“Team Wednesdays” at Hoquiam schools to continue

It’s 2 o’clock Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at Hoquiam’s Central Elementary, and while a group of fourth-grade literacy teachers may not have their kids in front of them, they are certainly the topic of a lively conversation.

The question that hangs in the air, “how do we find the time to teach them the necessary writing skills?”

This is Team Wednesday, a phrase known all too well by Hoquiam School District parents whose children have been let out 90 minutes early each Wednesday over this past year so that teachers may have these meetings.

It is the time for these conversations that otherwise may not be had, said Traci Sandstrom, Hoquiam’s director of teaching and learning as well as principal at Central Elementary School.

The district’s School Board voted to continue the piloted program for another year at their monthy meeting Tuesday night.

“We’re working on getting more writing into the student’s day and this is a great time to hash this out, especially since we all have differing opinions,” said Sandstrom, who supervised the meeting on Wednesday. She said that with other requirements, such as those for reading and math, put into place by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and Annual Measurable Objectives targets, writing instruction has “gone by the wayside.”

Since the elementary children each have their own “walk-to” — or different instruction for math or literacy determined by skill level — the teachers value their time to collaborate, agreed fourth-grade teacher Amber Melville, who said that before Team Wednesday was put into place, many teachers were left to figure these issues out on their own.

“Teachers were stressed,” said district Superintendent Mike Parker. The teachers previously had monthly progress monitoring but most other decisions were left up to teacher discretion. “This gives them time to be intentional and focus on kids, to look at data and make informed decisions.”

Most often the meetings include a review of statistical data about each teacher’s classroom and individual students.

Then they make their plans as a group to correct any inconsistencies or glaring issues without infringing on each other or confusing the kids.

Among the ideas the teachers had on Wednesday: Homeroom teachers could provide mini writing lessons, or, they may find a way to fit more writing into subjects like reading or spelling. All in all, a consensus was reached, said Sandstrom, that they are committed to making more time for writing, a foundational skill they all agree is an important as any other.

The addition of Team Wednesday has been part of an overall process, said Parker, who added the first step was creating the position of teaching and learning director for Sandstrom, then the designation of two teachers for math and literacy coaches for the district and now the designation of Wednesday as a time to look over data and plan for the future.

And, they are now seeing results statistically higher than average on Measures of Academic Progress reading scores for every grade (except for an even score in the third grade) and for math scores for grades 2-4 and 9-10.

They are working on bringing math scores for grades 5-8 — which have remained lower than average — up to the same standard.

The program has been highly supported in survey results, with 95 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents saying they support the continuation of the program into the coming 2013-14 year.

“How do you ingore that?” said Parker. “You just can’t.”

But, he added that Sandstrom has gone beyond even the positive results to focus on comments and complaints like those from parents that question the loss of face-time in the classroom, or for those who have had problems with the ability to transport children because of work or other circumstances.

While the district offers after school academic activities for children whose parents work or have other obligations, they have not been well attended likely due to the lack of available transportation options.

The Sandstrom-Parker duo is working on getting a basic bus route in place for the children who might need transportation to the YMCA or to the other side of town, and are also working to standardize dismissal times so that parents are not so confused by mutiple days with different times, like has happened around the holiday season.

“It was way too confusing,” said Sandstrom, who added that many holiday dismisal times are essentially grandfathered in from many, many years ago. She has worked to inform parents with a magnetized calendar with highlighted dates, including the Team Wednesday dates, and will do the same for the upcomig year.

Overall, Parker and Sandstrom understand the stressses this early dismissal puts on some parents and the debate over whether Team Wednesday is as effective as the 90 minutes of face-t0-face instruction their children lose each week because of it.

So far, they said it most definitely is effective and they are thankful to everyone who has made it possible so far.

“This is a gift of time,” said Parker. “Time given by the parents who support it, the teachers who make it work and the board who approves it.”