The Howard County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday evening to modify the 2021-22 academic calendar to create six three-hour early dismissal days during the remainder of the school year.
The days — which will occur Dec. 15, Jan. 19, Feb. 16, March 16, April 27 and May 18 — will give staff additional hours to complete tasks that are a part of their professional responsibilities, including grading, planning, preparing instructional materials and tending to their personal well-being, according to Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano.
“It is critical that we do everything possible to help to alleviate the pressure on our staff and support their well-being,” Martirano said. “This is doubly important in the face of the staffing challenges that we are experiencing.”
The school system has already implemented several strategies to support staff in managing their workload amid the coronavirus pandemic, including designating five nonstudent days during the school year as days when school-based staff can telework, allowing school administrators to hold virtual meetings whenever possible, and expanding central office staff to cover unfilled positions in cafeterias and health rooms and as special education paraeducators and student assistants.
The school system is also offering extra pay to staff who are willing to begin work early or stay late to supervise students who arrive early or remain late after school due to double bus routes, as well as to paraeducators who substitute for teachers during one- or two-hour blocks of time or agree to substitute during one of their planning periods.
“These measures have been helpful, but we need to go further in easing the burden on staff, many of whom are straining nearly to the breaking point,” Martirano said.
The school system is working to implement several additional measures, including providing year-round staff with two additional days off over winter break to give them time for additional rest at the end of the year.
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“We will continue to strategize ways to support staff as we navigate the challenges that we expect will continue to confront our system through this school year and beyond,” Martirano said.