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District contemplates new schedule for teacher development

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Getting out of school two hours early and making the teachers learn instead will probably sit just fine with most students in the Valley.

Last month the Board of Directors for the Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD) approved a professional development planning time proposal that has been two years in the works. The proposal will dismiss students two hours early each Friday for 32 weeks during the 2005-2006 school year to give teachers 26 hours of extra professional development time over the course of the year.

With the new federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) act and new state graduation requirements, students and teachers are being held to higher standards. The NCLB requirements set in place by President George W. Bush did not come with additional time or funding to help make them happen. The only way most schools have been able to cope is by getting creative with the calendar.

"Expectations that are coming to us from federal government and state government continue to put more and more stress on our staff," said SVSD Assistant Superintendent Don McConkey. "It's becoming increasingly more and more difficult for staff because our staff already works extremely hard. In order for us to maintain and sustain the level of excellence in the district, we need to provide our staff with time that's necessary for them to be well prepared and continue to learn."

Other local school districts that have increased teacher planning time within the last two years include: Issaquah, Mercer Island, Riverview, Lake Washington, Tahoma, Bellevue and Puyallup.

McConkey said a similarly modified calendar for these schools have had good results.

"The initial feedback we've received is that this has made a positive impact in student achievement, as well. I believe we'll show signs of improvements, too," McConkey said.

During their extra time teachers will do extensive planning with teammates, work with other staff members across grade levels, work on new curriculum, look at various opportunities to update instruction strategies and more.

An SVSD committee evaluated seven neighboring districts and several other districts in the state to get comparable data for this proposal. All districts in the study were found to have more planning and professional development time than what is currently scheduled in the SVSD calendar. Snoqualmie Valley School District currently has a total of five release days for planning and professional development throughout the student school year.

Students may have the option of attending various activities after school to pass the extra two hours. Extended learning activities, chess club, homework club, community-based classes, arts and crafts, gymnastics and other options could allow students to put their free time to good use, though the school board has yet to take action on any activities. Parent and teacher groups at each school will help develop the activities for students. Si View Community Center may also offer programs, for which the schools may provide transportation.

Students at the high-school and middle-school levels will still attend their sports, music, drama and other activities after school on Fridays, but may first attend study groups for the two hours following dismissal time. Additional funding to the district from revenues created by Initiative-728 is available to increase the amount of time for homework opportunities, remediation activities and enrichment activities.

Coaches and club organizers would see that students take part in these activities during the Friday early dismissal times, and after the two hours proceed with their practices or activities as they would on any other day.

The early dismissals will take place for 32 Fridays, or just about the whole year. Weeks in which there are three or fewer days won't have an early Friday release, however.

McConkey said transportation home will not change.

"The bottom line for us is that we believe this is what's going to be best for kids and that it will positively impact student learning," McConkey said.

Under SVSD's proposal, students will still attend 180 days of class and both morning and afternoon kindergarten classes will be in session on Fridays.

At the end of the school year parents, students, teachers and staff will be surveyed to determine the impact of the development time.

Staff writer Melissa Kruse can be contacted at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at melissa.kruse@valleyrecord.com.

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