KCPS board approves early release for students on Wednesdays, starting next school year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Public School Board voted 5-4 on Wednesday to approve early release for students, effective in the 2018-19 school year.

KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell said students will be released 90 minutes early each Wednesday of the school year so teachers can participate in professional development courses. He said the courses will help ensure teachers are providing students with the level of learning parents expect and to help the school in its effort to become fully accredited.

"This was probably one of the more difficult decisions that I've had to make as a superintendent, and I think it was evident with the board's vote, the 5 to 4 vote," Bedell said.

Bedell said the change was difficult but necessary in order for the district to develop at a rate similar to surrounding school districts, some of which he said have implemented a similar plan in their districts.

Bedell said the district's current schedule only allows teachers to get two days worth of professional development courses with additional training requiring the school to remove teachers from class and provide substitute teachers to fill their spots.

"A lot of people are doing this early release. I know it is being viewed as disruptive and I think we are going to do everything in our power to try to make this as smooth as a transition for our families as possible," Bedell said.

Bedell said parents will be responsible for providing after-school care for their children on Wednesdays, but the district will take time to work with parents to find alternatives for their students.

Mary Esselman, CEO of Operation Breakthrough, said she's anticipating an increase in the number of students her organization cares for after school.

"When school's out, we are in, so I know that we're going to have a lot more kids here on Wednesdays as school lets out a little bit early," she said. "I know it's a bit of challenge. We worry about it. When school is out we want to make sure kids have a safe place to go, and I know the city is going to have to rally to make sure that we balance the need of professional development with teachers, but we also are sensitive to the fact that if parents don't have quality care that they can't be at work."

It's a plan Bedell said the district will adjust if the burden becomes too much for parents and students.

"I will own up to the fact that if it's not working, it's not something we will continue to do year after year. All I'm trying to do is let us do something different because what we've been doing right now is not moving the district at the pace it needs to move," he said.