Bellingham schools to change early release days, give students one Friday off per month

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 13, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Students at Bellingham schools will see some tweaks to their calendars starting next school year and then a big change when classes begin before Labor Day in 2015.

The calendar changes are part of a four-year agreement reached between the Bellingham School District and the Bellingham Education Association, the union representing the district's teachers. The agreement, which also included teacher raises, was ratified Tuesday, June 10, and approved by the school board at its meeting Thursday night.

Starting this fall, middle and high school students will have fewer early release days. Instead, students in all grades will get one Friday per month off so teachers can use that day in school for parent conferences, collaboration and training on new state standards, new course materials and evaluations. That will add four days off each year, but it won't decrease the 180 days of instruction the students get each year.

The last day of school next year is scheduled for Monday, June 22.

At the middle schools, there are more than 30 early release days in the current calendar, a schedule that isn't ideal for families or teachers, Superintendent Greg Baker said. Those will be cut down to about 10 next year. High school early release days will be almost entirely eliminated, except for the day before Thanksgiving and the last day of school.

At elementary schools, the number of early release days will remain the same.

At all grade levels, early release days will move from Wednesdays to Thursdays to allow teachers to prep for their Fridays without students. It also gives families long weekends.

In fall 2015, Bellingham schools - which usually start the day after Labor Day - will start on Aug. 26, a week and a half before Labor Day. The move will give Advanced Placement students more instructional time before the AP tests, which are taken the same day across the country no matter when school starts. Students who score high enough on the AP test can get college credit, so having more classroom time before the tests could save money on tuition if it helps students get higher scores.

"An exam isn't the end-all, be-all, but the AP exam because it's tied to college tuition, it makes a big impact on families," Baker said.

Baker was glad to be able to get the new calendar information out now, rather than shortly before school starts, to give families a chance to prepare for the different days off. Parents will be able to look at four years of calendars on the district's website, bellinghamschools.org.

In addition to setting the calendar for the next four years, the contract provides yearly salary increases for teachers. The increase the first year will be 1.5 percent, followed by 2 percent the next year, then 2.5 percent and then 3 percent for the fourth year of the contract. For the past few years, the state has not provided any cost of living increases for teachers.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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