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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 18 2014

West Fargo experiment will shake up school start times

WEST FARGO – An experiment in scheduling teacher training and planning sessions will make school start times hop around on Wednesdays starting this fall at West Fargo’s middle and high schools.

The 2014-15 academic calendar has 12 Wednesdays with school starts one to two hours later for teachers’ professional development and for team sessions – called professional learning communities or PLCs – where groups of teachers study student testing data to adjust how subjects are taught.

Sept. 10 and 24, Oct. 22 and Nov. 12 will all have school starting two hours later.

When the calendar flips to 2015, the emphasis will be placed on PLCs, with school starting an hour later on Jan. 14 and 28, Feb. 11 and 25, March 22 and 25 and April 1 and 15.

On all of those days, teachers start work a half-hour earlier.

Allen Burgad, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said studies show teacher training is better if “consistent and ongoing” rather than done in scattered daylong workshops.

The eight PLC days allow “teachers to really focus on students and really focus on the learning needs of students,” he said.

State law requires 150 student contact hours per course in high school, but the 2014-15 schedule falls short, providing 149. The state Department of Public Instruction waived the difference for the district, Burgad said.

Elementary school start times were not changed for training or PLCs. Teachers will stay in their buildings an extra 25 minutes at the end of the day on Wednesday, he said.

Burgad said the calendar change upset one person, but otherwise he’s received little feedback.

Classes on late-start days will meet at the times set on default schedules used when bad weather delays school openings.

“All classes still meet. It’s just a squeezed down time frame,” Burgad said.

The Fargo School District’s elementary and middle schools usually have PLCs meet after school on Wednesday, spokeswoman AnnMarie Campbell said.

The high schools have students come in later on Wednesdays. That means a shorter academic day, but one that is still longer than required by state law, Campbell said.

For example, at Davies High School, classes start 45 minutes later on Wednesdays to give teachers time for PLC work, a staffer said. Similarly, at North High, teachers get 45 to 50 minutes of time to discuss curriculum and assessments before classes start on Wednesdays, Principal Andy Dahlen said.

Fargo’s teacher professional development days start before students arrive in the fall and are sprinkled throughout the school year, Campbell said.

In the Moorhead School District, only the high school adjusts its day for PLCs.

Classes for students at Moorhead High start 40 minutes later on Wednesdays so teachers can meet before school, district spokeswoman Pam Gibb said. Five minutes is trimmed from each class through the day, she said.

Burgad said West Fargo administrators will closely monitor the results of the calendar change.

“It is something new, and I think it has a great potential to help teaching and learning in West Fargo,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583