Leander ISD hosted four virtual listening sessions with parents, guardians, teachers, and staff on Dec. 8 and 9. The objective was to learn more about early release days and days off to create teacher planning and professional development time while discussing solutions for working families.
We broke attendees into small groups for discussion with an assigned facilitator (a member of the district’s leadership team).
- What are your thoughts about our current calendar? What do you like or not like?
- What are your thoughts about having an early release each week for teacher training, professional development, and planning?
- How could we better support working parents during early release days?
- What are some ideas you have to make the calendar better?
The listening sessions continued to support the essential constructs of our Thoughtexchange survey and report from November:
- Keep the school year from mid-August to late May.
- Continue the holiday breaks as current (one week at Thanksgiving, two weeks at the end of the calendar year, and one week at Spring Break).
- Start the school year mid-week.
- Provide as much notice on the calendar as possible.
There continues to be a divide regarding early release days. These listening sessions revealed it’s not a clear parents/guardians and teachers divide. Based on responses, parents with more flexibility in their work and home lives prefer to have early release and days off in their calendar for vacations and medical appointments. Teachers, particularly at elementary, appreciate the early release days because of the planning time. Working parents, which includes our Leander ISD staff, struggle with child care. This issue is not just with elementary schools. Parents with middle school and students receiving special education services shared their challenges with the early release and child care.
- Time for family vacations and trips
- Continued support for mid-August to late May calendar with holiday breaks we currently have.
- The mid-week start to the school year is popular with teachers and school staff.
- Consider adding a conference or professional development day in February (either in addition to October or replacing October).
- Staff development days after breaks are popular with teachers for planning time.
- “Full days for professional development is better than the early release days. However, I’d still pick as many normal five day weeks as possible.”
- “When we have an extended weekend, our families choose to spend the entire week out.”
Early Release Days
- Need plenty of notice for parents.
- It gives students “catch up time.”
- Teachers love the professional learning community (PLC) collaboration time.
- Early release time only works if you protect the teachers’ time.
- Middle school teachers and band teachers expressed dislike for early releases due to the disruption leading to lost instructional time.
- Parents shared they use this time for scheduling medical appointments for students.
- Consider changing the day from Wednesday to Friday.
- Parents shared they noticed a difference with teachers having early release time (more communication and feedback).
- A parent shared a concern with transition day for families with students receiving special education services. Campuses have allowed students who need it to be virtual on early release days to accommodate families.
- The 2020-21 early release schedule is confusing because it’s not every week (four day weeks don’t get an early release day). Also, some early release days end earlier than the two-hour.
- “If this approved, we have to protect the teachers’ time – keep it sacred.”
- (Teacher) “I hate early releases. For a secondary school, block schedules and early release don’t allow for a normal week. So, instructional time isn’t consistent.”
- “I get why we needed (early release days) this year, but I can’t understand why it would stick around.”
- “It’s a wasted day. Half the kids choose to not even come to school.”
- “This is a good idea. We need our teachers to be prepared to give a better education.”
- “Some teachers feel like they might be losing a little instructional time with students – how might we think about a tiered system?”
Support for Working Parents
- Concern for younger children with child care.
- Parents shared affordability concerns with after school care.
- Concern for after school options at middle school (not as independent as high school).
- Limit early release to once a month.
- “We need to think about those families who are trying to work and make ends meet, so it is difficult for them to take time off for early release days.”
- “We should assume that most of our households are two working parents.”
- “The best way to support parents is to have a predictable schedule that is consistent.”
- Minimize changes made during the year on the calendar.
- A parent suggested some classes to be hybrid (virtual and in-person) next year.
- Consider a year-round school calendar to help parents in the summertime with child care.
- Election day off providing safety.
- Offer an extended fall break.
- Teachers shared concerns regarding block schedules at middle school.
- Middle school band teachers do not like block schedules unless they can do a double-block like high school. They lose instructional time.
- Scatter full professional development days during the school year, perhaps around progress report time.
- A teacher did not like the staggered start by grade level that we did for the COVID pandemic. It was too much change.
- Parents appreciate having a schedule two years in advance.
- (On middle school block schedules) “I can’t teach a 12-year-old 90 minutes at a time.”