September 1, 2015

City schools going to early-release days

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

For the first time in McKenzie County Public School District No. 1’s history, early-release days have been built in for the entire 2015-2016 school year. The early out for students began on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
“We will be having an early out every two weeks, with dismissal at 1:30 p.m.,” said Watford City Elementary School Assistant Principal Kerrie Stansfield, “We will use the extra time to work on training, professional development, professional learning communities, and data-mining to help us focus on differentiated instruction and to use our Walk To Learn Model in reading and math with our new curriculums.”
Because the state of North Dakota is mandating more professional days for school district employees, the McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 administration officials decided last spring to move forward with a plan to add early-release days in the upcoming 2015-2016 school year.
The Watford City Elementary School and the  Watford City High School will both be releasing students at 1:30 p.m. on the early-release days. The early-release days will continue every other Wednesday throughout the school year.
According to Watford City Elementary School Principal Brad Foss, there will be a total of 14 early-release days throughout the entire school year, with one early-release Wednesday in December and one in May.
“Having this additional time is a way that we can answer more questions for the teachers,” said Foss. “Questions about technology, new curriculum, collaborative planning, and the RTI system. But even though we have added early-release days, we increased the school days by five minutes this year. In total number of minutes, there has been no time lost. We actually end up being way over the standard set by the state.”
Part of the new training for teachers has been geared toward a different teaching style. Instead of group teaching, teachers are being trained to teach toward the individual.
“The individual teaching style will allow us to tailor that education to where the student’s needs are and the additional training time for teachers gives us planning time to work on those kinds of things. We are doing the testing right now to figure out the different educational levels for the different groups of students.”
The plan to add early-release days actually started a couple of years ago, after Foss became the principal for the elementary school. He pushed  the idea until the state gave the school district permission to move forward on the plan last spring.
“We had to document a lot of different things for the state,” said Foss. “We had to document things like how much time was being spent with the students, what the testing scores and results were, and we had to show the state a plan of what kinds of things we were going to cover - a template or a model of what we were trying to accomplish by doing this.”
Other factors that influenced the addition of early-release days included the increased student population, new teachers, new curriculums, new students, and teachers feeling that they needed additional training.
“We did send out surveys last school year and asked for parental input on early-release days,” said Foss. “And the majority of surveys that came back were positive. Of course some concerns came back, and the school is conscious of addressing those concerns.”
Some of the  concerns parents had included daycare issues, transportation issues, and loss of classroom time. But Foss assures he and his staff have been working on addressing the concerns raised by the early-release days and says there has been no loss of classroom instruction time.
“We have a litany of things we have laid out that we will need to get done,” stated Foss. “Our professional development calendar is already set and planned for the entire year. I’m confident that the extra training time will make for an even better school staff, that will only help our students be more successful in their education.”