AUGUSTA — The Augusta Board of Education voted on Wednesday to increase the number of early release days on the school calendar from eight to 26.

Before the pandemic, Augusta public schools had eight early release days on the calendar, or just about one a month. Students at Cony Middle and High School were released at 10:30 a.m. and elementary-school students were released at 11:45 a.m. Now, with the added days, Cony students will be released at noon and the younger students at 1 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin said the added early release days will be used for the staff’s professional development, and as a time to bridge the learning gaps caused by the coronavirus pandemic. During the hybrid school attendance last year, Wednesdays were used for the same reason. This proved to be helpful to teachers who wished to work one on one with pupils who were falling behind. Teachers also benefited from the non-classroom time to plan  to teach remotely, via the internet.

The total number of classroom hours missed due to early release went from 24 before the pandemic to 39 with the new change.

The board’s vote was not unanimous. Member Kati McCormick voted against the motion and attempted to create her own, urging for just two early release days a month. She did not receive any votes.

Early release days will be on the schedule every week during the academic year as long as there are five days in the school week. For instance, there will be no early release day during weeks with a national holiday.


Parent Amanda Peters spoke during the public-comment period to explain how the increasing number of early release days would affect her and her child, Zachary, who will be a second-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School. She said her son attended school in person two days a week during the past school year.

“Even though he is academically advanced, socially he is not,” she told the board. “He is very far behind and (now will) take more time out of the classroom, away from peers, away from normalcy. I know my schedule, I’m going to have to request work off every Wednesday.”

Peters said she spoke on behalf of “10 or 12” other parents in similar situations. She said the number of planned early release days is “a lot, especially for people who do not have childcare.” The Augusta Public School Department currently does not offer childcare, Grondin confirmed, but she added that there are local resources that can help, like the YMCA and the Buker Community Center.

Grondin gave the board examples of how teachers and other staff members will use the extra time. She said they will look at data collected from periodic tests to identify pupils who need help closing learning gaps caused by the pandemic or other factors.

“The other part is, teachers’ lessons are going to have to be differentiated and modified, since a lot of students are coming in at different points,” she said, referring to a growing range of educational levels among children of the same age. “This will be the first time the students will be in-person full time since March 2020. The impact on students is going to be huge.”

McCormick asked if the board had considered fewer early release days, to limit the impact on families, but fellow board member Staci Fortunato said weekly early release days make sense, because then parents can “plan their childcare” and have a sense of consistency.

McCormick said she wished there was more of a discussion among the board and the community, and asked if the public had been given a chance to weigh in on the matter. Chairwoman Amanda Olson answered it was discussed publicly at the board workshop on July 28.

“I had a parent reach out about the extra hours,” McCormick said. “They have to pick up their kiddos at 1 p.m., so those parents are going to ask for time off from work. That can dip into vacation time and hours that some people might not (even) have.”

Board member Martha Witham said that her “yes” vote came after she talked with teachers about how valuable last year’s professional development days were. She added that elementary-school teachers can now specifically use the extra time for the review and implementation of the new math curriculum that the district will roll out this year.

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