TWO CURRENT TOPICS
I would like to spend the time in this week’s column to address a couple timely items. Recently, we experienced a change in our calendar because of the extreme cold. The process to make up that time is outlined in the information to follow.
In addition, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day offers a professional development experience for the ROCORI District. I would like to highlight a little bit of what happens during Academy Day.
CHANGE IN CALENDAR
On Monday, January 6, school was not conducted because of the cold temperatures and icy conditions. The same situation occurred on January 7. Although we had two days of emergency closing, only one of the days was a “local decision.” Governor Dayton ordered all schools closed on the 6th; we made the decision for the 7th.
Although the Governor made the decision to close schools, the Governor and the Department of Education left the decision regarding “make-up” of the day to local school districts. Part of the reason for this is that many districts have employee contract elements that determine what happens with emergency closings.
The ROCORI District does not specify, within employment agreements, how emergency days are handled, but we do outline our procedures annually through the school calendar. The calendar reflects the process the district will use with emergency closings.
A few years ago, the School Board determined that the first day of closing in any year would not require students to make up the day but the expectation is that staff members will make up the day through an additional day of staff development activities. Our calendar for 2013-14 indicates that this professional development day will now be scheduled on Monday, February 17—Presidents’ Day.
The second, and each subsequent, day is made up by everyone—students and staff. In the calendar for 2013-14, this day is made up on Friday, February 14. Because of the day lost on January 7, school will be in session on February 14th.
Some have questioned why the district would need to make up the time if the Governor was the one who decided to close schools. As noted, the Governor also left the makeup decision in the hands of the local districts.
In the case of the ROCORI School District, one of the primary issues is the employee contracts that are in place. The teacher contract defines the year as 182 working days. Other employee agreements also define the number of days of work expected. For staff members, making up the day is part of fulfilling the contract and employment agreement. If the day is not made up, employees are actually being paid without providing services.
In addition, we have an obligation to provide educational services to our students. We often hear that there is not enough academic time to complete all the things that are needed. We do believe that professional development helps to better educate our students, which is why we are willing to exchange the first emergency day. Beyond that first day, we have an obligation to provide services to our students.
We have also outlined the process within our calendars to be clear, as best we can, of the expectations. The calendar is adopted in advance and it lays out the process for making up time. Unless, like last year, there are many more days than allocated in the calendar, there should not really be surprises in how we are making up emergency closing days.
The school board, in discussion of this issue at the January 13th board meeting, confirmed that our defined process from the calendar would be the makeup procedures we would follow.
On Monday, January 20, the ROCORI School District has a day of professional development scheduled. The District has traditionally used Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as what we call “Academy Day.”
Although the specific details of Academy Day change somewhat from year to year, the core concept is pretty consistent on an annual basis. The structure of Academy Day is that we ask staff members or outside resources with professional expertise to share information and knowledge with other members of the staff. Staff members have a variety of options of presentations and sessions they may attend during the course of the day.
This year, we have four different time periods of sessions scheduled. Each time period offers an assortment of classes or training sessions for staff members to attend. Our sessions are scheduled from 8:00 to 9:30, 9:45 to 10:45, 11:00 to 12:00 and 1:30 to 3:00. Within each block of time, there are as many as ten different options in which staff members may engage.
The idea behind the day is for staff members to grow professionally by choosing training opportunities that are relevant to their needs—and are guided by their peers. Our own staff members, for the most part, lead the training sessions. Our district-wide staff development committee works together to determine the training that is offered.
Our topics, this year, are very wide ranging. There are sessions offered to address technology needs or training, different instructional approaches or methods, use of different tools and equipment within the district, specialized topics for teaching particular groups of students or needs of students, and other issues. Courses are offered to help teachers meet requirements for renewing their teaching licenses. Reading and math strategies or topics in other disciplinary fields are included. There is a wide variety of sessions included in the training.
Academy Day is typically a very enriching and rewarding experience. Practical training sessions offer opportunities for our staff to grow, enhance their skills, and strengthen the work that we do with our students.