Death to short days

Next year, the Elmbrook District schedule will be seeing a drastic change; early release Thursdays are being removed from the system. Instead, the school district will include a day off for students once a month. This may come as a significant alteration to students who have attended Elmbrook schools since kindergarten, but the advantages seem to outweigh any reluctance a student might have. This decision, primarily made for the benefit and ease of teachers, provides a lot of good time for professional development. Our principal, Mr. Gruetzmacher outlined the numerous benefits taking away early release Thursdays will have on our school district.

First, Mr. Gruetzmacher explained that the days off would be broken into “blocks”, similar to the ones we experience in school. “Each of the four blocks will be designated for four different things such as independent working, collaboration, lesson creation, etc.” The teachers will not only meet with their department for planning, but they will also meet collectively to discuss student safety, social and emotional issues, and general school related issues. Along with BC staff, the days off will also provide a time for all of the schools in Elmbrook School District to meet and collaborate. Mr. Gruetzmacher added that not only would this be favorable to teachers, but it would provide benefits to athletics as well.

Currently, our spring break runs differently than surrounding districts, making scheduling games and meets difficult. With the new schedule, our spring break will fall a week earlier, coordinating with other school districts. Addressing the concerns that it will affect how long our school year is, Mr. Gruetzmacher said that it would not change anything. Contrary to popular belief, the amount of time kids need to be in school is not determined by days, but rather minutes. For grades 7-12, the state mandates 1050 hours of instructional learning, which excludes our passing periods and lunches. Mr. Gruetzmacher stated that the new schedule will accomplish the hour requirements and provide students with at least one three day weekend every month.

Mr. Bauer, our new associate principal, also had a few thoughts to share on the new schedule. “Being new to the SDE, the implementation of early release Thursdays precedes me. Despite that fact, my understanding is that the early release Thursdays schedule was designed to intentionally create time at the end of each Thursday for teachers to collaborate with one another, essentially built-in, in-house, weekly professional development,” Mr. Bauer said, “In my opinion, some teachers might be less engaged and/or efficient in end-of-day professional development simply due to mental and physical fatigue from teaching for over six hours prior.” Similar to Mr. Gruetzmacher, Mr. Bauer believes that this new system will be more productive and beneficial to the staff.

Mr. Bauer further continued to add that the new schedule would be beneficial to parents as well, as they would not have to accomodate to the varying daily schedule. An early Thursday release proves to be difficult for parents with young children, having to compromise their work schedule to oblige to the differing school times. Mr. Bauer concluded by stating, “Next year, with the elimination of early release Thursdays, I see a fantastic opportunity for teachers to approach each full day of professional development with a full tank and for those creating/coordinating full-day professional development to provide engaging, personalized, and meaningful opportunities.”

The decision was made relatively recently, being finalized in the school board meeting on December 4, 2018. “It was brought to the table last year,” Mr. Gruetzmacher affirmed, “we sent a survey two years out to the parents and the results stirred the discussion.” Although this may be a dramatic change for Elmbrook students who have become acclimated to the current schedule, the advantages seem to make the change easier. Sure, people don’t like change, but if it proves to be better for the district, what’s the harm, right? “I’m sure kids won’t be complaining on their first day off,” Mr. Gruetzmacher concluded, laughing.