Board approves early release days

At the November meeting, the District One Board of Trustees approved three early release days for next semester: one on Jan. 21, one on Feb.8 and one on March 17.

While the details are still being determined, the idea is that students would meet in all of their classes for a shorter period of time, have lunch, and then be released at 12:30. The extra time in the school day would be devoted to teacher planning and collaboration with their departments.

“The idea is that you give teachers time to collaborate in a modified schedule,” said Principal Andrew McMillan. “Students will still have the opportunity to see all of their classes and have lunch and still go home by 12:30, but what that does for teachers is that it gives us about 2 1/2 hours on those days of protected time.”

Other districts in Spartanburg County have adopted similar days, and according to McMillan, District One has considered adding early release days for quite some time. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, accelerated their implementation.

“We’ve tossed around these ideas for about eight or nine years now,” McMillan said. “I think with COVID and just the craziness of getting kids caught up, not being in school, learning online, learning in person, and being on quarantine really sped up the process of (having) early release days.”

McMillan emphasized that having these early release days benefits teachers the most.

Instead of only having one 90-minute planning period and one teacher workday, teachers will now have those planning periods, teacher workdays and about three extra hours of planning and collaboration time.

According to McMillan, the extra time on early release days will not be devoted to school-wide faculty meetings, but rather independent time for teachers to do whatever they need to do for their classes.

“If you do allow 3 1/2 hours three times, you’re talking about a summer’s worth of work there for these teachers,” McMillan said. “I don’t anticipate a lot of group meetings on my end because we can do those virtually. I really see a lot of just teacher time in their rooms doing things they need to do to stay ahead.”

These early release days will be especially useful for the various academic departments to have time to get together and plan for their specific subject.

“You may have two or three teachers that have planning at the same time, two or three or four that can eat lunch at the same time, but that’s very different from several hours of time where as a department, they can plan three years in three and a half hours,” McMillan said. “It allows your teachers to work together to be better for the kids.”

Teachers have been voicing their support for days built into the school year like this for a long time; now, their voices are being heard.

“For the first time in a long time, people are really paying attention to what teachers are saying,” McMillan said. “It makes me feel good when I ask them for specific feedback and input on things that they need, and then these things are mentioned, and then these things are approved. Teachers feel like they have a voice, their community is supportive, and then you have a district and school board that says ‘Well, if the teachers are wanting it, and we can make it happen, let’s do it.’”

While there is still some time before the first early release day, McMillan is excited for what these days will bring for students, administrators, and most importantly, teachers.

“I love it,” McMillan said. “It’s an opportunity for more collaboration, more alignment, more purposeful time that the teachers have told us that they need to do their jobs efficiently and correctly.”