ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- Some big changes are in the works for Pinellas public school students. Some like it, others hate it. The school board approved a new bell schedule, and early release Wednesdays are missing.
Starting the next school year, 2013-2014, families can count on school starting and ending at the same time Monday through Friday.
School district officials and the teachers' union agreed to ending early release Wednesdays as part of their contract negotiations.
When early release Wednesdays began four years ago, it was designed to give teachers more time for planning and training, and compensated them for a heavier work load. In 2009, post secondary teachers started teaching an extra class, giving them seven classes instead of six to teach each day. Many parents gave early release Wednesdays a "F." Now, they give the decision to end it an "A+."
Fuguitt Elementary School parents say early release Wednesdays have been a big inconvenience. "For example, now I'm at work. I use my lunch on Wednesdays to come pick [my son] up early," says Johanna Delatorie.
Some parents say the early dismissal has cost them more. "I've had to take Wednesdays off because my kids release early, in order to come pick them up. Now I can work. It's a blessing for me and my husband," says Samantha White.
Every Wednesday since 2009, Pinellas students have been released an hour and 15 minutes earlier than the other four days of the school week. Students say they like the half days.
Jon Strickland, a student at Clearwater High School, says, "It helps students relax after school, makes it easier to do homework if we have it all week.'"
Teachers use the time for planning and training. "I see students that are having a hard time in other classes; it's given me more time to have meetings with parents, make phone calls," says Katia Russos, a teacher at Clearwater High School.
Russos worries returning to a traditional bell schedule means using more personal time to get the work done. "The downside is I won't have enough time to plan."
R.J. Denton, a teacher at Clearwater High School, likes returning to a traditional schedule. He says, "I think it's more work to plan for the shorter days."
Teachers' planning time will remain the same, but will be spread evenly throughout the school week. Denton says, "I think it's a good move for schools. It allows more instructional time."
In exchange for the longer planning period on Wednesdays, teachers receive a 1.5 percent pay raise that averages at about $600 per teacher.
But is it enough for the block of time teachers are giving up? Russos says no. "It's generous of them to provide the pay raise. I still think we may not get enough of what we deserve."
She adds, "There's never enough time to do the job and do it well."
The new bell schedule means start times for next year will remain the same as this school year; dismissal times will be 15 minutes earlier than they are this year for most schools.
Click here for your school's bell schedule.
A task force has been looking at other scheduling options for teachers and the impact of eliminating early release Wednesdays will have on teachers' professional development and student performance. Those recommendations will be ready for school district officials on March 1st.
Pinellas isn't alone. Last year, the Manatee County school district ended early release Wednesdays. Hillsborough students are out early on Mondays. Hillsborough district officials and the teachers union say it's working for them and they plan to continue it.