Picturephoto credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

When we moved to East Penn a number of years ago, my wife and I were shocked to learn that all elementary students are dismissed early every Wednesday of the school year.   Both of us work outside the home, so this quirk of the district calendar sent us scrambling to provide care for our daughter on all those Wednesday afternoons.   We hired a babysitter some weeks, and a retired neighbor helped us out on other days.  Since then, we’ve cobbled together something a little different each year, combining changes to our work schedules with daycare, babysitters, and help from friends and neighbors.  Next year, however, might be different.

A New Wednesday Schedule
In response to growing concerns about half-day Wednesdays, the district administration has developed a proposal to make the elementary school day the same each day of the week.  The main element of the plan is changing the daily schedule for both students and teachers.  Students would start five minutes later (9:00am instead of 8:55am) and be dismissed ten minutes earlier most days (3:20pm instead of 3:30pm) and much later on Wednesdays (3:20pm instead of 1:30pm).  Official teacher workdays would be the same length as they are now– 7 hours and 20 minutes– but would both begin and end earlier. Full details, including the proposed new kindergarten schedule, is available in the presentation the administration gave to the school board last Monday.

Advantages & Disadvantages
There are a number of potential advantages to this new schedule:

  • Students would receive almost a week’s worth of additional instruction– over 31 hours–each year, compared to what they receive now.
  • A regularized weekly schedule greatly improves the rhythm of the school day for students.  It also greatly increases the flexibility schools have for scheduling instruction around snow days and other disruptions.
  • It would be much more convenient for the many families who currently have to scramble each Wednesday to find childcare.  Our community has far more families with two working parents, as well as families headed by only one parent, than it did in 1974, when the current schedule was first instituted.
  • Teachers would receive (slightly) more useable preparation time– 310 minutes compared to 300 currently– mainly through a more efficient schedule in which they have longer uninterrupted time blocks each day.

There are also a number of potential disadvantages to the change:

  • Students who currently enjoy Wednesdays with their parents at home will no longer have this luxury, even if the number of such students is far lower today than in the past.
  • Teachers will lose the large block of preparation time on Wednesday afternoons, replaced by shorter daily blocks.  
  • There is a financial cost to the district of as much as $70,000 for instructional aides on Wednesday afternoons, required by largely unfunded state special education mandates.
  • Change can be difficult for many.  The district has not held elementary classes on Wednesday for forty years.  Fear of the possible consequences to changing longtime habits is thus understandable.  

Some Recent History
The administration proposed changing the Wednesday afternoon schedule seven years ago, but the proposal was unanimously turned down by the school board at the time– despite a survey that showed 71% of parents supported it.  But that proposal differed from the current one in several crucial ways.  First, the older proposal called for a later start time for students (9:15am instead of 9:00am).  Second, it called for additional hiring that would have cost more than $472,000 annually (compared to a maximum of $70,000 for the current proposal).  Given these differences, I believe this new proposal stands a much better chance with my colleagues on the school board than the one in 2007.

A Change for the Good?
A lot has changed in our schools and in our community in the generation since half day Wednesdays were first instituted!  Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this new proposal, I am cautiously optimistic that this change in schedule can be good for everyone: students, parents, teachers, and the district administration.  The changes would definitely disrupt the carefully laid plans my wife and I have for getting our 3rd grader to and from school each day, at least in the short term.  But I’m sure we could adapt.   I want to hear from others before making up my mind on this issue, though.   How do you view these proposed changes?  Are there potential advantages and disadvantages I haven’t yet considered?




Share

19 thoughts to “An End to Half-Day Wednesdays?

  • Liborio LaRussa, MD

    I support ending short day Wednesdays and hope you will too.

    Reply
  • H hinshaw

    One of the reasons our child is in private school is because of this ridiculous dismissal policy.

    Reply
  • East Penn Parent

    Time for half day Wed. to come to an end. This is a great district and this makes it even better. I appreciate the efforts of the teachers who will need to adjust.

    Reply
  • Dee

    I LOVE half day Wed. It is quality time I have with my children. I like having the extra time with my children up to 4th grade and once they hit 5th grade, I like that the 5th graders have band and orchestra after school on Wed. until 3. I like that band and orchestra doesn’t bump into our evenings. Music is a program that I don’t want to see cut back because of a change in schedule. When you move into East Penn, you move in knowing that the smaller kids have half day Wed….that’s one of the reasons we moved here…why should we have to adjust to people who want to change things the way they were where they came from.

    Reply
  • Kelly

    I LOVE the early dismissals on Wednesday! My daughter and I look forward to it every week and, yes, it allows us to spend special time together. (I feel like I am in the minority because I actually want MORE time with my child.) It is a bright spot in the week for us. You’d be surprised how special those two little hours can be and I fear we are all so busy that we cannot see beyond our own schedules. I will truly, truly miss it if it is changed. Besides, if parents have been arranging care for their children for FORTY years, why tack on $70,000 to change it?

    Reply
  • Jessica H.

    I am a parent of one elem student with one about to start. While at the moment I am lucky enough to be home with my boys and do very much enjoy early Wednesdays, I will soon be heading back to work full time. My husband and I are very stressed as to how we will accommodate this schedule as we do not have family near by or neighbors we feel comfortable leaving the boys with. I am in support of eliminating the early dismissal Wednesdays and in speaking with numerous friends with kids in the district, I in my opinion seem to be in the majority.

    Reply
  • Dana

    Daycare isn’t an issue for us, thankfully so we don’t share those concerns that some of the other parents do. We are contemplating sending our child to a private school because of this schedule because we don’t find it appealing to have a half day break mid-week. It’s an interruption for the students and it’s valuable instructional time.

    .

