The Estherville Lincoln Central Board of Education, teachers and staff and the general public discussed ways in which the district can cope with early outs at 1:45 p.m. every Wednesday for teacher collaborative time.
The reason for the weekly early dismissal is to accommodate an Iowa Department of Education requirement for 36 hours minimum of teacher collaborative time during the school year. While educators and administration locally embrace the collaborative time concept, comments Monday night showed concern for cutting into the teaching day, and probably more seriously, how to handle an entire school of children let out early once a week.
In opening the discussion Monday night, Jodie Greig, board president, said one of the most frustrating things of being on the school board was dealing with federal and state mandates - such as the early out issue.
Phoebe Hersom, Demoney Elementary kindergarten teacher, said she was concerned about accommodating parents' work schedules.
"We have a major daycare shortage in the town right now," said Hersom, referring to the district's decision to close the Estherville Child Care Center at the end of this school year. Hersom said a lot of people can't afford to pay for child care - which generally runs more than it did in the school's daycare facility.
Hersom said one question she's received from parents is "What was your poverty training for?".
"I do feel that is contrary to our poverty training," Hersom said of the weekly early outs, adding that it was better for an employer to give an employee a full day off instead of letting the employee out early once a week.
Lorena Brant, Demoney special education teacher, offered similar concerns, saying she had already lost two aides and that she was concerned that aides' pay would be cut further with the early outs.
"They're single parents and they can't make it on $8 an hour," Brant said, adding that two or three aides have told her they would have to find other jobs if their hours were cut.
Brant said she has a couple students now whose parents don't send them to school when there are monthly early outs.
In her presentation, superintendent Tara Paul said she and her building principals discuss what's best for students, the community and the school system, adding that they believe early outs for professional development make for stronger lessons in the classroom and stronger teachers.
Paul said the intent of the state law calling for 36 hours of collaborative time for teachers each school year was to provide for collaboration around the day-to-day work of teaching and learning.
When Paul asked principals to report their findings on teacher surveys about professional development, the results strongly favored the professional development they've received. However, there were concerns about how parents would pay for daycare. And as for lost teaching time, high-school principal Frank Christenson asked about adding 10 minutes to the other school days, a subject broached at a previous board meeting.
Board member Kathy Cornwall agreed there was no doubt teachers felt the need for collaborative time.
"But the way it's being proposed they do not feel is the best way," Cornwall said, noting parental concerns about kids being sent home unattended. "They're concerned about the kids," Cornwall said.
Hersom reiterated her concerns that after talking with teachers she was not opposed to collaborative time itself. However, she was concerned about kids going home and having no one there.
"We have a lot of holes in our plans for the working poor," Hersom said. "I am worried sick about those kids when they aren't going to have anybody taking care of them."
Cornwall asked about the possibility of one day of professional development monthly with a half day designated as collaborative time. Paul said that would have to be run past the Iowa Department of Education.
Cornwall offered particular concerns for how the district would handle younger students.
Paul said one plan is to expand the Energizer Plus program Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday at the Regional Wellness Center from the current 27 students to 50.
"I'd like to see what we can do just on Wednesdays for those kids," Cornwall said.
Paul said having early outs every other week is an option, adding that she hoped to make a decision at the regular board meeting in two weeks.