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Hillsborough schools considering early release on Mondays

TAMPA — Hillsborough County teachers will get an hour of paid planning time nearly every Monday afternoon, subject to a School Board vote Tuesday.

The early-release Mondays are a variation of an advisory committee's idea to start every Monday an hour late.

The School Board and superintendent MaryEllen Elia discussed the proposal but concluded that early-release Mondays would be easier on parents and create less of a need to supervise students who arrive before school begins.

"It makes more sense in the afternoon," school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.

Exceptions would be made during testing weeks.

Whether planning time happens in the morning or the afternoon, the district could be in for complaints from working parents who have struggled to adjust to the current pattern of dismissing two hours early on various Wednesdays. This school year, there are 14. The early-release Wednesdays would end if the Monday idea is approved.

"I think you have parents who support the early-release days and those parents will like this," said Ken Otero, a deputy superintendent who was co-chairman of the advisory committee. "Those who do not like it will not support what we put in its place."

Then again, he added, the new system could appeal to some parents because it will be more consistent. "They will not be saying, 'Let me guess, what Wednesday is this?' "

In arriving at the new plan, Otero said, district officials looked to Orange and Pinellas counties, which have similar plans.

Pinellas started sending students home one hour early every Wednesday in 2009. Students stay at school an additional 15 minutes on the other four days to make up the difference.

In a survey this year, 54.1 percent of Pinellas elementary school parents indicated they would like to do away with the early days. So did 45.4 percent of high school parents. Middle school parents were equally split.

Employees were even more ambivalent, with 68.5 percent of high school staff contending that the planning sessions do not help performance.

In Hillsborough last year, school absences increased by more than 20 percent on the early-release Wednesdays, especially at elementary schools.

Some parents told the St. Petersburg Times it was too hard to get to and from work to pick up their children early. Others believed the days were not productive.

Early Wednesdays join a host of hot-button issues among Hills­borough parents. Another, the school calendar, is also up for a vote Tuesday.

The proposed calendar is similar to this year's edition, with one potentially contentious feature: Students return after winter break on Jan. 2.

While the calendar could be affected by issues that include state-mandated testing dates and the yearly allocation from the Legislature, a decision Tuesday to go with early-release Mondays will become official district policy, Hegarty said.

Victor Fernandez, principal of Leto High School, said he hopes parents will understand the need for teachers to have that time to organize their lessons and collaborate with colleagues.

"What we have to remember is that they need that planning time," he said. "What we have now is working. But I respect that there is another way, and we will see if this will work, too."

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@sptimes.com.

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School Board meeting

The Hillsborough County School Board meets

at 3 p.m. Tuesday

at 901 E Kennedy Blvd.

Hillsborough schools considering early release on Mondays 03/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:38am]

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