The Ottumwa Courier

October 10, 2012

Students may have more ‘early outs’

Officials: Teachers need professional development time

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Teachers scrambling to meet new state requirements may need to increase the number of half days at school so they can have additional training sessions.

“We’re looking at the possibility of adding more ‘professional development’ time,” Superintendent Davis Eidahl told the Ottumwa school board this week.  

Parents know “early outs” as those Wednesdays the kids get out of school right after lunch. Combined with a few other days, this is the time the Ottumwa district uses to update teachers on the latest educational techniques, to be sure all teachers know how to help students do better in school.

“This [teacher education] helps us to stay current, to stay 21st century,” Eidahl said Tuesday.

There are currently nine “early out” days. Eidahl would like to possibly increase that number to 16 early outs.

“The governor’s blueprint for education is really pushing the Iowa professional development model,” Eidahl told the school board.

That idea gave some parents pause.

Ottumwa parent Amy Cash has two children in the school system. She said that despite anything negative you may have heard about Ottumwa High School, her kids love OHS.

“But they have high expectations from the school, just like I have high expectations of [her children],” Cash said. “My kids and I were talking about an upcoming [early out] day. They asked why in-service days can’t happen on Saturdays.”

Though she acknowledges that better-educated teachers are good for kids, Cash said she feels that’s offset by kids missing more days in the classroom.

“There are already enough days out of school as it is,” she said.

Another parent said it was inconvenient to get out of work or make other arrangements every month to get his child home early. And a third parent suggested professional development take place during the summer, when school is out.

Eidahl said Tuesday the district understands parental concerns and also wants kids to get as much time as possible with their teachers. The challenge is to balance that with time for professional development so teachers remain current.  

Having in-service learning for the entire district during the summer, Eidahl said, would cost $90,000 per day. And that is a factor he has to consider.

There’s also a benefit to specialized training during the school year. Those teaching techniques can be put into place immediately. And the district can see how they’re working in order to make necessary adjustments.

But right now, Eidahl said, no changes have been made.

What Eidahl wanted, he said, was to at least look into the subject.

In order to get permission from the Iowa Department of Education for additional early outs, half days or full days off, school districts have to submit an application before Nov. 1 for an innovative calendar. With the unanimous vote by the board Monday, the district can now come up with a plan — or leave things the way they are.

“Several districts around us have more ‘professional development’ time built in. There’s different ways to make that happen.”

Some districts will have fewer PD days — but the lessons go all day. Others mix half and full days. And some just have half days.

Ottumwa school board member Jeff Strunk wanted to know if, once the application is in, if the district could change its plan.

“Yes. This does not lock us into anything,” Eidahl said.