CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP — Students in the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District will see a shift in the school week starting in the fall with early dismissals every Friday.
The school board voted 5-3 Wednesday to implement the new calendar with the purpose of providing more professional development time embedded in the schedule for teachers.
Under the new plan, students will be dismissed 2 1/2 hours early every Friday, and class periods will be shortened from 40 minutes to 30 on those days, said Ian Magness, assistant superintendent.
The schedule takes the number of days students attend from 176 to 180, Magness said. However, instructional time will be reduced from 1,071 hours to 1,027, a decrease of 44 hours.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education mandates that students attend a minimum of 990 instructional hours. Instructional hours do not include time spent when a student is not learning, such as at lunch or study hall.
The sacrifice of hours will be “well worth it,” Magness said. Because of the additional training, he believes the instructional hours students receive will be more rewarding and effective.
Professional development time will increase from 13 hours to 70. This will provide the opportunity for teachers to strengthen skills in the areas such as safety planning, data analysis, technology initiatives, bullying prevention and more, Magness said.
While the main focus of the shift is for professional development, some cost savings are expected.
Students in grades six through 12 will not be offered breakfast or lunch, and only brunch will be offered to students in kindergarten through fifth grades, reducing food cost and labor.
If substitute teachers are needed on Fridays, it will only be for a half-day, and staff will have less mileage to travel for professional development.
At a previous meeting, Magness estimated the cost savings of $15,000 to $30,000. The district has a budget of about $30 million.
Board members were divided on the new schedule. George Rowley, Linda Brown, Holly Gibson, Mary Whitfield and Tim Canzano voted for the change, with Rick Harper, Holly Hall and B. Edward Smith voting against it. Beverly Caranese was absent.
Smith asked the board to consider tabling the issue and setting up a public forum to get the opinion of parents. Harper expressed concern for “latchkey kids,” who already spend time alone after school, and regarding parents’ needs of additional child care.
Magness pointed out pros to the change, and that the concept of early dismissals every Friday is standard at some other districts, including Conemaugh Valley, Westmont Hilltop and Richland.
Parents may appreciate the ability to get an early start to the weekend, he said. Because there are usually early dismissals on random Fridays throughout the year, the schedule will now be more consistent.
He emphasized that he is empathetic on the issue of child care, and noted that parents will know far in advance and have ample time to put a plan in place.
The district will formally notify parents of the change through correspondence.
Under the new calendar, the first day of school is Aug. 28, and the last is June 5.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board again discussed school security.
Bryan Maher, a district parent and state trooper, urged the board to act sooner rather than later when deciding on the issue of whether to hire armed guards, such as state troopers, retired state troopers or sheriff’s deputies, to patrol the schools.
The board has been grappling with the issue for months and voted Wednesday to resolve the issue prior to the April 17 meeting for a vote.
In other business, the board:
Heard a presentation by Vicki Smith, president of the Homer-Center school board, and Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro and Walter Schroth, of the Indiana Area school board, on the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
Indiana and Homer-Center are applying with the program to build a science center in the county and asked directors to pass a resolution of support and to donate $1 per student toward startup costs.
Directors approved the resolution and donation.
Approved a lease/extended payment agreement between Apple Education and the district for the purchase of computers for business/open labs not to exceed $95,000. The computers will be purchased with grants and local funds.
Discussed new college courses that will be presented at the April meeting for approval.
Approved a field trip for the Blairsville High School varsity and junior varsity majorettes to the Atlantic Coast Wildwood New Jersey Championship from May 2 to 5 at no cost to the district.
Granted tenure to Jennifer Surratt, Blairsville Elementary School teacher, after the completion of three years of “satisfactory service to the state.”
Approved, “with gratitude for dedicated service,” the resignation of the following due to retirement: Susan Ruff, BES teacher, employed since 1976; Mary Lou McKinney, BES instructional aide, since 1978; and Pamela Curnow, BES instructional aide, since 1996.
Approved the following supplemental positions for the 2013-14 year: Ab Dettorre and Jim Buckles, Blairsville athletic co-directors; Glenn Richards, Saltsburg athletic director; Dettorre, BHS football head coach; Rick Artley, BHS football first assistant coach; Neil Stone, BHS football second assistant coach; Artley, BHS boys’ basketball junior high coach; Mike Funyak, BHS basketball boys’ junior high assistant coach; Ralph McGinnis, BHS basketball girls’ head coach; Tim Ault, BHS basketball girls’ assistant coach; McGinnis, BHS basketball girls’ junior high head coach; Lynn Martin, BHS basketball girls’ junior high assistant coach; Tammy DiLoreto, BSSD volleyball head coach; Brittany Conrad, BSSD volleyball assistant co-coach; Whitney Shearer, BSSD volleyball assistant co-coach; DiLoreto, BHS volleyball junior high head coach; Whitney Shearer, BHS volleyball junior high assistant coach; DJ Doak, BSSD wrestling head coach; Scott Stuchal, BSSD wrestling junior high head coach; Bryan Gould, BSSD wrestling junior high assistant coach; Mark Zerfoss, BHS baseball head coach; Gould, BHS baseball assistant coach; Dan Cunkelman, BSSD cross country coach; Stuchal, BHS golf coach; Rick Lowman, BHS social studies department chairman; Ronda Halldin, BHS varsity cheerleading coach; Kathy Muir, SMHS senior class adviser and yearbook adviser; and Robert Gates Jr., BSSD wrestling assistant coach.
Approved Kelley Little as a substitute for elementary, reading and mid-level math.
Approved second readings of policies.
Approved the SMHS Natural Philosopher’s Guild to sell T-shirts.