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Brainerd School Board increases teacher work days in 2022-23

Extra work days mean more time for teachers to prepare their classrooms and lessons when students are not in school.

Washington Educational Services Building
Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd.
Dispatch file photo
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BRAINERD — Teachers at Brainerd Public Schools will get more work days during the upcoming school year than were originally in the schedule.

School Board members approved a revised schedule Monday, July 11, that included two days previously slated as instructional days being converted to teacher work days. These days can be spent on grading, lesson planning, classroom preparation or any other work teachers need to complete when students are not there.

Jan. 3 — the day students were supposed to come back from winter break — will be a work day for teachers, as will April 10, which is the day after Easter and the Monday after a spring holiday for students on the previous Friday.

Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning, told board members the request comes after last year’s implementation of the Employee Support Program, which gave school staff stipends, extra prep time and increased access to mental health services to alleviate some of the stress felt over the previous school years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there are still concerns about staff workload due to shortages, Murtha and Superintendent Heidi Hahn said administrators and other staff members feel this move is beneficial.

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“What we want to do is make sure we’re providing — particularly teachers — opportunities to work in their classroom, whether this is grading, whether this is instructional prep,” Murtha said, noting last year was an exhausting year for school staff.

Jan. 3 will be a full work day for staff. Nov. 28 — the Monday after Thanksgiving — was originally scheduled as a staff in-service day but will now become half in-service and half teacher work day. The professional development work planned for that day will be split in half, with the second half taking place April 10, which will also be half in-service and half teacher work day.

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The change means the 2022-23 school year will have 169 instructional days for students instead of 171. Murtha said the district is still significantly over the number of instructional hours required by state statute.

“Administratively, we want to make sure we understand that productivity is about that ratio of output to input,” Murtha said. “... We’re manipulating the inputs to make sure that teachers are prepared to do the best they possibly can when they’re in front of children.”

Board member Kevin Boyles said he received “voluminous” positive feedback on this plan from teachers.

“I would rather have non-fried teachers teaching our kids with energy a few fewer days. It feels like that’s a more productive use than trying to cram all these extra days in there,” Boyles said.

Hahn said the extra work days are beneficial for more than just teachers, too, as custodial staff and food service workers also appreciate the additional work time without students in the buildings.

Before approving the updated calendar, board member Tom Haglin asked if he had missed when “Christmas” break was changed to “winter” break and a day off for Good Friday was changed to “spring holiday.”

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While Murtha and Hahn said they did not remember when the changes were made, they were made for inclusivity reasons. Not all families celebrate those holidays, Hahn said, so the district has made a point to remove language referring to religious holidays.

While Haglin said he understood the reasoning, he still said the district should call the breaks what they really are.

“As an example in December, if we’re not having that break because of Christmas, then to me it doesn’t make sense to kind of break it up that way. So if we’re having the break then because of Christmas, then why not label it as Christmas break, call it what it is? And if we’re not having it because of Christmas, then would there be a better schedule versus the way it’s laid out?” Haglin said, adding he felt the schedule itself was perfect as is.

Past schedules show days off in December and in January were referred to as Christmas break for the 2020-21 school year and holiday break for the 2021-22 school year. In 2020-21, the days off surrounding Easter were referred to Good Friday and Easter Monday but changed to spring holiday in 2021-22.

Murtha reminded board members they approved the current schedule language last year when they reviewed the original 2022-23 schedule.

As most people will still likely refer to the winter holiday as “Christmas break,” Board Chair Ruth Nelson said she doesn’t think it matters what the district officially calls it. Murtha disagreed.

“I think it does matter, and what we’re looking for is the inclusivity in making sure that everyone is treated equally in that moment,” Murtha said, adding the district respects all families’ choices to celebrate or not celebrate certain holidays.

Board members approved the schedule unanimously.

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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