Teachers report heavy workload

The Fairfax Times reports that a survey shows workload remains stressor for Fairfax County teachers.

“The shift to full-day Mondays for elementary schools received support from 56 percent of respondents, despite drawing initial criticism from teachers who felt left out of the decision-making,” Kate Yanchulis reports. “But with the new schedule, teachers lost 2.5 hours of planning time on Monday afternoons.”

The survey was conducted from October 31 through November 21 by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers– “91 percent of respondents said they have as much or more work as last year,” the Times reports.

Loudoun County schools will start before Labor Day

The Loudoun County School Board adopted its 2015-2016 school year calendar at its meeting on Tuesday. The school board was presented with four options for the 2015-2016 school year calendar at its October 28th meeting. It chose the option advertised as “Option A.” This includes a pre-Labor Day start and a two-week winter break.

I commend the Loudoun County School Board for considering four different calendars as options. This is a more helpful way of getting feedback from the community than the method of simply presenting one calendar and allowing a bit of time for comments before the vote.

This evening I heard a report on News 4 stating that some parents opposed the two-week winter break because it would be difficult to find child care.

The calendar is as follows:

2015-16 LCPS School Calendar

August 31: First Day of School

September 7: Holiday (Labor Day)

October 12: Holiday (Columbus Day)

October 30: End of the Grading Period

November 2-3: Student Holidays (Planning/Records/Conference Days)

November 25-27: Holiday (Thanksgiving)

December 21-January 1: Winter Break (Classes Resume January 4)

January 18: Holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

January 28: End of Grading Period

January 29: Moveable Student Holiday (Planning/Records/Conference Day)

February 15: Holiday (Presidents’ Day)

March 21-25: Holiday (Spring Break)

April 14: End of Grading Period

April 15: Student Holiday (Planning/Records/Conference Day)

May 30: Holiday (Memorial Day)

June 14: Last Day of School/End of Grading Period

Fairfax County adds 64 positions for full-day Mondays

In addition to questions about recess, I also asked other questions about the change in the elementary school schedules now that Fairfax County has full-day Mondays. Here are the questions, along with the answers from Brandynn Reaves, public information specialist:

Question:  Would it be correct to state that nine additional schools added FLES [Foreign Languages in Elementary Schools] this September, for a total of 55 schools with FLES?

Answer:  There are 55 schools in Fairfax County Public Schools that have the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program.  They are listed on the FCPS website at http://www.fcps.edu/is/worldlanguages/fles.shtml.

Question: How many schools added additional instruction by music, art or P.E. specialists?

Answer: Below is a breakdown of added staff position for music, art and physical education:

Subject

FTE [Full-time equivalent] total 2014_15

FTE total 2013_14

PE

478

424.16

Art

265.13

257.57

Music

271.33

272.57


Questions:
 Do you have figures on how many of the additional FTE positions in P.E. and art are added solely due to increased enrollment and how many are added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule? Do you have statistics on the types of additional staff positions that were added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule?

Answer: A total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays.  The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (pe) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers. 

There were 755.2 art/music/pe teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/pe teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments.

Question: Do you have statistics on how many schools have 60 minutes per week of P.E., How many have 90 minutes? Are there any schools which now offer more than 90 minutes per week?

Answer: Statistics for how many minutes each school has devoted to physical education and music classes is not centrally maintained.  With the implementation of the full-day Mondays, each elementary school had the flexibility to determine how to best utilize the additional instructional time for students. Elementary school master schedules were reviewed by the regional assistant superintendent’s offices only to ensure the appropriate amount of teacher planning time was provided.

This information, which was provided to me in emails sent October 24 and November 4, was also included in the recent article in the Fairfax VOTER.

Fairfax County does not specify a maximum amount of time for recess

When elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20-minute minimum time for recess was communicated to principals, according to Brandynn Reaves, FOIA officer/public information specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. “There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals.”

Reaves was responding to questions I emailed about whether there is a maximum amount of time allowed for recess and whether FCPS had given principals and teachers new written directives about recess.

In the email she sent me October 22, Reaves said, “We instituted a new regulation that addresses recess.  Currently, School Board Regulation 3218.3 Section III.A.3.h states:

“h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. The Code of Virginia Section 22.1-253.13:1 requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Plans for 150 minutes of physical fitness must include 60 minutes of physical education and a minimum of 15 minutes of daily recess as required by 8VAC20-131-200. Remaining time needed to meet the Virginia requirements may be provided by additional physical education or recess.

