The Anchorage School District will start school an hour later every Monday beginning this fall to allow for a new hour of teacher professional development time.
The school board passed the measure at its Tuesday meeting.
“PLC Mondays” — short for “professional learning communities” — provide an hour in which educators who teach similar subjects and grade levels will work together on professional development, according to the district.
District high schools already start late on Mondays to allow for the professional development time, but the change will now apply to elementary and middle schools, too. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District implemented a similar late-start model at the start of this school year.
In a letter to families Wednesday, district officials wrote that Monday buses will pick students up an hour later, but that school days will still end on time.
The announcement comes as the school board this week also voted to shift school start times by at least an hour district-wide, with elementary school students beginning earlier and middle and high schoolers starting later — a change set to take effect at the start of the 2024-25 school year.
Some said the change on Mondays will pose a challenge to working parents who will now need to find morning child care for their children once a week this fall, at a time when options in Anchorage are both costly and limited. In response to the school district’s post on Facebook about the change, several people expressed their dismay over the shift and the impact it will have on families.
Holli Veloza, who has two elementary school children enrolled at district schools, said finding child care for a single day and time each week will be a challenge. She works an earlier shift as a surgical technician, and said she does not know how her family will be able to get their children to school each Monday without her husband being late to work.
“I honestly have no idea how I’m gonna deal with it,” Veloza said.
Shannon Thomas, an elementary school teacher, said by email she fears the change will negatively impact students. Some students rely on breakfast and lunch at school, and may miss a meal if school starts at 10 a.m. Additionally, the change could pose a challenge for parents who have to be at work earlier and need to find child care, which is both expensive and sparse in Anchorage, Thomas said.
She also said she thought that losing an hour of instruction each week would be hard on teachers, who are already pressed for time and tightly scheduled through the day.
And, she said, three months isn’t very long to figure out child care each week. She figures everyone, including parents who work 9-to-5 jobs and previously were able to drop their kids off at elementary schools in the morning, will be flocking to the nearest child care center that provides morning care and a ride to school on Mondays.
“I feel like everyone is going to be fighting for Monday spots at whatever place there is,” she said.
School board president Margo Bellamy said the professional development time is meant to support student outcomes.
“Our teachers have had a lot of training, but it hasn’t been ongoing and consistent,” Bellamy said. “And so that’s why the board voted to approve that memo.”
Bellamy acknowledged the change will be a challenge in the beginning.
“I appreciate that it will mean changes for some people,” Bellamy said. “And I think our schools are going to be willing to work with parents in ways that we may not have worked with them before, to make sure that we help them transition.”
She said she’d received six or so emails from people who said they felt the decision was a surprise. Bellamy maintained that “we have been as open and transparent as we possibly can, not that we can’t, you know, do better.”
Bellamy also said that when the district conducted town halls and surveys surrounding a shift in school start times earlier this year, they also incorporated the professional development time change in discussions, as well.
Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association, the local teachers union, said the time period can be beneficial because it’s continuous, rather than a single day of development. But the benefits depend on how it’s implemented, he said. In order for the professional development time to have teacher buy-in, it will need to be directed by educators, not principal and district-directed development, he said.
“Educators need to evaluate their teaching, and they need to choose the professional development that they want to work on to better themselves,” Aist said.