Should the Wake County school system go back to holding early release days or Wednesdays or continue to hold them on Fridays?
It's an argument that's been batted around the last few years with many families preferring to hold the six annual early release days on Fridays while many teachers would rather they be held on Wednesdays. For the last few years, the Republican board majority had opted for using Fridays.
But with a new Democratic board majority, it could be on Wednesdays for the 2013-14 school year. Some of those board members voiced support during Thursday's student achievement committee meeting for using Wednesdays.
On early release days, students are dismissed 2 1/2 hours early. Teachers use that time in the afternoon to conduct professional development.
Every student gets six early-release days a year. There are technically eight early release days at the year-round schools but they're spread out so that each track has six of them.
For transportation and consistency purposes, all schools on the same calendar share common early release days.
In the 2009-10 school year, the early release days were put on Wednesdays to go along with Wake Wednesdays/Wacky Wednesdays to provide regular professional development time for teachers. Students were dismissed 2 1/2 hours early on the six early release Wednesdays and an hour early on the other Wednesdays.
Amid the parental backlash, one of the first actions of the GOP board majority in 2009 was to discontinue the weekly early dismissals. Schools now on their own schedule the time for the professional development.
Later, the board voted to have the six early release days in the 2010-11 school year be on Fridays even though staff had recommended Wednesdays. The two who voted against using Fridays are current board chairman Kevin Hill and current vice chairman Keith Sutton.
Moving forward, Fridays have continued to be used for early release.
Now let's jump to Thursday's student achievement committee meeting, where staff was proposing early release days for the 2013-14 school year. Click here for a handout of the proposed dates for Fridays and Wednesdays.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore told the board members that there is "widespread interest" from principals to move back to having early release on Wednesdays.
Board member Susan Evans said it's good the issue is being brought up. Evans said she's heard from teachers and staff at several schools that they're not happy everybody but them gets to have a long weekend when the early release days are on Fridays.
Board member Christine Kushner, the committee chairwoman, did point out there are more families than teachers in the school system.
Moore said that teachers have families too and that Fridays aren't the "most conducive" days to hold professional development.
Tamani Anderson Powell, director of marketing and communication for magnet programs, said teachers were "more attentive" on Wednesdays. Anderson Powell has led the committee that develops calendars for year-round schools.
Board member Jim Martin asked what attendance was like on Fridays. Anderson Powell said she's not hearing that attendance is an issue. Kushner suggested comparing absenteeism on Fridays to what it was like when early release was on Wednesdays.
Temporary Superintendent Stephen Gainey said that "by Friday afternoon, staff is drained." Gainey said they need to consider what the negatives might be for moving it back to Wednesdays with Kushner noting they're only talking about six days and not every week.
Martin said that if the purpose of early release is staff development then Wednesdays are better.
Gainey said he's heard from some coaches about problems with their teams having early release on Fridays.
Martin suggested bringing both Fridays and Wednesdays to the full board to consider.
Anderson Powell said that when they schedule early release on Fridays they try to be family friendly, such as the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President's Day and during the State Fair. She also said they're beginning to work on the 2014-15 calendars and the early release days for then as well.
Martin responded that if you're talking about family friendly, holding early release days on Wednesdays offer students "a breather."
When Martin said his children "loved" having early dismissal on Wacky Wednesdays, Kushner corrected him to say they were Wake Wednesdays. Martin said that he knows they're officially called Wake Wednesdays.
Martin said being dismissed early on Wednesdays gave his children extra time in the middle of the week to work on larger projects. He said it was very positive for learning.
Martin said that while there were some "issues" with early release on Wednesdays, it was learning and student friendly. Martin said he's not willing to say that only releasing on Fridays is family friendly.
Kushner added that many faith communities have events on Wednesday nights.
Evans said that maybe it will be a different discussion this time since they're only talking about using six Wednesdays.
If you're wondering why the discussion for using Wednesdays over Fridays seems so one sided, none of the Republican board members were present. Kushner "deputized" Evans and Martin to have a quorum.
In terms of the dates chosen, Moore said they coordinated with the transportation department this time. She said they wanted to make sure that either all schools are releasing on the same day or those that are not releasing aren't in session.
“We’ve consistently had opportunities to mess things up, and now we’re fixing it." Moore said of the transportation problems in prior years with the early release days.
Moore said that's the reason the first early release day for year-round schools would be either Aug. 23 or Aug. 21. She said they would have liked to do the first one sooner but they had to go with the later date to coordinate with transportation.