Schools to seek permission to shorten 4 days

Officials want extra hours for teacher training

Preparation for initiatives

Loss of instructional time an administrative concern

February 05, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school officials will ask the Board of Education today to shorten four school days this spring to provide teacher training on new academic initiatives, a move that threatens to cause the county's high schools to fall under the minimum number of operational hours required by the state.

Each winter that brings snow, school officials across Maryland nervously count down the extra days budgeted into the calendar to compensate for school closures. Anne Arundel County budgeted 184 school days this year, or four days' wiggle room on top of the 180 days required by the state. It has used three of them for snow days.

But there also is an hourly requirement. The state requires high schools to be open 1,170 hours each year - the equivalent of 6.5 hours a day for 180 days. Middle and elementary schools have less stringent requirements.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith's academic initiatives for this fall - switching secondary schools to block schedules and implementing new reading and math curricula at elementary schools - will require teacher training that will place an additional burden on the school calendar.

Shortened school days, such as the early dismissals that would take place for the teacher training, count toward the 180-day requirement but take away from the total hours that schools must be open. Smith has asked that teachers be given four three-hour training sessions next month and in April. Teacher training is typically done during the school year to save money.

"This presses us," said Georgiana Maszczenski, an administrator responsible for putting together the school calendar. Maszczenski said the school system has used up some of its surplus hours by delaying school openings by two hours on snowy or icy mornings. The system has 16 hours left to work with.

Subtracting the proposed 12 hours for teacher training would leave the system with a cushion of four hours for the remainder of the year.

If county school officials can't meet the state requirement, they can seek a waiver from the state or add a day onto the school year.

School officials have notified the State Department of Education about the possibility they will not meet the hours requirement this year, said Associate Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson.

But Lawson said the need for teacher training outweighs the possible risk of coming up short on hours. "We think it's a necessary and appropriate investment of time," he said. "All of [the initiatives] are really dependent on teachers being comfortable with new ways of teaching and new ways of running their classrooms."

Under the block schedule initiative, for example, teachers will have to learn to teach for class periods that are nearly twice as long as they are used to.

Lawson said the school system occasionally has failed to meet state requirements in the past because of harsh weather. But this is the first time in Lawson's 33 years with the system that he's seen the problem arise out of a need for extra teacher training.

"We've never tried to make so many systemwide changes at once before," Lawson said, referring to Smith's initiatives.

State officials said they review failures to meet the required number of hours or days on a case-by-case basis.

"Waivers are granted for good reasons," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "Cases can be made depending on how close it is."

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