“However, when elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20 minute minimum was communicated to principals. This was discussed at the School Board meeting June 26, 2014 – Regular Meeting No. 22-  Master Calendar Revision 2014-2015:

The FCPS regulation is not precise when it says that the Code of Virginia requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Chapter 13.2 Standards of quality, includes the following provision

§ 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives….

D. Local school boards shall also implement the following:…

15. A program of physical fitness available to all students with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year. Such program may include any combination of (i) physical education classes, (ii) extracurricular athletics, or (iii) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of such program during the regular school year.”

Even though the state “goal” of 150 minutes of physical fitness is not a strict requirement, I don’t understand why the FCPS regulation only calls for 15 minutes of daily recess. That would amount to 75 minutes per week. For the schools which offer only 60 minutes of P.E., the total amount of physical fitness provided by P.E. and recess would be only 135 minutes.

In answer to my question about whether FCPS specifies a maximum amount of time for recess, Reaves explained,

“There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals; again, state requirements only mention ‘a daily recess’.  The Code of Virginia, 8 VAC 20-131-200 states:

“Extracurricular and other school activities, recess.

A. School sponsored extracurricular activities shall be under the direct supervision of the staff and shall contribute to the educational objectives of the school. Extracurricular activities must be organized to avoid interrupting the instructional program. Extracurricular activities shall not be permitted to interfere with the student’s required instructional activities. Extracurricular activities and eligibility requirements shall be established and approved by the superintendent and the school board.

B. Competitive sports of a varsity nature (scheduled league games) shall be prohibited as a part of the elementary school program.

C.  Each elementary school shall provide students with a daily recess during the regular school year as determined appropriate by the school.

I also asked, “If 20 minutes is not a maximum, but schools have discretion on this matter, does FCPS have statistics on the length of recess in the various elementary schools?

Reaves answered, “Data is not collected centrally on the length of recess at each FCPS elementary school. These decisions are left to the individual schools.”

I also asked for a copy of the previous regulation, 3218.2. Section III.A.3.h in the old regulation states:

h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. Section 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia recommends that students participate in 150 minutes of physical activity weekly provided by physical education, extra-curricular activities, or other programs and physical activities.”

It’s interesting that the previous regulation referred to the state recommendation regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week, but didn’t mention whether FCPS might ever attempt to meet this recommendation.

More benches are added to school playgrounds

An elementary school on Cape Cod is adding its third buddy bench to the playground for use during recess. “A buddy bench is a place where students who do not have anyone to play with can sit as a signal to peers that they are looking for a friend,” the Falmouth News reports.

North Falmouth principal Karen P. Karson brought the first buddy bench to Falmouth in January of this year. “I read about it online, and thought ‘What a great concept,’ ” Ms. Karson said. In the spring of 2013, according to the website buddybench.org, a 1st grade student in Pennsylvania, whose parents were considering a move to Germany, looked at a German school with a buddy bench and told his principal back in Pennsylvania about it. The boy’s family ended up not moving, but his principal did decide to install a buddy bench.

The benches are used several times a week. Fourth-grade teacher Steven M. Cross said he “has never seen a student sitting on the buddy bench teased or stigmatized for it.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a message about Thanksgiving that was sent yesterday by Alexander B. Case, the principal of West Potomac High School:

Dear Wolverine Community—

As we prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday, the West Potomac High School faculty, staff, and administration wanted to take a moment to wish all of you an enjoyable break with family and friends. Safe travels to those of you who are leaving the area over the break. We hope the roads, railways, waterways, and jet streams are free of snow, rain, and congestion, allowing you to reach your ultimate destination in record time!

I also wanted to take a moment to share that we have made a concerted effort at West Potomac to ensure our students are able to enjoy the break with their families without having to worry about excessive school work. We define a “worry free” break as not assigning homework over and above what would be normally given between classes. By moving deadlines for major projects, readings, and tests we hope you enjoy a maximum around of rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. We certainly agree it is important that students (and staff) are able to truly be with their family and friends during the holidays.

Thank you for making West Potomac High School the world’s greatest community and we can’t wait to see students bright and early on Monday, December 1st.

Via WestPotomacHS.KeepInTouch@fcps.edu

FCPS students to be featured in Sleepless in America

Students from Langley High School and Oakton High School, Superintendent Karen K. Garza, and Fairfax County School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) will be featured in Sleepless in America, a television show on sleep deprivation produced by the National Geographic Channel, premiering Sunday, November 30, at 8 p.m.

