“Is there a better way? Maybe, and that is certainly a conversation we can have looking forward,” he said, calling next year’s proposed schedule a “pilot” program. “But we have seen great success with this at the elementary school, so we believe this is a logical and efficient next step.”

Currently, Aspen Elementary School students end their Wednesdays at 1:40 p.m.; middle and high school students have early-release days just four times during the school year. The regular school day ends at 3:10 p.m. for elementary school students and 3:15 p.m. for all others.

To account for the time missed due to early release, class periods for middle and high schoolers would be changed to 95 minutes on regular school days (they are currently 90 minutes) and 75 minutes on early-release days. Five minutes also would be added to each end of the school day for middle and high school students, meaning they would begin their day at 8:05 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.

For elementary school students, the change to an all-district early-release schedule means 15 more minutes of class time on Wednesdays and perhaps five more minutes at the end of other school days due to the shared buses.

“There should be minimal changes to the bus schedule. In the morning, most buses arrive early now. Therefore, this should not be a concern. We would ask that the older students be dismissed from the buses first – they are currently dismissed last – and the elementary students be dismissed last,” Maloy said. “In the afternoon, the bus departure should not change by more than five minutes at the most.”

According to district administrators, at least $16,000 per year in transportation savings could be realized by having the same dismissal time for all students. Currently, school buses run their end-of-day routes twice on Wednesdays – first for elementary students and later for middle and high school students.

More important, however, is the benefit to teachers of having time at school without students in the building. According to Maloy, each school would create its own plan for using the collaborative time, though one day per month or every other month would be designated as “K-12 vertical articulation time.”

School board members noted that some type of “fidelity” would need to be attached to the collaborative time so that community members would feel confident it was being used wisely.

Maloy said that would be taken into consideration, noting that this type of districtwide collaboration is becoming increasingly important as budget cuts continue to force changes. Among these changes is a move to get Aspen High School and Aspen Middle School on the same “block” schedule so resources can be shared. Next year, for example, the two schools will share a theater teacher as well as vocal and band teachers. To do this, the schools will need to have aligning “black” and “red” days, which will roll continuously from week to week. There will no longer be “all-day Mondays” for high schoolers, where they attend each class for 45 minutes.

Again, all those in attendance recognized that if the new block schedule or districtwide early release does not work, they will be revisited.

“We have been trying to align schedules for a while, so there’s no heartburn around that idea,” said middle school Principal Tom Heald. “The heartburn comes in figuring out what all of this is going to look like and in making sure there isn’t a perception that our new collaborative time wasn’t used as effectively as possible.

“The devil is definitely going to be in the details.”

In addition to a new daily schedule, Aspen High students are likely to see a slightly altered calendar for 2012-13.

At last week’s Aspen Board of Education meeting, school administrators suggested several tweaks to the previously approved calendar. After some discussion, the most noticeable change – which will be brought before the school board later this month for final approval – is likely to be the elimination of an “October break” for high school students only.

Currently, all Aspen students will be out of school during parent-teacher conferences on Oct. 24 and 25, with Oct. 26 off as a scheduled teacher workday. The calendar was created, in part, to offer “resort families” a break during offseason.

Under the changed calendar, parent-teacher conferences for high school students would be moved to afternoon and evening hours on Oct. 10 and 11, with a day off for students and teachers on Oct. 12. The net gain would be six extra instructional hours. More important, though, is the gain of another full week of school for the older students.

“The high school does a lot of great things, but we still need to maximize every minute of our instructional time,” said interim AHS Principal David Schmid. “And that means eliminating interruptions and maintaining as much consistency as possible.”

School board members saw Schmid’s point but did worry about their prior promise of an offseason break. Several noted, however, that high schoolers are less likely to be able to leave town in October due to fall sports and other commitments.

The same type of scenario is also being proposed for February’s high school parent-teacher conferences. In this instance, high school students would no longer have Feb. 14 through 16 off. Rather, parent-teacher conferences would be in the afternoon and evening hours on Feb. 27 and 28, with March 1 off for teachers and students.

Also suggested, but not likely to be pursued for 2012-13, was pushing back high school graduation. School administrators were proposing a June 1, 2013, date, as opposed to the traditional Memorial Day weekend, for several reasons. But board members were hesitant, noting that they set a two-year calendar so families could plan ahead for big events such as graduation. Aspen Superintendent John Maloy later said, “This idea can be examined with the development of a new calendar for the 2013-14 school year.”

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