URBANA – Representatives from elementary schools around Urbana met Tuesday night with the Urbana school board to propose adding several hours of teacher development time to the calendar every year – and taking that time away from teaching students.
They suggest increasing the teacher development days from six half-day sessions – currently early dismissal days for students – to six full-day sessions, a measure that would need state as well as school board approval.
Elementary teachers as well as principals said they strongly believe that the increased development time will benefit students in the classroom and in their state testing.
The extra time would allow teachers to share knowledge within and across grade levels and schools. It would also be used to develop a shared curriculum, giving the district more uniformity in teaching topics and methods.
"One of our big concerns was 'How can we act as a team?'" said Craig Huff, a teacher at Leal Elementary School. "We've got so much autonomy between the schools that we need to go ahead and come together as a family."
District Superintendent Gene Amberg supported the program, saying that "time for teaching and planning ... is really the most important element" as to the overall quality of teaching and amount of student achievement.
School board member John Dimit did not support the plan as is, saying that the proposal should make up the time students would miss from those half-days with other in-class time.
"Already we are struggling in this country ... with the time that our children spend in school," Dimit said. "I don't see this as moving this in the right direction."
Dimit was also concerned about teachers taking off those full-day development sessions as personal days, citing past full-day institute attendance.
"Personal time became pretty popular on those days," he said. "That was a problem."
Paine Elementary School Principal Janice Bradley said she would hate for the behavior of a few teachers to spoil the advancement of the majority.
She said she had discussed the issue of teachers taking off on development days with her staff, saying "I can assure you Thomas Paine teachers will be there on that day – short of death."
The board will vote on the matter before this school year is out, Amberg said. If passed, the full days would not take effect until spring 2007.
Board members Mark Netter, Steve Summers and Cope Cumpston were absent.
In other news, the school district's 2005 property tax extension, payable this year, is projected at $24.2 million. That projected extension is $1.2 million higher than last year's extension.
The district projects it will have lowest total tax rate since 1985, at $4.32 per hundred dollars of equalized assessed value. The school district does not set the tax rate; the county clerk does so, based on the district's levy – its request for money – and the assessed value.
With new construction, and with property assessments generally going up, the district's assessed value – its tax base – was a record, at $561 million.
The school board also welcomed Greg Johnson as assistant principal for curriculum and planning for Urbana High School. Johnson has been an English teacher at the school for nine years, he said, and is scheduled to complete an administrative degree from the University of Illinois in May.