This small community extended each school day in order to gain two hours of common planning time, which they use each Wednesday morning prior to late student arrival.
Efforts by Grass Lake Community Schools to improve their educational programs include a professional development program, COMMON PLANNING, that has brought school restructuring to the forefront in the community. This endeavor began at a districtwide inservice in October 1992. Here, a brainstorming process concluded that teachers and administrators needed more time together to accomplish long- range planning, accommodate state mandates, and achieve other common goals. A committee was formed to investigate options for common planning time for staff. Throughout the 1992-93 school year, the Scheduling Committee met and explored many possibilities, keeping the Board of Education informed throughout the process. Before taking a formal proposal to the Board of Education for adoption, the Scheduling Committee presented the final plan of action at a K-12 staff meeting. The staff had to reach consensus on the ground rules for the COMMON PLANNING program before voting on whether to submit the proposal to the Board of Education. This process took a long time, but in the end, after community forums were held a parent task force was created, the Board approved the program.
In September 1993, the pilot program of COMMON PLANNING began. The journey into school reform took a more rapid pace and elicited more comprehensive staff involvement than was expected. Dena Dardzinski, the superintendent, stated, "We have moved beyond the conventional 'school improvement' mode toward the significant restructuring of our school system." After the initiation of COMMON PLANNING, monthly updates were given to the Board and formalized reports were made in January and May 1994. In May 1994, the staff requested and the Board approved an extension of COMMON PLANNING.
Underlying the program is the belief that modernizing teaching methods and fully coordinating the educational program require that the full faculty be brought together on a regular and consistent basis for study and planning. A portion of each week is devoted to planning and improvement - the "quality team" approach to making the business of education even more effective for the children. The program enables the full faculty to meet each Wednesday morning to work on curriculum coordination and more modern teaching methods.
The process involves a strict set of guidelines and ground rules, developed by the staff, that govern how the time may be used. The teachers arrive at work at 7:40 a.m. on Wednesdays and meet for two hours - sometimes as full faculty, but often in grade-level or departmental teams. The work is fully coordinated and planned. For instance, the work is planned and coordinated weekly to ensure the attendance of all key people at grade-level, departmental, and curricular meetings. A planning committee of six teachers and two administrators coordinates the schedule of meetings and activities. A regular schedule is developed so that everyone knows when each meeting will be held every month. Therefore, the meetings follow a "routine" or pattern. Groups working on a special project can request additional time from the planning committee. An agenda is used for each meeting and members are expected to stick to it. Minutes are recorded for each meeting on a "Committee Minutes" form and compiled in an activity log. Every staff member must participate on at least one committee, attendance is required at grade-level and/or departmental meetings, and timeliness is required for all meetings. The COMMON PLANNING sessions also have a standardized evaluation form.
Each Wednesday, students begin their school day at 9:45 a.m. Buses pick up students on their regular routes, but on a delayed schedule (two hours later than on other weekdays). All classes meet, but for a shorter period of time. The school day has been extended for secondary students by ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon each day of the week (except Wednesday morning) in order to meet state and North Central Association requirements; in all, secondary students lose only 25 minutes of classroom time per week. Contact time for elementary students still exceeds state and North Central recommendations by nearly 200 minutes a year. The district is concerned about the quantity of classroom time that students receive each week, but also about the quality of education that they receive at each grade level.
Many students benefit from two extra hours each Wednesday morning (to study, to arrange medical appointments, or even to get additional rest for the remainder of the week). The district realizes that the program may create child care problems. With the district's encouragement, parents are involved in providing input and advice on how to solve these problems. The district newsletter informs parents and the community about COMMON PLANNING, offering suggestions for Wednesday morning activities for students and sharing information on parents who need assistance with child care on Wednesdays and on parents who are available to help.
While the program is still very new, it already has shown many advantages, according to Superintendent Dardzinski:
"The degree of professional dialogue and the growth of sharing, appreciation for colleagues' efforts, and a better understanding of the big picture have been valuable. The deep discussions and the desire to find the best options for our students have been invigorating. . . . It is believed that with the necessary adaptations, the staff and community will see some exciting consequences from the . . . program. . . . We are committed, one way or another, to change our educational environment to become more aligned with the future.
"It has been a very exciting - at times frustrating - and yet very beneficial endeavor. Common Planning has created a renewed interest in teaching for many staff members. More importantly, it has elevated the level of our professional conversations. We have become more focused and have witnessed a tremendous growth of our efforts for true systemic reform."
Grass Lake Community Schools
899 S. Union St.
Grass Lake, MI 49240
Posted on March 6, 1995