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Students Lobby for Half-Day Professional Development

Students in Joyce Carey’s 10th grade civics class shared a final presentation with the Burlington School Committee Wednesday, saying a majority of students and district families would prefer more half-day professional development days over fewer full-day PD days. 

The students created surveys for students and parents about whether those groups would benefit from replacing the current five professional development days, when students are off from school, with five half-days, and ending the school year five days earlier. According to the student presentation, out of 159 parent responses, 51 percent said they’d prefer 10 half-days because it would be easier to arrange childcare and would be less disruptive to learning. 

Students also said they would prefer half-days, saying they felt stressed about school and jobs, particularly around midterms and finals, and would like more days to catch up on schoolwork. 

School committee members later said it would be eight half-days, not 10, since one professional development day is outside the school calendar, and switching from full to half days would not mean students had a shorter school year, as the students had thought. 

Superintendent Eric Conti, who attended the meeting, said one little word can make a big difference in what schools can do. “In Massachusetts, the word is, we have to go to school for 180 days and 990 hours. In New Hampshire, it’s 180 days or 990 hours. That one word can make a big difference in all of your lives. If you want to advocate to change that and to an or, it would give us a lot of flexibility.” 

School Committee Chair Martha Simon said there were other factors to consider. “The other side of this is, what’s the purpose of PD days, whether full or half? As a school committee person, it’s important we look at how to help our teachers improve their practice and increase their ability to feel good about their jobs,” she said.

The issue has come up in previous years in teacher union negotiations, with the unions unsuccessful advocating for half-days. 

“It was really interesting to meet with the school board and be in the conference room and everything, it was definitely a memorable experience,” said sophomore Amelia Nagel. 

Elise Kovbasa said the committee seemed receptive to the idea. “They really took in some ideas, and I liked how they responded with some questions. I think it really engaged the conversation,” she said.