School NTI days in jeopardy

While students may rejoice at the thought of a completely free snow day, a controversial measure making its way through Kentucky’s legislature may bring an end to a program local school districts rely on in times of inclement weather.

The Kentucky Senate passed Senate Bill 73 with by a vote of 36-0 in support of eliminating the Non-Traditional Instruction program that districts use when weather prevents them from having a regular school day. The program enables educators to assign students work at home online or in advance, and qualifies the district to receive credit for classroom hours. The NTI days reduce the number of days a district might extend its school year into the summer months.

Republican State Senator David Givens (District 9) said there are disparities within the current system. “We have some districts that are doing it largely technology based, really succeeding in 2 1/2 to 3 hours a day educational experiences for these students. Sadly enough though, we have other districts that are mimeographing two or three pages, sending those copies home and counting that as an educational day for that district,” Givens said.

Knox County Public Schools and Barbourville Independent Schools are two of the about 75 of Kentucky’s 173 school districts participating in the NTI program.

According to Frank Shelton, Director of Communications and System Governance with KCPS, the current system has room for improvement. “I agree with the Commissioner and the sponsor of the Bill that there needs to be further improvements made to the non-traditional instructional days,” Shelton said. “We want to do everything that we can as a district to ensure that we follow our NTI plans and are using the days for the benefit of students.  Knox County aims to be a model for what consistent, rigorous, and meaningful NTI days look like, again, for the benefit of our students.”

Barbourville Independent Schools Superintendent Kay Dixon says the success of the NTI program relies on several factors. “In a city district,  the NTI days are not as important to us as it is to districts that run buses on rural routes in hazardous conditions and must miss a larger number of days. NTI is like most other initiatives, the success is determined by the planning , preparation, intentionality, and follow up your district develops.

I feel the intention behind the Non Traditional School days is a valuable one: to continue the academic growth of our students when our districts are unable to conduct school is a great goal and is important for the growth of our students. The problems seem to stem from the consistency from class to class, school to school, and district to district within the state. I do agree that the level of rigor and the depth of understanding is definitely not the same and I feel strongly that a piece of paper, a computer program,  or a textbook alone could never take the place of a good teacher working face to face with students.

“At Barbourville Independent, we require our teachers to prepare and or post work that will enhance the learning that has been taking place in the classroom, our teachers make a minimal number of contacts each NTI day and we review the student work at the end of the NTI period . In order to count the day as an official NTI day, we must have the work completed and returned from 95% of our students. We feel our work is beneficial and keeps the kids working toward academic improvement.”

Shelton described the strategy KCPS uses with NTI days. “One thing that Knox County has vowed not to do is to utilize NTI days consecutively.  There is no replacement for direct instruction and having students be a part of a learning community.  The purpose of NTI is to keep learning on the mind, whether it is reviewing past material or introducing skills and concepts that will be fully taught later in the school year.   For some of our students, particularly in reading and math, online lessons pick up right where they left off in class and they can continue building skills that were worked on the last day that they were in school.”

If the Kentucky House passes the bill and Governor Bevin signs it, ending the NTI program, Shelton says the district would like a shot at an alternative. “If the bill passes and if NTI comes to an end in three years, Knox County would like to be able to present to the Kentucky Board a successful model that works,” he said.