FCPS describes the full-day Monday plan

Here is the press release from Fairfax County Public Schools about the vote last night:

Fairfax County School Board Approves Full-Day Mondays for Elementary Schools Starting in September 2014

The Fairfax County School Board approved a master calendar change that will provide a uniform length elementary school day and eliminate the shortened Monday schedule beginning in September 2014.  This change will increase instructional time for students and will allow for 20 minutes of daily recess.  In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.
 
“After surveying both parents and teachers, we saw that parents overwhelmingly supported this change—and as soon as possible,” said Ilryong Moon, School Board Chairman. “In addition, elementary teachers have consistently cited in our working conditions survey that they need guaranteed, self-directed time for planning.”
 
The change also solves the challenge of meeting the annual 990 instructional hour requirement in state law, which Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) does not meet under the current shortened Monday schedule. Instead, FCPS has met the state requirement of a 180-day calendar, which resulted in sometimes having to add days to the end of the school year to make up missed days due to inclement weather. The new uniform elementary schedule will eliminate making up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.
 
A uniform length elementary day also provides an opportunity for an innovative school year calendar that builds in consistent holidays, such as a full two weeks for winter break, and strategic planning days throughout the year.  In addition, one master calendar will be followed for all elementary, middle, and high schools.
 
The change will add staff to elementary schools such as World Language teachers and other instructional specialists to provide planning time for teachers. There will be no changes in music, art, or physical education, nor changes to Regulation 4422, which limits the number of hours that librarians, and other school-based professionals, can be dedicated to providing for planning time coverage.
 
Superintendent Karen Garza and her staff will convene focus groups of elementary principals, teachers, school staff, and other key stakeholders in July to work out the details of the implementation. Then, each school will communicate their individual schedule changes to parents before school begins on September 2.
 

Details on the new 2014-15 calendar can be found here:  http://www.fcps.edu/about/14-15cal.shtml

Key points for full-day Mondays listed

The agenda for the decision on the Elementary Master Schedule has been posted for the Fairfax County School Board meeting this Thursday. Here is the proposal:

Key Points:

  • A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for 20 minutes of daily recess for children.
  • FCPS currently does not meet the 990 hour requirement in state law due to our current early Monday, thus we had to make-up three instructional days beyond the advertised last day of school so that we met the 180 day requirement. Having a uniform elementary school day – Monday through Friday – will prevent us from having to make-up days if we have less than 13 inclement weather days.
  • A uniform elementary day also provides us with the opportunity to utilize an innovative school year calendar that builds in consistent holidays, such as a full two weeks at the Winter Break, and it provides for strategic planning days throughout the year.
  • Our bi-annual working conditions survey has consistently revealed that our elementary teachers need more guaranteed, self-directed time for planning. This new uniform elementary day would only be implemented with new regulations/rules that provided all elementary teachers with at least 60 minutes of self-directed time four times per week and at least 60 minutes one time per week for collaborative team planning equating to a total minimum planning time per week of 300 minutes.
  • A uniform elementary day is responsive to our parents. Our FCPS parents have consistently asked for the elimination of the early Mondays due to the inconvenience this causes for many of our working families.
  • This proposed change in our current elementary schedules on Mondays and to provide elementary teachers with dedicated planning time is estimated to cost a maximum of $7.6 million. This is difficult in these tight economic times, but we believe that this is an important investment in our students and our teachers. As such, a growing number of County Supervisors have expressed that they will provide us financial support for this important change. They have some monies available that were not budgeted due to unanticipated revenues from law enforcement activities.
  • In addition, there are no changes anticipated in Music, Art of Physical Education, nor would there be changes to Regulation 4422, which limits the number of hours that librarians, and other school-based professionals, can be dedicated to providing for planning time coverage.
  • The All County Choral Festival will continue next year and is tentatively scheduled for April 24-25, 2015. The general music teacher association and the fine arts office are discussing options should early-close Mondays be eliminated. Typically, one site rehearsal is scheduled in each of the three months prior to the concert. One option being considered is to schedule the site rehearsals on the afternoons of the February and April strategic planning days, plus one afterschool site rehearsal in March. Once the 2014-2015 school calendar is finalized, adjustments to the rehearsal schedule will be made in order to coordinate with the approved calendar.
  • There are currently nine schools on the waiting list for FLES. We will work with the schools to see if a fall implementation would be possible.