    Reply
  • East Penn Parent

    If professionals in the non-educational field are expected to work above and beyond the forty hours they are paid for, why shouldn’t educators be held to the same standard? Frankly they have (majority) of the summers off (yes, I understand they have some in-service and classroom set up days). Professionals work year round… Consider the summer months comp time for the additional hours that were put in through out the school year.

    Reply
    • East Penn Parent

      From 1 east parent to another: This has nothing to do with hours worked or summers. If you really want to have that debate talk to a teacher about hours worked and see if the summer is really off. You would be surprised what you might discover. This has to so with ending a long standing practice in a way that is good for the budget and that keeps East Penn great. I would say the Superintendent and board have managed a plan that does exactly that.

      Reply
      • Response

        I’d say 70K is well worth it. The superintendent and school board has heard several arguments and proposals over the years and were afraid to fight the union. It wasn’t helpful for the students, let’s be real.

        Reply
      • East Penn Parent

        No the problem with past proposals was that they were very costly. The co called reform team or whatever they were calling themselves at that point would have made the cost increase the big issue in the next election. Nothing to do with unions here. The union is still present and really no indication they even want to take a position. Good job East Penn board, admin. and teachers.

        Reply
  • East Penn Parent

    As a primary teacher I am astonished this schedule has lasted so long. Routine and predictability are very important for young learners. The current East Penn schedule not only limits instructional time, but does not provide for the much needed routine and consistency young learners need. It is WAY past time for this schedule to change.

    Reply
  • Parent

    My family is strongly in favor of the change to full day Wednesdays. The increased instructional time and more consistent schedule far outweigh any claimed benefit to keeping the early dismissal schedule. As a quick response to the two comments above, it is not about not wanting to spend time with our kids. We love spending time with them. It is about ensuring that the EPSD continues to maintain its academic excellence and keep up with other districts. A quick review of the State’s testing scores reveals that the elementary schools in the EPSD are slipping. It seems clear to us that increasing the instructional time and maintaining a more consistent full day schedule is a good place to start when making changes to improve EPSD’s performance. Maybe the lost instructional time did not have a significant impact 40 years ago, but it clearly does in today’s day and age. We are looking forward to a change for the better.

    Reply
    • Well Said

      Couldn’t agree more. Very well said!

      Reply
  • Parent who starts works at 4PM

    As a parent who starts work at 4PM and my child starting Elementary School this year…I would love to have a couple hours with my child on Wednesdays! I hope this doesn’t change!

    Reply
  • East Penn Parent

    95% of East Penn elementary teachers are already in their school buildings by 8:15am, because they currently do not have enough time to get everything done. The new proposal pretends to provide teachers with additional planning time by including those morning minutes into its deceitful 310 minute total. Simply put, the new plan is taking away all of the teachers’ planning time on Wednesday afternoons and not providing them with adequate planning time during the ACTUAL school day. Sadly, all of these changes are being presented at a time when the state of Pennsylvania (starting next school year) will be requiring teachers to write lengthy research-based instructional goals for every student in the class. The Pennsylvania Department of Education predicts it will take each teacher approximately 4-6 hours to analyze data and complete an instructional goal document for every child. If a teacher has a conservative estimate of 25 students in a class, he/she will need an additional 150 HOURS of planning time during the upcoming school year (not counting the time needed to grade assessments and plan differentiated lessons). Essentially, the state will be requiring that an IEP be written for every student in the district. If you are a parent of a child with an IEP, you know how lengthy that document is and how long it takes educators to write each IEP. This proposal couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. At a time when additional planning time is needed, not less. I am not opposed to full day Wednesdays but am offended by the absurd allegation that the new plan will provide teachers with additional planning time. The statement regarding teachers receiving additional preparation time with the new model being proposed is misleading to the general public, and the teachers are afraid to speak up out of fear of being ostracized by the local community. Let’s call the current proposal what it actually is…A BULLY.

    Reply
    • Parent

      Just a quick response. I sympathize with the new State requirements, but all teachers in every District will be figuring this new reporting out as well, all while maintaining five full days of school a week. In addition, most, if not all other Districts provide just the contracted prep time to its teachers. EPSD has apparently been fairly generous with providing more prep time than actually contracted for. (Perhaps not all block time, but prep time nonetheless. Regardless, all teachers learn to make the most of the prep time provided). As indicated above, the State test scores for EPSD have been slipping when compared to other Districts in the area. One obvious difference that we can change is the Wednesday schedule. So again, to help ensure a more consistent, quality education for our kids, the change seems like an easy decision to us. The fact that someone is attempting to characterize the EPSD as a bully for proposing to change the schedule for the better while maintaining more than the contracted prep time is confusing to me. I tend to think the above comment is more of an initial/personal response to change, even if the change makes so much sense from so many different angles. At the end of the day, once the change is made and after the District gets through the initial bumps, I think we all will realize the change is in everyone’s best interest. In fact, years from now we will all look back and wonder why on Earth early dismissal Wednesdays were ever part of EPSD. My thoughts of course.

      Reply
    • East Penn Momma

      Most teachers are in favor of this change. How is it that other school district teachers can make it happen with full days 5 days a week but we can’t? And these are school districts that are quickly surpassing EPSD. We need those extra hours to continue being one of the best school districts. Perhaps then we won’t be going to school until June 17th even with a horrible winter as what we just experienced.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    The new model requires teachers to come earlier, allows teachers to leave earlier, and takes away 150 minutes of teacher planning time per week. None of the elementary teachers I’ve personally spoken with in the district are opposed to lengthening Wednesday afternoons but are simply upset by the numbers game being played to make it look like they will be receiving more planning time under the new model. To provide adequate planning time for teachers under the new model, the district could hire instructional technologists to provide a weekly “computer” special in each elementary building.

    Reply

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *