Early release must benefit the students

During their budget process last spring, Sweet Home School District No. 55 administrators proposed a plan to change the way the district did its early release days.

Instead of releasing students 45 minutes early every Wednesday, the district proposed hiring physical education and/or music instructors who would teach students once a week, during which period the regular teacher in each classroom would have free time to prepare for classes, grade, write reports, etc.

That proposal fell by the wayside last summer when a teachers’ representative reported that members of the teachers union, while enthusiastic about the idea of having music and, possibly, P.E. specialists teach those subjects, didn’t want to sacrifice early release to make it happen.

The purpose behind early release is understandable. We’re not talking about teachers just looking to make their jobs more cushy. With the huge increase in paperwork that’s come with various government efforts to raise the bar in K-12 public education, teachers say they found themselves writing more reports than notes on students’ papers. They lacked time to talk to each other and plan their educational strategies.

As Dan Swanson, a leader of the local teacher’s union put it in comments to a reporter about this issue in a story on Page 1 today, “We couldn’t do what we wanted to in the time we had, even if we worked after school hours.”

If that were coming from some glib union heavy, who’s paid to make excuses for why workers should be able to gouge more dough out of their employer or, in this case, the public, it would not be as persuasive as it is coming from a guy who basically taught himself music so he could teach his own students after the district cut its elementary music education program. This is a teacher who has put his money where his mouth is, so we’re interested in hearing what he has to say.

Still, we have a problem here. The early release schedule has drawn complaints from parents who (a) don’t believe they had adequate notification to be able to weigh in on the issue when it was first approved and (b) are inconvenienced by the fact that their already complicated lives are rendered more so by that one early release day each week.

Many, including teachers, agree that music education is important and sadly lacking in the district. So is P.E., which might seem frivolous to some but the lack thereof may be contributing to larger waistlines among the student population. Fact is, education may be about three R’s, but arts and exercise have a definite place in the development of a child.

What the district and the teachers need to do is figure out how to make this work. Sure, we’d like to see teachers get that extra 45 minutes and we understand that, ideally, they’d all get it at the same time so they could meet together and do what it takes for teachers to stay on top of things. The purpose of school is not to provide free babysitting, and although the early release is a pain in the neck for some parents, that’s not a good enough reason to change it.

However, the point here is to maximize education of local children and getting out of school 45 minutes early one day a week may not be the ideal way to meet those needs.