Implementation Plan:

  • In July, we will convene focus groups of teachers, including special education teachers, music and fine arts teachers, counselors, librarians and parents along with elementary principals to provide us input into the design of regulations and rules related to the changes in elementary schedules.
  • Create a cadre of elementary principal master schedule leaders by region to work with all other elementary principals over the summer on the design of master schedules for all elementary schools.
  • Once elementary principals have completed the design of their new schedule, we will ask that they convene a meeting of their parents prior to the start of school to inform parents of this new change in schedule and how it will benefit their children.

Recommendation:
That the School Board approve the Master Calendar Revision for the 2014-2015 school year, as detailed in the agenda item.

Attachments:

Proposed Master Calendar SY2014-2015.pdf (73 KB)

Recommendations to FCPS Master Schedule and Annual School Calendar.pdf (964 KB)

Master Schedule Work Session 061614 – Final SB Presentation.pdf (547 KB)

Congratulations to the staff members preparing the proposal for coming up with a good option for scheduling rehearsals for the All County Choral Festival.

Three cheers for Superintendent Karen Garza and everyone who worked so hard to bring this much-needed proposal to the school board!

Note (added June 25): The following paragraphs are now moot because the minor mistake in the first bullet point was corrected today on the BoardDocs website. I have also corrected that in the text above. Even though this is no longer in the agenda item, I am leaving the paragraphs below in this post since they explain the state regulation regarding recess.

One minor point I would like to mention. I think there is a mistake in the first bullet point, which states, “A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for the state required 20 minutes of daily recess for children.”

The state regulation does require each elementary school to provide students with a daily recess; however it does not specify a minimum amount of time for recess. The Virginia Administrative Codes states, “Each elementary school shall provide students with a daily recess during the regular school year as determined appropriate by the school.” (8VAC20-131-200(C))

Greenburg gives update on the full-day Monday proposal

Yesterday Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT), sent his members a report on the latest changes that have been made to the proposal for full-day Mondays. He explained that there have been adjustments to the number of minutes for both unencumbered and collaborative planning time. Also, staff meetings should be limited to an hour in length and not be held more than twice a month. In an earlier message he explained the history of the current proposal.

Here is the text of his most recent email: [Read more...]

Elementary teachers and parents to receive survey on full-day Mondays

My FCPS – Employees has posted the following information:

A survey to gauge the support for a proposal to change shortened Mondays to a full school day at all elementary schools will be sent to all elementary teachers and parents this week.

To better maximize instructional time and provide dedicated planning time for elementary teachers, the School Board is considering changing the current shortened Monday schedule to a full-day Monday at all elementary schools. Superintendent Karen K. Garza recognizes that considering making this change for this coming school year is ambitious, but is compelled to consider this possibility due to the benefits to teachers, students, and families.

As part of this proposed change, the school division will develop regulations outlining minimum time guidelines for teacher-directed planning (a minimum of 240 minutes per week) and collaborative team planning (a minimum of 60 minutes per week) within the instructional day. A lack of adequate planning time for elementary teachers has been a continuing prevalent theme in the FCPS working conditions survey results. Additionally, no changes will be made in music, art, or physical education regulations. The length of the teacher workday will remain the same.

The proposed change also adds enough instructional hours so the need to add makeup days to the end of the school year is eliminated, and provides more flexibility to address make up days within the calendar.

For more information, go to the FCPS Full-Day Mondays website at http://www.fcps.edu/news/fulldaymonday.shtml.

Starr drops support of later high school start times

The Washington Post reports that Superintendent Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has changed his mind about supporting later high school start times. One reason was cost, which would have been about $20 million.

One paragraph in the public announcement from Montgomery County Public Schools gives a rather high cost estimate for increasing the length of the elementary school day from 6 hours and 15 minutes to 6 hours and 45 minutes:

The cost of adding 30 minutes to the elementary school day would vary depending on how the time was used. For instance, extending recess or lunch would cost about $8 million a year, while increasing art, music, and/or physical education classes would cost about $47 million per year.

