More schools increase early dismissal days

Several Dayton area school districts will release students one-hour early each week during the upcoming school year for teacher training on such state mandated initiatives as the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, new teacher evaluations and the common core standards.

Beginning in August, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools and Middletown City Schools will join other districts already doing weekly early dismissals, including Lebanon, West Carrollton and Carlisle. At Vandalia’s Butler High School, students will continue to arrive an hour late on Thursdays — something they’ve been doing since 2009.

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek will have a one-hour early dismissal for all K-12 students every Wednesday except two. Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said they had been doing early dismissals about once a month but decided to move them to once a week for more continuity.

“We need time, the staff development time to train our teachers on all the initiatives the state is mandating,” he said.

The district runs a latchkey program at the Sugarcreek Education Center, where students can go until their parents are able to pick them up after work if the early dismissal causes any hardships, St. Pierre said.

Middletown City Schools is adding more early release days by having students leave an hour early each Wednesday. The district previously held early dismissals twice a month.

Carole Moore, parent to an incoming fifth-grader at Mayfield Elementary in Middletown, said the early release days aren’t always conducive to parents’ work schedules. Moore said on days her husband was called in to work overtime, she would have to arrange leaving work early to pick up her child. Moore said she’d often have to spend time working from home or make up the hours another day.

“During the school year we have to juggle stuff around,” Moore said. “It can be a hindrance. Every week is a little excessive.”

Lebanon Superintendent Mark North said his district has been doing a one-hour early release for grades 1-12 on Wednesdays for about seven years. He believes it’s helped boost student achievement. During that time, the district’s performance index rose from 99.9 in 2006 to 103.2 on the 120-point scale, according to last year’s district report card.

“If we did not believe this was reaping a positive reward for our students, we would have stopped and looked at another option,” North said.

West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford said they started releasing students early at one elementary school years ago because it had received a grant, but expanded it to all four elementary schools last school year.

“What happens is we lengthen the day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and they go home early on Thursday,” Clifford said. “The benefit is the opportunity for staff to have that time weekly to make decisions about what’s best for kids. They are constantly focused on what they’re doing.”

They are able to look at student data on a weekly basis and talk about other big issues that will be impacting the elementary staff, including the evaluations, common core standards and the reading guarantee, Clifford said.

At Vandalia’s Butler High School, students arrive later on Tuesdays so the teachers can work in professional learning communities (PLCs.)

“With the demands of high school scheduling as well as supplemental activities like coaching, it is impossible for all of Butler’s teachers to have a regular meeting time during or after the school day. The PLCs provide a dedicated time to meet and discuss educational goals, best practices and student needs,” Vandalia-Butler City Schools spokeswoman Bethany Reiff said.

Reiff said they did it as a means to foster growth in student achievement. “Everyone benefits when our staff has dedicated time for in-depth discussions about what’s working and where improvement is needed,” she said.

Class times are slightly condensed on Tuesdays so that students still get out at the same time as every other school day, she said.

Carlisle Local Schools Superintendent Larry Hook said the district’s early release on Wednesday started many years ago for two main reasons beyond it providing teachers an opportunity to communicate with each other so they can have a seamless curriculum flow.

“We know that teachers need professional development to continue to improve and stay abreast of the most recent educational trends. Second, as a district, Carlisle has struggled, like many districts financially. It is more economical to bring our professional development needs here, rather than send teachers out to attend off-campus personal development,” he said.

Hook said he’s sure that when they first started doing early releases, “there were some issues, but it is more of a culture now and most understand the importance as the children are the direct beneficiaries of our teacher professional development.”

Staff writer Hannah Poturalski contributed to this report.

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