On Wednesdays, kids go home early and teachers stay late

BRISTOL — Parents and students may wonder what’s going on every Wednesday when the school day ends about a half-hour early and the teachers stay late.

The answer, according to a presentation by Superintendent Ellen Solek to the Board of Education recently, is: Plenty — of professional development, that is.

The Wednesday schedule that Bristol schools has had for several years now was inspired by Hartford and a few other school districts, with the goal to “provide additional professional development and academic focus for teachers and leaders throughout the district,” she said.

Not all districts do something like this but it’s been “a huge asset” to Bristol to allow approximately one hour at the end of the school day for this, minimizing the need to pull teachers out of classrooms for training, Solek said.

It allows teachers in all areas to get together and “really work in a focused way” on new initiatives, such as literacy across the curriculum, mathematics, the new science standards, etc., she said.

Solek said feedback from Bristol teachers shows “we are still operating in a 20th century model for public education, which provides a pie of six hours, and we’re cramming about twice that in terms of the required amount of work into the school day.”

She predicts that down the road the state will have to seriously consider ways to expand the school day, “but before that happens we are engaged in discussions with teachers in Bristol right now about ways in which we can potentially expand and provide even more time for professional development activities.”

Teachers say they would also like to have more input into professional development activities, and the district has a new committee comprising over 25 teachers and district leaders who meet once a month to work on that, Solek noted.

“We do an amazing job in the Bristol schools of meeting the needs of the students with resources that will always be limited, but the most valuable resource that continues to be limited is time,” she said.

Solek invited a number of educators to speak to the board about specific ways the Wednesday schedule aids teachers and school data teams.

“I’ve been in several different school districts in the state and Bristol is the only one that I have worked in that has this time afforded to teachers,” said Matthew Harnett, Chippens Hill Middle School principal,

To say that “it’s direly needed would be an understatement,” he said.

However, he still hears from his teachers that they need more time to be able to sit down with one another and work together on developing curriculum, writing assessments, and plan instruction.

“There is just so much being jammed into the course of the day. They are stealing time wherever they can get it, and they really are working tremendously hard.”

The Wednesday meetings allow everyone to understand the overarching goals of the district are, not only day to day in the classroom but over the course of the school year, as well as allow teachers to pair up with their counterparts at other schools, he said.

Debra Rogan, literacy coach at Mountain View Elementary School, said she attended literacy collaborative training through Lesley University and now uses Wednesdays to work with the kindergarten through second grade teachers to pass on that training.

Stacey Pratt, Mountain View Elementary School fifth-grade teacher and technology leader, said she uses Wednesdays to work with teachers on programs like Tech Buddies, where older students work with younger students on technology, and the new Tech Club she is starting for third, fourth and fifth graders.

Every year the school has Hour of Coding in November, in which students learn to write basic computer code, and Pratt said she works with the teachers so they have the skills to work with the children on it.

Solek said it took her two hours just to fit into one Powerpoint presentation all the information the teachers and principals gave about their Wednesday efforts, “so I can’t imagine how they’re getting all the work done in the little over an hour’s time” each Wednesday.

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-584-0501 ext. 1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com.

A video of the February BOE meeting can be viewed here, with the presentation and discussion of Wednesday meetings occurring just after the 22 minute mark.