Fewer students use hall lockers in high schools

According to the Washington Post, high school students don’t use lockers as much as they did in years past: Schools and lockers: No longer the right combination.

Some renovated or new schools have few if any lockers. Joe Heim reports that most of the individual lockers at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County were removed during a renovation last year. I remember using the lockers when I attended Jefferson.

As part of its renovation, Thomas Jefferson installed shared cubbies in convenient locations throughout the school where students can temporarily store their gear. For a generation raised on bike-sharing and Uber, the fluid ownership model makes sense.

Heim also reports that DeBourgh Manufacturing, producer of “All American Lockers,” is introducing new products, “including smart lockers that are shareable, open with the swipe of an ID and are wired to charge electronic devices.”

So far 684 people have commented on this Post article, which was posted January 24. The Post moderators helpfully selected 12 featured comments. One writer using the name “apgbound” remembered a guy who had an adjacent locker to him all four years of high school and “for a few minutes every morning, and here and there throughout the day, we crossed paths at our lockers.” They reconnected at their 35th reunion and were so happy to see each other.

Another writer mentioned that block scheduling means students have only four classes per day, so backpacks are lighter.

Remembering fresh baked bread in the school cafeteria

“Penny McConnell remembers making pounds upon pounds of pizza dough as a food services manager at West Springfield High School in the 1970s,” The Fairfax Times reports. “McConnell and the cafeteria staff would have to start making the dough two weeks in advance so they could bake enough pies to feed the hungry horde of high schoolers.”

I am pretty sure I remember being served fresh-baked bread at the Thomas Jefferson High School cafeteria in 1967-69. Who knows whether the future may see a return to some of these fresh baked menu items?

McConnell is retiring as the Fairfax County food and nutrition services director June 30. She will receive the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ highest award, the Marjorie Hulsizer Copher Award, in October.

See also How menus are changing in Fairfax school cafeterias

Update on the Fairfax Master Calendar

Revisions to the proposed master calendar for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) were presented as new business to the Fairfax County School Board at its business meeting on Thursday, July 10. The Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar at its July 24 meeting.

The most recent revision to the Master Calendar was approved by the school board on June 26; however, due to testing conflicts, two minor adjustments are being proposed:

    • Strategic Planning Day on 10/14/14 was moved to 9/29/14
    • Strategic Planning Day on 5/4/15 was moved to 3/16/15

Here is the FCPS summary of the Revisions to the Approved 2014-15 Standard Year Calendar:

The proposed revisions include:

  • Adding four strategic planning days for teachers on September 29, February 2, March 16, and April 6. The strategic planning days will be student holidays.

  • Student holidays will be scheduled on staff development days, teacher work days, and strategic planning days.

  • The strategic planning day on Monday, April 6 follows spring break, providing a student holiday immediately following the break.

  • Students will be released two hours early on the last day of the quarter and the day before Thanksgiving break and winter break. Students will be released two hours early on the last day of school instead of attending school for two hours and then being dismissed. On early release days, teachers will use the time for teacher directed time, plus job-embedded collaborative time.

In total, the revised 2014-15 school year calendar includes seven teacher workdays to offer teachers time for staff meetings and professional development, as well as three teacher staff development days, four strategic planning days, and six days with a two-hour early release for teacher directed time.

The press release states that “The length of the school year remains the same, but the number of days for students has been reduced from 183 days to 180 days.”

I am not sure what is meant by the phrase “the length of the school year remains the same.”

However, I will put this question aside for the time being and simply note the ending sentences in the press release:

By eliminating the shortened Monday schedule for elementary schools, FCPS was able to make changes to the calendar that comply with state accreditation for 990 hours of instruction. The change to 990 instructional hours also eliminates the need to make up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.

Fairfax considers alternative ways to provide sufficient time in school

Kate Yanchulis reports on  future options for snow days in Fairfax County. “This year, the school system has added two days to the end of the year to help make up for the large number of closings, pushing the last day of school from Friday, June 20, to Tuesday, June 24. Extending the length of the school day and building more cushioning into the calendar from the start were both offered as ideas to consider.”

