By SVERRE BAKKE
In an effort to provide dedicated collaboration time among teachers in the community's three schools, the White Salmon Valley School District's board of directors last Wednesday approved a two-year pilot program that calls for a weekly staff in-service and early release of students on that day.
The upshot of the decision is that Hulan L. Whitson Elementary School will have a longer school day next year (by 40 minutes) that will result in elimination of the second Whitson bus run and the hiring of an educational specialist -- at a cost of roughly $66,000 -- to give Whitson teachers a planning period during the school day.
"In order for Whitson students to have adequate instructional time, and to have the weekly early releases so teachers can have collaboration time, we have to eliminate the second bus run," explained Superintendent Dale Palmer.
Moreover, the board's motion included a directive to administrators to explore how Whitson can offer a half-day kindergarten option to parents who believe the new school day will be too long and taxing for their kindergarteners.
As Palmer noted, the move to a weekly in-service/early release will mean more instructional time for students at Whitson, with a jump from 1,004 hours per year to 1,091 per year. (Instructional time at CHS and Wayne M. Henkle Middle School will decrease slightly, but will still be well over the annual statutory requirement of 1,000 hours.)
At the same time, the district's teachers will be enabled to create a "professional learning community" that will come together once a week in the afternoon during the school year.
Development of a professional learning community (PLC) -- a fast-growing movement in the field of education -- "is what we need to do to move the district forward," said Deputy Superintendent Jerry Lewis.
District faculty and staff, when surveyed last year about the matter, were nearly unanimous in their support of proceeding with implementation of the strategy. This school year, the district followed up with an honest assessment of itself that formed the basis for a studying of options that would best work locally.
That groundwork led to the surveying of parents and teachers on their preferences for release times and in-service days. Parents overwhelmingly favored early release over late starts, while most teachers liked the idea of a weekly in-service on Wednesdays.
Lewis said holding weekly in-house in-service for teachers -- versus hiring substitutes to cover for teachers attending out-of-district training -- is a cost-effective way to provide staff development. (The district is not setting aside money for staff development in its proposed 2009-10 budget.)
"We want to capitalize on the expertise and resources we have right here in our district," Lewis said, to foster a culture of learning that will provide benefits for students and teachers alike.
Added Lewis: "The benefits of providing collaboration time for teachers is all centered around `How can we serve students better in each of the three buildings?'"