Minimum days for teacher training, collaboration
will be on Wednesdays in the 2023-24 school year

Denair Unified School District board trustees voted unanimously Thursday night to alter the schedule at Denair Elementary Charter Academy as part of a continuing effort to address lagging student performance in English and math.

The switch moves minimum days each week from Friday to Wednesday. The shorter day – when classes get out at 1 p.m. – allows for two hours of teacher training and collaboration after students are gone. Under the current schedule, Superintendent Terry Metzger said attendance trends indicate that more students are absent on Fridays and that staff development hasn’t been as effective.

“There’s definitely a feeling over the past few years that it’s OK to miss on Friday because it’s just a minimum day,” Metzger told trustees in explaining the move.

“Perhaps the most important reason is that in our district, 30% of our kids are proficient in English and 10% of our students are proficient in math,” Metzger added. “We have a moral imperative to do better. That means looking at instructional minutes. That means looking at curriculum. That means looking at staff development. And that means looking at how we structure our calendar. … We send a message when we do midweek collaboration that Friday is not an ‘easy’ day.”

The move does not require negotiation with the union representing teachers, some of whom began a petition drive to oppose it. One instructor, Kimberly Evans, told trustees that teachers were surprised when the plan was announced recently. The move aligns Denair with other local school districts who also have minimum days on Wednesdays to conduct teacher training, but that didn’t convince Evans.

“We have done so many things as a small district to stand out,” she said. “Why would we want to do something just to fit in?”

DECA parent Jason DeMuro – whose wife is a teacher at the school – expressed concern that parents weren’t surveyed about the schedule change. He also suggested the move likely won’t increase attendance on Fridays.

“I think one of the things to consider is that if parents are taking their kids out of school, they’re going to do it on a Friday anyway. They’re going miss more time,” he said.

Another parent, Andrea Bennett, wondered about the quality of teaching on Fridays if they no longer are minimum days.

“If teachers are exhausted and can’t sit through professional development on Friday, what’s going to happen when they have to teach after lunch on Friday?” she wondered.

Trustees, however, weren’t swayed by any of the opposing arguments. Moments after the board voted 5-0 to make the change effective in the 2023-24 school year, most people in the audience got up and left the meeting.

Metzger – saying “we are in the business of educating kids” – defended the move as being one factor among many that will drive improved student performance.

“The children are waiting,” she said. “We knew pre-COVID that what we were doing wasn’t working for everyone. I remember saying that if we come out of COVID doing the same things, we will have failed. Change is uncomfortable. I get that. Changing from Friday to Wednesday has pros and cons. I believe the pros outweigh the cons.”

The move at DECA means teacher training on Denair’s other campuses also will happen on Wednesdays instead of Fridays next year, though the other schools do not do it on a weekly basis.

Other highlights of the 2023-24 calendar include:

  • The first day of school will be Wed., Aug. 9.
  • School will be out all of Thanksgiving week.
  • Christmas break will be Fri., Dec. 22 through Fri., Jan. 5. There will be a teacher training day on Mon., Jan. 8 with classes resuming Tues., Jan. 9.
  • Spring break will be Fri., March 29 through Fri., April 5.
  • DHS graduation will take place Fri., May 24.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Accepted the second interim budget report given by Daisy Swearingen, the director of fiscal services. She expects Denair Unified to end this budget year in June with $1.1 million in cash and projects a similar balance in June 2024. Enrollment is forecast to grow by 4% next year and 2% in 2024-25. Swearingen also proudly told the board that Denair received positive certification for its budget status from the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
  • Unanimously adopted a student transportation plan that qualifies Denair for $110,000 in state funding to underwrite its bus routes. The district will pay Storer Coachways of Modesto about $270,000 this year to run two bus routes, which will not change. The new plan prioritizes students in grades TK-6 as well as low-income students outside of one mile and students in grades 7-12 outside of 1.5 miles.
  • Voted in favor of a new $188,000 master services agreement for the 2023-24 school year with the Stanislaus County Office of Education. The county office contracts with school districts like Denair to provide services such as coordination of substitute teachers, audiology, a board-certified behavior analyst, information systems assistance, and administrator and teacher training. The county’s cost represents an increase of about $16,000 from this school year. 
  • Congratulated Holli Jacobsen and Anajanzy Montoya for their appointments as the new learning directors at DECA and Denair High, respectively, starting with the next school year. Jacobsen currently is a high school ag teacher while Montoya is the district’s English Learning coordinator.
  • Approved a trip to Ohio for four Project Life special education staff members, who will go to Butler Tech for two days of professional development. The estimated cost is $6,000. 
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