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Board OKs new early release days
Students in the Monroe School District will get out of school one hour early every Monday next year as the Monroe School Board approved an early release plan to beef up teacher in-service. (Times file photo: Anthony Wahl)
MONROE - Students in the Monroe School District will get out of school one hour early every Monday next year as the Monroe School Board approved an early release plan to beef up teacher in-service.

The Monroe School Board voted unanimously Monday night to approve the early one-hour release each Monday, except for Nov. 25, Dec. 16 and June 2, for 2013-14 school year so teachers could have more time for professional development during in-service days to align the curriculum to meet more stringent Common Core Standards. The Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination state test is being replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2014. In the plan, with 4K and early childhood students only attending school four days a week, they would attend school Tuesday through Friday and not on Mondays.

Joe Monroe, the district's director of pupil services, said under the new Smarter Balanced Assessment that school districts will have to use for testing in one and a half years, less than 50 percent of students in the district would meet proficiency benchmarks.

"That is a problem," Monroe said. "I don't think anyone in our community would be happy with less than 50 percent of our kids not hitting the benchmark. We believe this is what will take us forward and help us hit the mark on the Common Core Standards."

Monroe School District Superintendent Cory Hirsbrunner echoed Monroe's sentiments.

"There are higher expectations and more rigor," Hirsbrunner said. "This is one of the things that we can do to enhance the work that is being done."

The district had a community listening session and also surveyed teachers. Half of teachers supported a Monday early release and half backed a Wednesday early release.

"It's not free time or additional prep time," Monroe said. "They will be working on targeted professional development related to the Common Core Standards."

Monroe said the district opted for a Monday early release since a Wednesday early release in the middle of the week would not be ideal or in the best educational needs of 4K or early childhood students. The district is working with the Green County YMCA, Monroe Parks and Rec Department and Rainbow Childcare about expanding some of their after school programs.

Marge Klinzing, recreation director, said all three outlets could expand some programs after school at various schools across the district if the district provided support staff to help supervise the programs. The YMCA, park and rec and Rainbow would still continue their existing after-school programs. Monroe believes the district can provide after-school programs at no cost. The details of offering additional programs still have to be worked out, and it's not determined if they will be free. It's also undetermined how many support staff the district would need and the cost of paying them and whether the district will enlist any high school volunteers to aid with the programs.

"In my opinion, we shouldn't put forward a plan that is a burden to the families," Monroe said. "We realized this would be controversial and some people would not be happy with this. We believe this will provide greater success for the kids."

The number of contact days for students at school will increase from 180 days this year to 182 next year. The number of hours students are out of school will be reduced by three hours - from 35 hours using five all-day in-service days to 32 using the new one-hour early release days every Monday.

Board member Mary Berger supported the plan but called for the district to consider middle school students and the needs of parents.

"I absolutely support this and think it will boost and increase the growth in our students," Berger said. "It's scary for some people who have a plan that works for them and then having them re-do it. We need to make some statements of empathy for the change."

Board member Larry Eakins said the structure of setting up in-service days has changed a couple of times since he has been on the board and while there could be some initial resistance, citizens typically come around to the change.

"There has always been someone mad at us, and they get over it," he said.