The show explores the health consequences of sleeping too little.  Sleep researchers from the University of Chicago and Oregon Health and Science University are interviewed for the show, as is the director of the National Institutes for Health.

In an effort to increase the likelihood that Fairfax students could get more sleep, the Fairfax County School Board voted in October to have later start times for high schools and secondary schools for the 2015-16 school year.

Fairfax VOTER describes schedule and staffing changes in FCPS

The December Fairfax VOTER features an article about the changing schedules in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This newsletter for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area includes a description of the switch to full-day Mondays for the elementary schools.

On June 26, the Fairfax County School Board voted to stop dismissing elementary school students 2.5 hours early every Monday. This has increased instructional time for students and allowed for 20 minutes of daily recess. In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.

As of November 2014, a total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays. Brandynn Reaves, a public information specialist with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, provided me and the other authors of this article with the following information:

The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (PE) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers.

There were 755.2 art/music/PE teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/PE teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments

The Voter article also describes the calendar changes this year and the school board’s decision to provide later start times for high schools and secondary schools next fall.

Schultz continues to push for a school holiday on Veterans Day

An advocate of establishing Veterans Day as a school holiday recently asked the members of the Fairfax County School Board to explain why they feel that observing Veterans Day is not important.

“Of all the days students have off throughout the school year, why was it decided that honoring the veterans of this county and country was not necessary?,” she also asked. “I have tried to teach my children to appreciate the sacrifices the veterans of this country have made and continue to make for everyone.  Then Fairfax County totally nullify my efforts by keeping schools open, when they close for so many other days and reasons.  Thank you for letting me know the thinking behind this decision.”

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) replied:

I appreciate your advocacy regarding Veterans Day observance in Fairfax County Public Schools and the time in seeking support on this issue. The fact that Veterans Day remains the only Federal holiday FCPS students do not have off is, at best, inconsistent.

Since working to get recognition for our students who are military-bound (either to an academy or enlisting) during their Graduation ceremony, the Veterans Day holiday recognition has been an advocacy of mine. Having come from a military family myself, the need for deference to those who serve to defend and protect us is a core belief.

It is beyond unfortunate that there has been insufficient support by this Board to exchange a calendar day for Veterans Day despite on-going advocacy. One standing argument has been that ‘educational activities’ about Veterans Day can happen if the students are in school. In my opinion, the argument that Veterans Day activities are educational does not preclude such activities taking place leading up to Veterans Day – as all other date-oriented activities throughout the school year. Further, teacher work days, elections, etc. do not outright preclude incorporating Veterans Day as a school holiday; it merely requires planning.

This year, Board members again kicked the proverbial can down the road for another year. Until this calendar change is made, I will endeavour to convince my colleagues every year to vote for substituting another day for Veterans Day.

Schultz also reiterated her strong support of changing state law to allow all school systems to set their own start dates, including starting before Labor Day.

This year the school board is allowing more time to consider the next school year calendar. The Standard School Year Calendar will be presented as new business February 19, 2015, with a vote on March 5. This seems like a good opportunity for re-evaluating the various student holidays. Veterans Day should be a school holiday.

Montgomery County calendar won’t refer to religious holidays

Next year none of the school holidays in Montgomery County will refer to religious holidays. Yesterday the school board voted on the Calendar for 2015-16. All the holidays around Christmas time will be called Winter Break and all of the holidays around Easter will be called Spring Break. Fairfax County has followed this practice for many years.

In the current school year calendar Montgomery County lists December 24 and 25 as Holidays-Christmas. December 26, 29, 30, and 31 are called Winter Break. April 3 is listed as Good Friday and April 6 is listed as Easter Monday. The period between April 7-10 is called Spring Break.

Sine the 1970s, Montgomery County Public Schools have closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Washington Post reports. Next year those two Jewish holidays will be simply listed as days when there is “no school for students.”

The Post summarizes the decision:

Board members said Tuesday that the new calendar will reflect days the state requires the system to be closed and that it will close on other days that have shown a high level of student and staff absenteeism. Though those days happen to coincide with major Christian and Jewish holidays, board members made clear that the days off are not meant to observe those religious holidays, which they say is not legally permitted.

The Post reports that the decision “followed a request from Muslim community leaders to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.”

Several board members pledged to produce a clearer standard for the kind of operational impacts that might lead to further consideration of closing schools on a Muslim holiday in the future. The calendar change Tuesday affects only the next school year.