The new school year officially kicks off Monday, and there are several significant changes taking place within the School District of Palm Beach County.
The first major adjustment is that after approximately a decade of once-a-month Thursday half days, the district has gotten rid of its “Learning Team Meeting” days, which were despised for much of their existence. When the 2017-18 calendar was being finalized in April, Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa noted that the shortened days are detested by many parents, teachers and administrators, who find them disruptive and inefficient.
A district analysis found that students were sometimes more than twice as likely to be absent on half-days than on regular days, an announcement that shocked virtually no one who works in the school buildings — not to mention the number of substitute teachers in the classroom those days, due to the number of teachers who opted not to report for a half day of meetings and a half-day of teaching.
The Thursday LTM days were intended to be a way for teachers to receive updated information on teaching trends, such as the evaluation process. And that may have been the case early on in the process, but the concept had quickly grown stale, and many educators both dreaded sitting through hours of meetings, accompanied by shortened classes where they were unable to accomplish much more than take attendance. In their place: an extra two days off before the Thanksgiving holiday, giving teachers (and students) a full week off in late November.
Overall, there are only 179 school days this year — one fewer than last year. But, because the half days are wiped out, there’s actually more instructional time, which is a win-win for students and teachers, as well as for the district as a whole. By reducing the school calendar by a day, district officials estimate they will save $175,000 in gas and electricity costs.
The second change is that teachers reported back to the classroom this past Monday, instead of the traditional Tuesday arrival. This was, in part, to make up for some of that planning time that was being lost with the elimination of LTM days from the calendar.
A third adjustment is technological. The district is transitioning from its ancient TERMS computer system and not-quite-as-ancient Edline/GradeQuick grading and attendance tracking system, to Focus School Software’s state-of-the-art Student Information System (SIS). Among other things, the web-based SIS allows attendance and grading to be tracked in real time by guidance departments, administrators and parents. It allows teachers of older students to track whether a student has been absent all day or only in their particular class, and gives teachers access to parent phone and e-mail contacts to let them know how their students are (or aren’t) performing, without having to request the information from the data processing or student services departments. Teachers were required to participate in an online overview of the new program, and many schools devoted time this past week for hands-on seminars to navigate the new system.
So, as students prepare to enter the classroom Monday, they can expect some adjustments from what they are used to within the classroom walls. However, we expect the changes will be positive for everyone involved.