READFIELD — The Regional School Unit 38 school board is adding more time for teachers into the academic year calendar after hearing pleas from the district principals that their staff could burnout from pandemic-related stress.

The principals showed a brief presentation to the board Wednesday night and went over the current issues at the hand of the teachers and how they do not have enough time in the day to address student needs and plan lessons.

RSU 38 has experienced a number of COVID-19 cases in the first three months of school and most recently, Maranacook Community Middle School and Wayne Elementary School switched to remote learning on Wednesday as a result of the growing number of positive cases.

The principals argue because of the number of cases the district has experienced, students having to quarantine has only widened the learning gaps between students, leaving teachers to adhere to the wide range of needs students are experiencing with little to no time in the day to do so.

They are worried it will lead to the burnout of teachers and proposed to the board the addition of seven early release days to give teachers the time they need for prep and to track the progress of students, which the principals collectively said, is not there, currently.

“Teachers, staff and admin, everyone working in the schools, are maxed out,” said Dwayne Conway, principal of Maranacook Community High School. “We see every day they are pushed to their limits, trying to grapple with the pandemic and grapple with situations getting worse and worse and also deal with the needs that are more and more diverse from the effects of the pandemic.”

The principals asked for Feb. 4, March 4, March 11, March 25, April 8, May 6 and May 20 as early release days. They intentionally put the days on Fridays so pre-Kindergarten would not be impacted and started the cluster of days in March to give parents the time to plan.

Ultimately, the board unanimously voted to pass the motion for early release days.

Other districts in the Augusta area, like the Winthrop Public Schools, have added early release days into their calendar for the same reason, and teacher burnout has been a problem across the state of Maine within the past year.

Conway and Kristen Levesque, principal of Maranacook Community Middle School, and Janet Delmar, principal of Mt. Vernon Elementary School, collectively said they have seen at-risk students become even more at-risk and students who were tethering on being at-risk students have now become at-risk.

Conway said he is hopeful the proposed time will help restructure and reimagine the school system to provide opportunities and outcomes for all learners because, at this point in time, teachers are having a difficult time having to meet the needs of all of their students.

Some board members felt conflicted about the proposition and cited their concern over students losing more time in school as their main fear, but did recognize the need for teachers to have time to plan and catch up in order to do their job effectively.

Board member Dane Wing said he recognizes the importance of the time for the teachers because his wife is a special education teacher. He asked how adding more time would be beneficial for at-risk students who might need extra time in the classroom.

“The range of kids is greater than ever, and we need more effort than ever,” said Conway. He added that if a student is out for an extended period of time, a teacher has to focus on giving that student work while moving the other students ahead in class, then catching up the student in quarantine to the current lesson when they come back.

Board member Jade Parker said she is a nurse and knows from experience teachers need mental health time rather than more time to do more work.

“I’m a nurse, I’ve seen it. It doesn’t matter how much extra time; what matters is mental health,” said Parker. “Give me all the time in the world, but it’s not going to replace the burnout.”

The principals, Superintendent Jay Charette and some board members are worried about teacher burnout. Charette said it was a problem before the pandemic, but has only gotten worse. Charette has heard some teachers say, “They can’t do it anymore.” He said if they leave, there is no one to replace them.

“There is just not enough time in the day,” Charette said. “We are all living it 100%, but their morale is going down. … It’s getting tougher and tougher.”

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