Harford school board adds more half days for students; superintendent grants more days off for staff

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Dec. 8—Students and staff at Harford County Public Schools will have extra early dismissals and days off as the superintendent tries to give staff members more breaks.

The board voted to turn Jan. 21, March 4, April 1 and May 6 into half days for students after Superintendent Sean Bulson made the proposal. Bulson also eliminated professional development days for staff on April 13 and 14. Both days are during spring break.

Bulson said other systems around the state have made similar adjustments to allow for planning. The Harford schools have experienced extensive staff absences, which means other teachers must be called in to cover. As a result, those teachers lose a lot of planning time.

He said the four half days, or three-hour early dismissal days, could help. Jan. 21, for example, is the final day of the second quarter. Bulson said that day can help with planning and preparing for report cards.

Bulson also wanted to adjust the spring break schedule for staff, which wouldn't need to be voted on by board members since it will not affect the student calendar. April 13, a Wednesday, is a half day for students and a half professional development day for staff. April 14 is a full professional development day for teachers and no school for students. The holiday break is scheduled for April 15 to 18. Schools will still be closed for students on April 19 but that will be another professional development day for staff.

Bulson proposed eliminating the professional development days on April 13 and 14 "to provide time as a gesture to those staff." The superintendent added it would essentially extend their spring breaks.

Board member Patrice Ricciardi asked if this adjustment was going to be done for next year's school calendar. Bulson said the calendar, which will be presented to the board at the next meeting, will have additional half-day proposals.

"I do think this is something certainly worth revisiting — finding the right balance between planning and instruction," Bulson said.

He noted that planning time at the elementary level is scarcer than at other levels. He said later the adjustment still allows students to meet the required number of days in school and the required hours of teaching for staff. He did say the time requirement is something to keep an eye on when there's inclement weather.

Board member David Bauer noted staffing, stress and mental health issues are affecting kids and adults across the country.

"I wish we could do even more to address these things than we can under our current restrictions," he said. "I definitely support continued discussion on long term changes with the recognition that that's probably a multiyear process."

Bauer asked how critical staffing is. Bulson said the school system has seen an uptick in resignations and retirements during the middle of the year compared to previous years.

"That is causing trouble on every front," Bulson said.

He added there have also been absences in the central office.

Board member Sonja Karwacki thanked Bulson for the calendar changes.

"It is absolutely essential at this point and time to be sure that our teachers have the co-planning time that they need with their peers in order to be the most efficient and effective team possible," she said.

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