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  • Snowberger defends early release

    Moving program to Mondays has some parents perturbed

    “Let’s get rid of this early-release idea ... and let’s just teach the students,” said Phoebe Bechtolt, whose daughter attends kindergarten at Florida Mesa Elementary School. Bechtolt and several dozen parents, teachers and administrators gathered Monday evening at the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building to discuss early release with Superintendent Daniel Snowberger. Enlarge photo

    STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

    “Let’s get rid of this early-release idea ... and let’s just teach the students,” said Phoebe Bechtolt, whose daughter attends kindergarten at Florida Mesa Elementary School. Bechtolt and several dozen parents, teachers and administrators gathered Monday evening at the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building to discuss early release with Superintendent Daniel Snowberger.

    Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Daniel Snowberger made strides Monday swaying parents’ objections to move early release from Fridays to Mondays.

    As soon as the decision was announced last week, some parents complained it was made in a high-handed manner. Others balked at the inconvenience it would cause working families.

    Snowberger conceded the decision angered many, but he said it would prove to be in the students’ best interest.

    During a lengthy, spirited defense of the date change at a meeting in the Administration Building, Snowberger said districts across the state have seen benefits from the early-release model, but Durango’s schools had seen the opposite.

    Early release on Fridays was introduced in Durango in 2007-08 to allow teachers time to participate in Professional Learning Communities and give teachers a time to collaborate, analyze student performance data and plan to adjust instruction to improve student outcomes, Snowberger said.

    Snowberger said he could not find any other district using Fridays for early release.

    Beyond teachers’ desire to spend time with their families and many teachers’ competing commitments on Fridays, such as coaching, Snowberger said Friday afternoons were uniquely problematic.

    “Professionals are least creative and unproductive in engaging in this type of work after five days of high engagement with students,” he said.

    Snowberger said he moved early release to Mondays because it would offer fewer inconveniences for parents – there are 31 Mondays versus 37 Wednesdays in the calendar. Also, he said moving to Mondays would allow teachers to adjust teaching strategies after analyzing real-time data about student performance at the beginning of the week.

    Affordable after-school programs such as Kids Camp and a new $2 after-hours option for Mondays, he said, would blunt the sting on parents away from home Monday afternoons.

    Not all parents were persuaded.

    “If it’s so important, don’t impact us, impact yourself, and see if it works. Bring the teachers in at 6 o’clock in the morning on Mondays when the students aren’t there,” said parent Bengt Hokamsom.

    Snowberger said teachers already work more than 40 hours a week.

    Research, Snowberger said, shows Professional Learning Communities, when properly scheduled, improved student results. He said if early release proved unsuccessful within a year, he would abolish it altogether.

    A mother said efforts to advertise a December 2012 meeting on the calendar and the districts’ doings in general had been inadequate.

    Snowberger said he was somewhat at a loss as to how to engage parents, saying since the school year began, he attended seven community meetings at seven schools. Though parents were informed of each meeting by postcard beforehand, the biggest crowd was three parents.

    “It’s disheartening sometimes to get emails about how horrible I am, how awful I am, just because I’ve made a decision,” he said. “Look, I’ll meet you at a restaurant, for a coffee, at home, I never turn down a parent,” he said.

    One father said he came with serious misgivings about the date change, but he left reassured the district was moving in a better direction overall.

    cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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