Boulder Valley School District

Wednesday late start days provide valuable professional learning time for BVSD schools

Teachers talking at professional development event
Erin Rain


It’s been three years since Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) implemented the Equal School Day. The move in 2021, created a consistent seven-hour school day, four days a week and a district-wide professional learning time (PLT) block of one hour for teachers through a late start on Wednesdays.

For teachers and staff, the late start hour doesn’t allow for an extra hour to sleep in or provide more time for general staff meetings to take place. Instead, it gives teachers and staff needed time to come together in focused planning around the needs of the students. It can include reviewing needs for interventions, equity conversations, enrichment opportunities and more, while still ensuring BVSD meets the state-required seat time for students.

The change was spurred by the implementation of BVSD’s All Together for All Students Strategic Plan in 2019. The dedicated late start time allows the district and schools to provide intentional professional learning around the plan’s objectives and initiatives.

“We needed consistency and frequency in our professional learning to really see changes in outcomes at the classroom level,” said BVSD Director of Professional Learning Katie Mills. 

“This was something before the change that was both requested by educators and identified as a need by district leadership,” said Mills. “Now that we’re three years into this schedule, we’re seeing our schools are now dependent on that time to achieve the results we are asking them to meet.”

There are four different categories of professional learning time that rotate throughout every month:

  • School-Directed
    Developed through a shared decision making process, this time is allocated for schools to dedicate time towards school-identified professional learning needs.
  • District-Directed
    With the support of District teams, schools work to implement professional learning around district initiatives.
  • Department/Team-Directed
    This time is for educators to focus on their role or grade-specific learning through collaboration with colleagues.
  • Principal-Directed
    Principals allocate this time as needed to provide professional learning that advances school and district initiatives.

This ensures that teachers receive a blend of training around district initiatives, as well as school and teacher-led time.

Some examples of ways schools use their PLT time include dedicated planning and improvement of instructional practices and conversations by school level about student growth. District-Directed PLT time can include bringing in an expert to speak with BVSD educators on a topic, implementing new curriculum, strategic plan goal-setting and more. 

Before Late Start Wednesday PLT
Before, BVSD educators only had some non-contact working days for dedicated professional learning and development, which only came every few months. 

“Before the dedicated weekly PLT time, in order for teachers to attend these opportunities they would occasionally have to miss school time and use a substitute teacher,” said Mills. “Now we can coordinate those opportunities to be during the PLT time so every educator has the opportunity to join, at least virtually if not in-person.”

The ‘gift of an hour’ for educators
PLT time can be especially valuable for teachers that are a specialized educator in their school, like a teacher librarian, drama teacher, physical education teacher, or a science teacher. Occasionally on these Wednesday mornings, they are able to connect with other teachers in their field in the district to exchange ideas, share challenges and discuss their specialized curriculum.

Douglass Elementary Principal Jonathan Wolfer shared, “It can be really hard to be one of the specials teachers in a school, so it’s great they can connect with others during that PL time.”

“The first year of Wednesday late start days we were able to meet virtually with another school who was working on the same project as us,” said Wolfer. “It’s great to be able to connect across the district and share ideas.”

Douglass Elementary uses their PLT time to review any school-wide trends and strategize how to meet needs to support students and families. It includes a combination of all-staff efforts, and breaking into teams by preschool or by grade level to allow the staff to tackle some of the challenges in the classrooms.

“Last year one of our focus areas was how our students were doing in comprehension of informational tests,” said Wolfer. “We dug into our Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) data, and our regular reading assessments, and saw a thread that we needed support in that area.”

Douglass staff focused their attention on the topic, and used their Wednesday time on what materials were needed, what instructional needs had to be met, and what the academic standards required.

“As a result, we saw great growth in that area last year,” said Wolfer. “This year we’re focused on some of our more complicated texts, to ensure students would be able to compare and contrast them and be prepared to answer those questions on CMAS more effectively. It’s been great for me as a principal to walk around the school and see our teachers using those materials and see how our students can answer some of the tough questions.”

 “In my 15 years as principal at Douglass, I know how important time is for teachers. Wednesdays allow our teachers to catch their breath in the middle of the week and collaborate with each other, talk about student needs, student assessment data, and work with me to develop some plans for students that they need to focus on,” said Wolfer. “I call it the gift of an hour each week; it gives our educators precious time needed to do their jobs even better.”

Carlyn Carroll is an Assistant Principal at Centaurus High School, where they have worked diligently to maximize their PLT among staff in a large comprehensive school.

“It’s important that our teachers give us feedback on what they need time to focus on and learn more about, so we surveyed our Centaurus staff to see what they identified as the greatest needs of our teachers and our school,” said Carroll.

Centaurus staff asked to focus that time mostly on DDI, so that the work didn’t feel as disjointed. In response, they ambitiously implemented it into every department in the school. Originally, professional learning time at Centaurus served multiple purposes like whole-school book studies and later individual book groups, with limited Data Driven Instruction (DDI) time.

DDI isn't about increasing formal assessments and standardized tests; rather, it involves teachers regularly observing what students are learning in class and where they may need adjustments in instruction and collaborative planning.

This may include identifying whole-school or class-specific needs with data and recommendations. Focuses can include behavior gaps, equitable grading assessments and practices, language and literature (implementing cross-content language and literacy strategies), and numeracy (which is working to align math and science instruction), as well as teacher well-being.

“It’s been phenomenal; our principal and assistant principals visit our departments during our DDI time and we get to watch them collaborate,” said Carroll. “For example in the chemistry department they may go over an exam they gave and talk about why kids missed a question, how did they teach it differently, what is the depth of knowledge, what will they revise moving forward, etcetera, and can share approaches, maximize learning.”

These collaborative planning times are part of how the Centaurus staff optimize student success and generate ideas, especially as a fluid part of their larger team planning structure.

“It also allows us as a school to really see our teacher’s expand on their individual craft,” said Carroll. “When their curriculum is co-planned and we observe them  teaching the same thing with the same exact tools, skills and strategies, we see our teachers' true artistic strengths. They are then able to share best practices that improve access school-wide as they look at their data, nevermind the high caliber planning that happened before to create the multiple points of access for students.”

Increasing the collective capacity of our teachers, districtwide
BVSD's strategic plan is ambitious, but district leaders believe that providing our educators dedicated time to learn and collaborate will reap dividends.

“There's a lot of research out there saying that the number one most important factor that impacts student growth and achievement is building the collective capacity of teachers, (which means ensuring they understand the curriculum, instruction, and assessments they’re using),” shared Lora de la Cruz, BVSD Deputy Superintendent. 

“Having time for teachers to come together for collective learning and to build their capacity as practitioners is so impactful to student learning and growth,” said de la Cruz. 

“We know that this investment of time is propelling our teachers forward and propelling our students forward. We’re constantly checking in with ourselves and keeping in-tune with what our schools are doing so that we’re using that time in the way we committed to our community.”


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