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Stillwater Board of Education approves early release for 2019-2020 school year

Stillwater Middle School

Stillwater elementary and middle school students will be released early on Fridays starting next year, the Stillwater Board of Education voted Tuesday.

The early release was proposed to give teachers more time to work in their Professional Learning Communities. The PLC initiative is designed to give teachers more time to focus on individual student growth. Eric Gudgel said the initiative is “radical and intentional.”

The early release will take effect during the 2019-2020 academic year. Elementary students will be released at 2 p.m. on Fridays and middle school students will be released at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Some parents are concerned about how the early release will impact their childcare plans. One mother of a kindergarten student said she is unsure what her plan for childcare will be.

“My daughter goes to the Family Resource Center on campus after school, and I’m not sure if they will charge more or even take kids an hour earlier,” Haley Love said. “If they won’t take her an hour earlier, one of us will have to leave work earlier.”

Cathy Walker, the assistant superintendent for education resources, said resources for childcare are available for families in Stillwater.

“There’s the PALS program, which is an after-school daycare for students,” Walker said. “I also believe that people in the community are aware of what’s happening, and local daycares will be willing to work with parents.”

Stillwater schools have been using Professional Learning Communities for nearly seven years. In the past, teachers have gone to three-day training sessions and received coaching and assessments. The early release will give teachers more consistent time built into their schedules for working in PLCs.

Walker said support is the best way to keep the program sustainable.

“You have to put the support in to make it happen,” Walker said. “We’re going to keep coaching teachers and administration. We’re going to keep providing that support.”

The PLC initiative will help teachers find ways to help students grow academically. This includes providing extra help for students who are underperforming and enrichment for students who are advanced. Teachers will have time to examine individual student data and see which students need more help.

The original early release proposal included a late start for middle school students and an early release for elementary students. The change would have also been on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. The proposal was amended after discussion with other teachers and parents. Board Member Mitsi Andrews said the compromise will make a big difference for parents.

“I think it’s a good plan,” Andrews said. “It’s simpler this way, and it’s easier for a parent to leave work earlier on Friday than in the middle of the week.”