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Early-release days to be negotiated in teacher contract

There will be no more public discussion on whether Hernando County school students should be dismissed early some days next year to give teachers more planning time.

Instead, the issue will be negotiated as part of the 1993-94 teachers contract.

School Board Chairwoman Nancy Gordon said it is likely that the board will hold a closed meeting to discuss bargaining strategy further before a decision is made.

Roger Landers, the district's supervisor of high school curriculum, said details concerning the length of the teachers' working day must be made final before a complete package is submitted.

"First we must make sure that the teachers will be treated fairly with this plan," Landers said. "Once that is established, we can continue making our plans."

If students were dismissed early one day per week, it would require extending four of the five school days a few minutes each day to make up for the time that would be missed on the early-release day, which would be the same day at all schools.

Administrators have suggested the following schedule for early release days next year: High schools and middle schools would begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 1:10 p.m., rather than the normal time of 2:20 p.m. Elementary schools would start at 9 a.m. and end at noon, rather than at 3:20 p.m.

School Superintendent Harold Winkler, who favors the early-release program, assured School Board members and the handful of parents who attended Tuesday night's informational workshop that teachers would make good use of their time outside the classrooms.

"I resent insinuations that suggest that our teachers will be hanging out at the local .


. beaches," Winkler said. "Their time off will be used to make school-based decisions as part of the Project 2000."

Schools throughout Florida are working on school improvement plans, derived after a year-long assessment of individual schools by school advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers, administrators and community and business members.

Tom Maher, assistant superintendent of instruction in Hernando, said he had talked to representatives of local day-care facilities and they are willing to coordinate programs to meet the needs of families needing day care on early-release days.

Maher said early-release is not an idea that originated in Hernando. Orange and Charlotte county school systems regularly release students early so teachers can have planning time, he said.

"Many school systems are moving to this plan," Maher said.

Hernando High School Principal Elaine Sullivan, one of the supporters of early-release days who rallied before the School Board, said teachers must have the additional planning time to keep up with the drastic changes in education and student needs. Technology is one area that needs immediate attention, she said.

"Change is hard," Sullivan said. "But it's time, and we must do things differently. Change occurs in the smallest unit in the educational system, the classroom.

"Our teachers need time to work together, to collaborate, to take a look at the "total' kid."

Michael Tellone, Pine Grove Elementary School principal, said he has given his teachers two hours per month to hold planning sessions during the past school year. To do so, he has used teacher assistants to fill in in the classrooms, but said that has had a negative effect that early-release days could avoid.

"Teaching is a lonely profession," Tellone said. "Getting together is a valuable resource for teachers."