Gwinnett principals get creative with 30-minute snow makeup plans

It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, and Gwinnett principals admitted that it wasn’t perfect, but teachers, students and parents have largely adjusted to the additional 30 minutes to each school day.

At Jenkins Elementary in Lawrenceville, Principal Dot Schoeller said another adjustment should come when the schedule returns in two weeks to the original format.

“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” Schoeller said. “The next time you see the negative feedback will be on the 15th. They’ve gotten used to having the extra 30 minutes. I don’t think our kids noticed it. Our teachers are a little more tired. The hardest thing is going to be adjusting back. That’s going to be a challenge.”

The plan to makeup four days not already built into the calendar when school was closed for snow and ice, announced on Feb. 24, was for Gwinnett County Public Schools to extend the school day by 30 minutes for 48 days, from March 3rd through May 14th.

The plan was designed to preserve the 180-day school calendar, and each local principal was given latitude to use the time as they saw fit.

To make up professional development time, teachers at Mill Creek High in Hoschton have met on Saturdays at each other’s homes and at Starbucks.

“No plan is perfect, I think they did a really good job of thinking that we do value the 180-day school schedule,” Mill Creek Principal Jason Lane said. “It gave all the local schools flexibility. We appreciated that and what works best for Mill Creek.”

At Summerour Middle in Norcross, the school used “Blue Devil block time” where teachers concentrated efforts on a given subject each day, so for example, language arts teachers taught math.

For para-professionals and office staff who work on a limited hourly schedule each week, principals said they balanced staffers time on spring break, and plan to adjust summer schedules before July 7.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Summerour Principal Dorothy Jarrett said. “We have found an excellent way to find more time and opportunity to master the curriculum. A just in time kind of an intervention. I do understand there were lots of folks that said, ‘30 minutes on to the day, oh my gosh that’s awful,’ but there’s something to be said about Gwinnett County Public Schools staying the course.”

Adverse comments, Jarrett said, were directed at the decision to add the 30 minutes, not how schools chose to use them.

In the beginning, students were tired, but ultimately students and teachers said they appreciated the additional instructional time.

Generally, at the elementary level, principals chose to make up the time by expanding instructional blocks for mathematics and language arts, adding time to focus on reading and reading enrichment and support staff were deployed to help in classrooms and provide intervention.

In middle schools, the 30 minutes were added to academic content areas on a rotating basis and spread to four academic periods.

In high schools, time was added to each period, while some schools created “flipped classroom” videos to be shared with teachers across the district for acceleration and enrichment.

Schools also used the time to review for the criterion-referenced competency tests, or CRCTs, which began on Wednesday after they were pushed back a week because of the snow days.

“We’re excited about the gains we made last year, I believe we will sustain our growth,” Jarrett said. “We’re really excited about it. Students have embraced this and mastered the opportunity.”

When the plan was announced, parents and students voiced concerns about the new schedule causing problems for after-school jobs and extra-curricular activities. But Lane said he didn’t hear much about that after the first few days of the plan. Lane said his school involved the Parent Teacher Student Association, the school council and department chairs in the decision about how to use the time.

Childcare plans for teachers were disrupted at Summerour, but Jarrett said teachers should have a “plan B” just like the school did.