This report avoids mentioning the gaping hole in the current Fairfax County schedule for the elementary schools. Dismissing all elementary school students either 2 ½ or 2 hours early every Monday is shortchanging the students from having the number of hours in schools supposedly guaranteed by the Standards of Accreditation.  Since September 2007, Fairfax County Public Schools has had a policy limiting recess to a maximum of 10 minutes per day. This is absurdly restrictive. The time for recess should be expanded. It is true that most, if not all, Fairfax schools do allow more than 10 minutes per day for recess. However, that means that the schools are not providing the number of instructional hours required in the Standards of Accreditation.

Extending the length of Mondays in the elementary schools is not merely an idea to consider–it is something that must be done. Period. The Fairfax County School Board must stop Monday early dismissals and provide more recess time.

Fairfax County School Board doesn’t want the state to tackle childhood obesity

Tomorrow the Fairfax County School Board will probably vote to say it supports “continued attention to the issue of childhood obesity in Virginia’s public schools,” while also protesting that local school divisions “should retain flexibility in how to address this problem through local wellness policies.”

In other words, Fairfax insists on its right to limit the time students have for recess to 10 minutes per day. This is not a serious policy. It is a joke. Let’s hope our state legislators ignore this self-serving flimflammery and set reasonable guidelines for the time provided for physical activity in our schools.  

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:


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.

Patricia Wright explains the regulations for teacher planning periods

Patricia I. Wright, superintendent of public instruction, recently clarified the regulations governing planning periods for middle and secondary teachers. Here is the memo:

Superintendent’s Memo #109-13

State seal, Commonwealth of Virginia

Department of Education

April 26, 2013

TO:  Division Superintendents

FROM:  Patricia I. Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction

SUBJECT:  Middle and Secondary Classroom Teachers’ Planning Period

The Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia, also known as the Standards of Accreditation (SOA), address the planning period for middle and secondary teachers in 8 VAC 20-131-240.  The regulations say that a teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 25 class periods per week.  The regulations further specify that each full-time middle and secondary classroom teacher shall be provided one planning period per day or the equivalent, unencumbered of any teaching or supervisory duties.

Questions have been raised about whether or not the instructional day includes lunch.  It does not.  8 VAC 20-131-5 of the SOA states that a “standard school day”is defined as a calendar day that averages at least 5½ instructional hours for students in grades 1 through 12, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three instructional hours for students in kindergarten. Another section in the SOA, 8 VAC 20-131-150, comports with this definition as follows:  “The standard school year shall be 180 instructional days.  The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5 ½ instructional hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.”

Questions have also been raised about how 5/6 of the instructional day is calculated.  The Guidance Document Governing Certain Provisions of the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia says that the amount of time allocated for the unencumbered planning period should be based on the length of an instructional day in minutes regardless of the scheduling configuration used by the school.  For example, if a school’s instructional day is 5½ hours (330 minutes), the standard load would be 275 minutes, and the planning period would be 55 minutes.  At one time, when most middle and high schools were on a six period schedule, the planning period was one class period a day.  Now that virtually all middle and high schools are on a seven period day or on a block schedule, there may be more or fewer class periods on any given day, and so the calculation is based on time, rather than on class periods.  The language, “one planning period per day or the equivalent,” allows for adjustments to accommodate seven or eight period days and block schedules.

