Big changes in how Helena teachers use time for professional development may be on the way.

A proposal before the school board of trustees tonight would make professional release a weekly routine instead of being set aside as occasional, larger chunks.

This year Helena K-8 school calendar includes nine half-days of class for teachers to plan and review their instruction. In the high schools, it’s a 90-minute late start held once every two weeks.

The district instead wants to hold one 40-minute early release day every Monday during the academic year, Assistant Superintendent Greg Upham said.

That would give teachers an hour of professional development every week — a regularity Upham said is necessary as the district looks to implement more sweeping changes in how teachers run their classrooms.

Specifically, Upham said he wants teachers in the same grade and subject to collaborate to more closely align their curricula. That includes creating common units and exams, so students learn the same concepts at the same time, regardless of their teacher or school.

Each third grade classroom, for instance, will use the same teacher-developed exams, which then will be graded in the same way.

“No longer are you just the teacher of your third grade class. You’re the teacher of every student in the district,” Upham said. “It’s a big difference.”

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The approach doesn’t script day-to-day instruction, but Upham said it is more prescriptive.

“We don’t want … what English teacher you got to determine the quality of your education. We want everybody on the same page.

“It’s a collaborative approach to gaining consistency,” he said. “No longer do you have the opportunity as a teacher to be way out there.”

Aligning instruction between classrooms will require consistent communication among teachers, Upham said.

The changes to professional release time would alter how it’s configured, not the total time allotted.

Elementary and high schools would end at 2:30 p.m., instead of 3:15, on Mondays. Middle schools would end 35 minutes early at 2:15 p.m.

Upham said the change also better accommodates parents who had difficulty arranging childcare on the infrequent in-service days.

The proposal was approved by the Labor Management Committee on March 20 and will be considered for approval by school board trustees during their regular meeting tonight at Ray Bjork Learning Center. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

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