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Teacher training

Earth science teachers Megan Greenwood, left, and Amanda Moore, right, talk before the start of a weekly department meeting in October 2018 at Twin Falls High School in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS – The Twin Falls school board is considering a proposal to create a “collaboration Monday,” where school would end an hour early every Monday and teachers would use the time to work together on how to improve classroom instruction.

School trustees heard a presentation April 8, but didn’t take action. If approved, the change would take effect next school year.

A Twin Falls School District committee that came up with the early release proposal will gather community feedback this month and may come back to the school board with a final proposal in May.

“We’re trying to improve learning opportunities for all students,” committee co-chairwoman Annette McFarlin told the school board. She’s a computer science teacher at Vera C. O’Leary Middle School.

If teachers are allowed to truly collaborate, McFarlin told the Times-News Monday afternoon prior to the school board meeting, that will have a positive impact on students. “I just get goosebumps. I’m pretty excited about this.”

The Twin Falls School District planned to send emails to parents and employees Monday night with information about the proposal. Parents can also expect to receive a printed letter later this week.

Plus, the school district is planning a public forum at 7 p.m. May 2 at O’Leary Middle School. Committee members will also give presentations at schools for employees.

It’s a tight timeline for presentations and for a decision to be made because “we want to give parents as much time as possible,” Superintendent Brady Dickinson said.

Canyon Ridge and Twin Falls high schools already have late start Wednesdays. If the proposal for early release Mondays is approved, they’d move to that schedule along with other Twin Falls School District campuses.

At elementary schools — but not at the middle and high schools — the school day would be extended by 10 minutes Tuesdays through Fridays.

“I’m a huge proponent of collaboration,” school trustee and retired teacher Mary Barron said during the Monday night meeting. She asked if the collaboration time would be a “sacred time” rather than a time where teachers could opt out.

Expectations for “collaboration Monday” will be clearly defined, McFarlin said, and will respect the integrity of that time.

“I think you need some pretty strict sideboards (so) that doesn’t get usurped throughout the year by principals and riffraff that comes in,” board chairman Bernie Jansen told committee members.

McFarlin responded: “We’re professionals and we expect that professionalism to be carried out.”

The idea to pursue an early release came about after concerns over a heavy teacher workload arose during 2017 contract negotiations between the Twin Falls Education Association and Twin Falls School District.

A workload committee — including kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, school administrators and parents — was formed to look into the issue. The group looked at what was expected of teachers, McFarlin told the Times-News, and ideas for how to ease the workload.

In 2018, an early release/late start committee was formed. That group came up with its top recommendation: collaboration Monday. It would be an uninterrupted time for teachers to plan, collaborate and for professional development, McFarlin said.

The committee looked into either a late start or early release. They decided on an early release, where parents would pick up their children and school buses would run early.

After-school activities wouldn’t be able to begin on Mondays until the time the school day normally ends.

The committee reached out to neighboring school districts that have either a late start or early release about how it works and whether it was successful.

One of the biggest things the committee heard was to avoid Fridays and it’s preferable to do an early release, committee member and South Hills Middle School principal Ryan Ellsworth told the school board.

With a late start, parents still have to get to work and drop their children off early at school, he said, and school employees would need to supervise the students.

During their Monday meeting, trustees also:

  • Heard a proposal for “The Art & Science of Military Leadership” class at Twin Falls High School.

A proposal was submitted a few weeks ago for a new class — essentially, a junior ROTC program, said L.T. Erickson, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District.

Teacher Matt Coleman and two members of the Idaho Army National Guard presented to the school board. It wouldn’t cost the Twin Falls School District anything to implement the class, he said, because the Idaho Army National Guard would fund it.

Coleman said he’d like to be able to expand elective offerings as Twin Falls grows. He also said a lot of graduates end up going into the military and he’d like to give them an opportunity for a career-focused program.

The class — which would span one semester — would also be tied into Idaho history. There’s a similar school military science program in Mountain Home, which would be the basis for the Twin Falls curriculum.

Members of the Idaho Army National Guard would be involved with teaching and leading activities, but Coleman — a certified teacher — would oversee the class as one of his instructional periods.

After the presentation, Jansen said: “Well, I’m certainly not opposed to it, as a veteran.” He said he really liked his military instructors and the way they laid out their class.

  • Recognized employees of the month from Vera C. O’Leary Middle School: science teacher Debbie Mason and head custodian Tom Thompson.
  • Set a date – June 10—for a 2019-20 budget hearing and 2018-19 amended budget hearing.
  • Heard a budget report, including enrollment projections.
  • Voted to acknowledge canvassed March election results.
  • Awarded a bid for $120,012.57 to VLCM for telephone system equipment, licenses and phones.
  • Heard an information item about policy revisions.
  • Discussed a nominee for a “Partners in Education” award.
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