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BOE and GB-NEA meet to talk about time in school
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The USD 428 Board of Education and Superintendent Tom Vernon met with the Great Bend chapter of the KNEA teachers union on Monday afternoon for a session of Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) over the upcoming school year calendar.  At issue is how to balance the required number of hours of instructional time while having a desirable ratio of days off for Winter, Spring and Summer vacations.  
Currently, according to Vernon, no one likes the idea of starting school as early as August 12, but there is equal dislike for the options of doing away with Spring break or shortening Winter break.  The board asked Vernon to ask teachers their opinion.  
In March, members of the GB-NEA answered an informal survey asking their opinion of the benefits of more contact days with students versus longer class periods and fewer contact days with students, according to GB-NEA representative Judy Johnson, school counselor at GBMS.  
“Recent research has shown that quality, not quantity, is the driving force in student success,” Johnson said.  
She recalled longer school days at the beginning of her career, before a push to increase the number of teacher contract days with students.  She and other GB-NEA representatives asked the board to consider adding 20 minutes to the school day which would allow the school year to go from 188 days of face time to 180 days.  It was unclear how the 20 minutes would be used.  Suggestions varied.  Elementary school teachers stated it would be a tremendous help so they could finish hands on projects.  However, in the upper grades where students move from teacher to teacher, it was unclear if a few extra minutes tacked on to each class period would enhance student learning at all.  
“The question is whether the extra minutes per day is as instructionally sound as a day of attendance at school,” Vernon stated in an email Tuesday.   “No one truly can say what the effect this change will have on student achievement.”
Board member Joyce Carter said she is concerned that testing scores may suffer if students had fewer days in school, but was willing to examine both sides.  
The key, according to the National Center on Time and Learning in Washington, D.C., is to ensure every minute has a purpose.   The NCTL has been a proponent of increasing the amount of time students spend in school, as well as the number of days of school attendance in order to improve test scores in underachieving schools.  
“When you teach bell to bell, even a few extra minutes matters,” said GBHS drama teacher Dan Heath.  He was in support of the longer day, which would afford him more time to run through readings for plays and technical instruction of acting techniques.   For many fine arts and technical arts teachers, this is the case.  “The longer period of time means we won’t have to cut out things we were going to do,” he said.
Fourteen years ago, when Great Bend made the switch to block scheduling, and shorter but more school days, educators believed students benefitted from more days of school.  Vernon prefers this, and he’s not alone. Board member Cheryl Rugan summed it up with her April 8 statement, “We need to think about “what benefit are we getting,” from each proposal.”
That’s where IBB comes in.  According to Vernon, unlike traditional negotiations where both sides take a position, in IBB, both sides discuss a problem to be solved and come up with several solutions.
“The solutions are run through a test,” he stated.  “.  The test is asking the questions; Is the solution affordable?  Is the solution workable? And will the solution be ratified by both the GB-NEA and the BOE?”
The possible solution the USD 428 BOE will hear and take action on at the noon meeting on April 23 includes these points:

1.      10 minutes would be added to the duty day for teachers.  These minutes will be student contact time and they will come at the end of the day.
2.      This reduces the contract days for teachers from 188 to 184.
3.      January 6, which is designated as a grading day with no students on calendar #7 will become a teaching day, and students will be present.
4.      Teachers will report August 12 and the 12th through the 15th (Monday through Thursday) will be scheduled according to the negotiated agreement; orientation, in-service, and work days.
5.      Friday, August 16 will be a work day.  This day takes the place of the work day the teachers lose on January 6th.
6.      Monday, August 19 will be the first day of school.
7.      This change will be for calendar year 2013-14 only.

Vernon said he can foresee three possible outcomes.  The board can either accept the proposal and change the 2013-2014 calendar, reject the proposal and maintain the status quo, or ask the teams to come up with a different solution.