Finally, in reviewing this regulation, it appears that there was an error made in 8 VAC 20-131-240.E when the SOA was revised in 2011.  Prior to 2011, the regulation read:  “E. The middle school classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 30 class periods per week. Beginning with the academic year 2008-2009 a middle school classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 25 class periods per week.”  The intent in 2011 was to delete the first sentence and the beginning of the second sentence, so the regulation would read:  “E. The middle school classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 30 class periods per week. Beginning with the academic year 2008-2009 A middle school classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 25 class periods per week.”  Instead, the first sentence was inadvertently not deleted.  The Board of Education plans to make revisions to the SOA this summer and fall, and this can be corrected at that time.  Until then, the second sentence should prevail.  It says: “A middle school classroom teacher’s standard load shall be based on teaching no more than 5/6 of the instructional day with no more than 150 student periods per day or 25 class periods per week.”

Katie Pyzyk reports that there will be no block scheduling in Arlington middle schools next year

ARLnow.com reports that although block scheduling in Arlington middle schools will not begin in 2013, individual schools have the option of exploring their own flexible block schedules. Yesterday I posted the recommendations presented to the school board Tuesday evening.  Katie Pyzky’s report in ARL.now gives a summary of the status of this controversial issue.

Although block scheduling will no longer begin in 2013, it’s not permanently off the table. The board is examining ways to make it work in the future. Of particular interest is finding alternative ways to increase the amount of time spent on core content areas. The length of schools days and start times will also come under review.

Arlington will consider expanding the school day

Last night Margaret Gilhooley, the interim assistant superintendent for instruction, was the staff contact for a PowerPoint presentation to the Arlington County School Board dealing with the recent discussions of switching middle schools to block scheduling.

Here are the recommendations included in the Middle School Update agenda item:

Moving forward…

  • Maintain existing middle school schedules
    • to permit and support school-based flexibility to meet student needs
    • to allow schools to develop their own flexible block schedules
  •   Provide targeted school-based professional learning
  •   Investigate expansion of the school day through:
  • Providing additional elective options
  • Exploring ways to increase time in core content areas
  • Supporting school-level decisions to develop flexible scheduling options within a school and/or team
  • Reviewing start times and length of school days

I am not sure about what procedures are being considered for schools to develop their own block schedules. I will be interested in learning more about this.

The PowerPoint, entitled Middle School Restructuring, School Board Update, June 2012, summarized the study so far:

We have listened..

  • Five community forums
  •  Superintendent meeting with teachers at each middle school
  •  School-based staff meetings
  •  Open Town Hall online forum
  • ACI Advisory Committees dialogue and input
  • Online surveys
  • Individual e-mails
  • Individual feedback forms (electronic and hard copies)

What we heard…

  • Interest in more time for instruction
  • Interest in maintaining cross-graded elective opportunities
  • Interest in allowing flexibility in meeting specific instructional needs for English Language Learners and students with disabilities
  • Need to ensure appropriate reading instruction in Grade 6
  • Interest in providing equitable world language opportunities for all students in Grade 6
  • Interest in increasing instructional time in mathematics

See also Arlington Public Schools consider switching to block schedules and Arlington continues discussions about block scheduling

Arlington continues discussions about block scheduling

Arlington debates stretching class time in middle schools – The Washington Post. This update on the block scheduling controversy in Arlington middle schools quotes Margaret Gilhooley, assistant superintendent of instruction as saying “block scheduling is not a done deal.”

Arlington Public Schools has posted a summary of the feedback received so far: Middle School Design Team / Overview. Among the concerns cited are the loss of cross-graded elective opportunities as well about maintaining the current level of PE and/or music in Grade 6.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has resource paper entitled “Teaching Physical Education in A Block  Schedule.” One negative effect of block scheduling listed is that it denies students access to the entire PE curriculum. This point was not explained, although the solution given was that PE teachers should coordinate with feeder schools “so curriculums can be sequential rather than repetitive. ”

Other negative effects cited are that students have long periods of time between classes, student absences result in greater content loss, transfer students are at an increased disadvantage, poor teachers have more problems, teacher absences are most costly, and special education students with a short attention span have difficulty with long class periods. The solution given for this last problem is that PE teachers need to use a variety of teaching styles and an assortment of tasks to engage these students.

Positive effects of block scheduling are listed in the areas of environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.