The 1991 proposal for full-day Mondays would have cost only $3.6 million

There are many different ways of providing for planning time for elementary school teachers while also providing a full day in school for the students on Mondays. The most economical option was proposed in 1991 for a cost of $3.6 million for all schools. One of the costs included in this proposal was for 39 additional art teachers. Since that time, Fairfax went ahead and added more art teachers anyway. So it was really a bit misleading to include this cost as part of the cost of full-day Mondays. Having additional time for art instruction by specialists was a long-standing goal of the school board.

That is one reason why it is so frustrating to hear dire warnings about how eliminating Monday early dismissals could cost “tens of millions” of dollars, etc. The Fairfax County School Board should not avoid considering a better schedule for the elementary schools simply because there would be some additional cost. The cost issue can cut both ways. Historically, critics of switching to full-day Mondays have said that it would be too expensive; or, when a more modest plan is presented, they complain that it is not good enough for Fairfax County. That was some of the criticism leveled at the proposal made by former Superintendent Robert R. Spillane in 1991. At the time, some people criticized his proposal to increase the use of paraprofessionals. I think he was right in his approach and it is well worth revisiting the option of making greater use of paraprofessionals, such as instructional assistants.

At a January 3, 1991, meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, Spillane presented the proposed FY 1992 budget.  At the conclusion of his proposal for a restructured elementary week, he said that he was “confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.”

Here is an excerpt from the proposed FY 1992 budget:

RESTRUCTURED ELEMENTARY WEEK

This revised proposal for restructuring the elementary school week has the important educational advantages of the earlier plan:

  • It creates a 6 ½-hour uniform student day in grades 1-6 and a uniform 3 hour day in kindergarten
  • It provides all students with additional instructional time in the core curriculum.
  • It provides larger blocks of teacher planning time during the student day and introduces planning time for kindergarten teachers.
  • It fully implements the School Board priority to provide one hour per week of art instruction by art specialists.

The revised plan improves upon the earlier plan, however, in several ways:

  • It provides an additional 156 positions to support the instructional program—39 art teachers and 117 Instructional Assistant II positions. This more flexible staffing eliminates concerns raised about space for additional physical education classes or about differences in the way schools schedule physical education and music.
  • It allows local-school scheduling flexibility, so long as the principal adheres to these guidelines:
    • all additional time is in the core curriculum
    • fragmentation is not increased for students
    • teachers have 270 minutes of planning time per week within the school day
    • It expands use of Instructional Assistant II positions to support the delivery of instruction which is planned and evaluated by the classroom teacher.
    • At $3.6 million, the plan reduces the cost of the previous proposal by nearly 40 percent.

Besides being more flexible and less costly, this revised proposal would begin to make greater use of paraprofessionals, as many national education reports have recommended. The Personnel Department is reviewing job descriptions and performance standards for Instructional Assistants, and I think we have an exciting opportunity to rethink some of the ways we organize the instructional day and integrate technology into the curriculum.

Our teacher professionalism efforts of the 80’s have broken down much of the isolation of teaching, encouraged more professional interaction, and led to more diversified roles and responsibilities for teachers—as math or science lead teachers, observation and intervention team members, Career Level II, or colleague teachers. Now, greater use of paraprofessionals will increase that flexibility and openness, enabling teachers to delegate certain responsibilities and to plan on having instructional support. This is a slight shift in our traditional view of instructional assistants in Fairfax County but, given all that we have heard about them and from them in the past year, I believe it is a timely change.

Obviously, there are many more details to this plan than I can include in my comments tonight, but I will be meeting with elementary principals tomorrow to discuss more details, as well as sample schedules that we have developed. I am confident that we have resolved both the instructional and financial objections that were raised to the prior plan. And I am equally confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.

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