Winter takes a toll on teaching time in PW-S District

Back-up plan in place after last week’s snow, power outages leave district close to not meeting instructional requirements
Ozaukee Press staff

This winter has taken a toll on teaching time, leaving the Port Washington-Saukville School District uncomfortably close to not meeting the minimum amount of instruction required by the state at some grade levels this school year.

The district, which had scheduled two snow days in its 2022-23 calendar, took its third day off Friday, March 10, after a late winter storm dropped several inches of snow on the area.

It had planned to provide online instruction Friday, which would have counted as instructional time under Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction rules, but power outages throughout Port Washington and the surrounding area made that impossible.

“We had an unexpected twist,” Tammy Thompson Kapp, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, told the School Board Monday. “We’re still within the required DPI minutes, but it’s close.”

So close that if the district had to cancel classes again this school year and could not provide online instruction, it would fall short of the minimal instructional time required by the DPI at some grade levels.

Referring to Friday’s scenario, Thompson Kapp said, “The likelihood of this happening again is slim, but we need to be prepared because I don’t think any of us would have predicted what happened last week.”

If the district would have to close schools again and not be able to provide online instruction, it would have two options, one of which would be to make the school day 10 minutes longer beginning April 3, Thompson Kapp said.

“Traditionally what that looks like is each class gets a minute longer,” Supt. Dave Watkins said.

The other option is to lengthen the school year by making the last day of classes on Thursday, June 8, a full day instead of the half day that is currently scheduled.

If the district had to close school two more days this year and was not able to provide online instruction, it could add an additional half day of school on Friday, June 9, Watkins said.

School Board members agreed that making the last day of school a full day would be more convenient for students and parents than making the school day longer.

“Looking at this from a least disruptive standpoint, I think I would go with extending the last day to a full day as opposed to 10 weeks of a messed up schedule,” board member Brian Stevens said.

But, Watkins said, that measure will only be needed if the district experiences a repeat of Friday.

“We need to remember that as long as we’re able to provide virtual instruction if there is another snow event or below-zero event, we’re good,” he said. “We’re in compliance. DPI has given us the thumbs up.”

It’s not that the Port Washington-Saukville School District has closed school more often than other area districts this winter — in fact Port-Saukville and its neighboring districts make that decision in consultation with each other — but the way they handle snow days differs.

Some districts consider them days free of instruction. Others see them as opportunities to teach remotely using online instruction platforms developed during the height of the pandemic.

“Some districts automatically go to virtual learning during snow days, but there’s a debate about that because snow days are a rite of winter in Wisconsin, days for kids to have fun and enjoy the snow,” Thompson Kapp said.

Next school year, instead of relying more heavily on online instruction, the effectiveness of which has been questioned by some parents and school officials, the district has built three snow days into its calendar, Thompson Kapp said.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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