Rock Hill schools seeking alternative to late start days

Teachers in Rock Hill may lose hours of much-needed training when school starts in August, and educators are scrambling to find the time in an already cramped schedule, school officials said.

At issue is the district’s late-start program, which for about nine years has sent kids to school two hours late one Wednesday each month. During those two hours, teachers and principals attend professional development sessions.

Many parents of students in Rock Hill want the late-start program to be eliminated because of the challenge of getting their children to school on days when classes start two hours later than usual.

“I thought the late-start program was a very bad idea for working parents,” said Mitch Whaley, whose daughter is a rising senior. “In the non-teaching world we all go through training and development. But as a supervisor who might have a training opportunity, your subordinate employees don’t come in two hours late so that you can attend your training.”

Superintendent Kelly Pew recommended the late-start program be discontinued after she read comments from a survey completed by 3,100 parents and district employees. If the school board agrees, late start days will disappear from the 2015-2016 calendar. The school board will address the issue June 22.

About 75 percent of the parents surveyed opposed the late-start days.

The district will now look to other days or Tuesday afternoons for the training, Pew said.

“While we will not have late start, we will always need to grow and learn,” Pew said. “We are working with principals to determine the best way to accomplish the same ... (or better) professional learning for our teachers.”

Sullivan Middle School principal Shane Goodwin said his biggest concern is finding the best time that would benefit parents, but also would allow all teachers and faculty to receive additional training. Carving out time in the afternoons is challenging because of after-school sports and programs that keep coaches and other teachers from attending staff development, Goodwin said, and for teachers who have meetings after the bell rings.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Goodwin said. “We want to make sure we take care of our families, because that’s who we serve.”

Using teacher work days when students are out of school for the training would be difficult because teachers spend those days in parent conferences, working on report cards, and preparing for new semesters, among other tasks, Pew said. About 54 percent of the faculty support late start, according to the surveys.

“The biggest issue for us is the two-hour block they have been afforded,” Pew said. “It is very difficult to get that amount of time throughout the school year.”

The surveys highlighted several points-of-view among parents and teachers. Those in favor said it gave them extra time with their children on those mornings, Pew said, while others agreed the teachers and staff need time for training.

Others found late-start days as a hardship trying to balance their work and getting their kids to school. Others were concerned about leaving their children at home alone to wait on the school bus.

While Whaley said he is fortunate to have parents that could take his daughter to school before she could drive, he knows another parent with multiple children who takes vacation time from work to get her children to school, he said.

“If you had multiple children in the system, what a debacle that would be,” Whaley said. “Terrible concept.”

Goodwin, a former principal at Ebinport Elementary School, said he understands the challenges because he has children attending district schools. On late-start days at Ebinport, the students were still able to come to school at the regular time for parents who could not find transportation for their kids, he said. The staff found activities for the kids to do during that time.

“I understand it was difficult for parents and I respect that,” Goodwin said