I wonder whether further analysis would discover that these costs, which seem very high, could actually be kept lower. [Read more...]

Questions about the full-day Monday proposal

This morning Louise Epstein, the chair of the Fairfax Education Coalition, sent me quite a few interesting questions about the proposed full-day Monday schedule. As of this date, the Recommendations to FCPS Master Schedule document posted for the next work session on June 16 is the same PowerPoint presented May 28. At that meeting, Sandy Evans (Mason District) and other school board members asked for more details.

I urge the Fairfax administrators to provide a more detailed narrative explanation of the proposals for providing full-day Mondays and more teacher planning time. This explanation should include answers to the questions listed below.

Here are the questions Louise Epstein asks regarding the proposed full-day Monday schedule that was posted:

 1.  Is FCPS planning to change its current regulation that requires elementary school principals to provide 45 minutes of band/strings every week?  If so, what will the new FCPS regulation require elementary school principals to provide for band/strings every week?  Can the current regulation be posted as an attachment to the board agenda?

2.  Does the sample schedule posted assume that students spend less than 45 minutes/week in band or strings?  Does that include the time that students spend walking from their classroom to and from the band/strings room?

3.  Can staff provide sample “specials” schedules (including fine art, general music, chorus, strings, band, PE and foreign language) for students in schools with and without foreign language instruction, for students who fit the following profiles?

a. Participate in strings/band and chorus.

b.  Participate in chorus and general music.

c.  Participate in general music only.

d.  Participate in strings/band and general music.

3.  Can staff provide sample schedules that would explicitly give elementary school students the option to take 60 (or 45) consecutive minutes of band/strings every week?  Could these sample schedules be posted online for discussion at the June 16 work session?

4.  What are the citations to the state laws, regulations and policies that would impose minimum requirements for language arts and does the state require two hours/day of language arts instruction?  If not, why does the sample schedule provide about two hours/day of language arts instruction?

5.  What are the federal or state laws, regulations or policies – if any – that require the inclusion of about 30 minutes/day for “intervention & enrichment” during elementary school?  What do elementary school students who are at or above grade level do during these “intervention & enrichment” periods?

6.  How does elementary school foreign language instruction potentially affect the number of minutes scheduled for band or strings in the sample schedules?

Coalition supports full-day Monday proposal

The Coalition of the Silence (COTS) sent out an online newsletter Friday endorsing Superintendent Karen Garza’s proposal for full day Mondays for elementary schools. The newsletter also explained why COTS stands firmly behind efforts to shift high school starts to a later, healthier time.

Here is the newsletter article regarding full day Mondays:

Restoring Full Day Mondays Will Benefit COTS Kids

“More Time in School” has been COTS’ mantra this entire school year. We are delighted to report that Dr. Garza has made a formal recommendation to restore full day Mondays for ALL elementary school students in FCPS. In so doing, she has also committed to providing elementary school teachers with unencumbered planning time throughout the school week. That’s important too since successful teachers need time outside the classroom to plan lessons, grade assignments, contact parents, etc. You can read the presentation on “full day Mondays” at the link below.

http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/9KJMS55C3B56/$file/Recommendations%20to%20FCPS%20Master%20Schedule%20and%20Annual%20School%20Calendar%20-%205-28-2014%20-%20Final%20SB%20Presentation.pdf

As with all change, this one comes with consequences. In this case, real and legitimate concerns have been raised about the impact on art and music programs.   While the programs are not being eliminated, it appears that the amount of time devoted to art and music may be reduced.   COTS understands the profound importance of art and music education. We believe art and music education is much more than “just” a creative outlet — although creativity in and of itself is certainly of great value. But creativity also makes kids great problem solvers. There is substantial evidence that strengthening the creative “right” side of the brain enhances students’ academic achievement in “left” brain work – like mathematical reasoning. Great “artists” throughout history were also inventors and engineers … our favorite is Leonardo DaVinci. Some of his greatest inventions were the result of his creativity.

If restoring full day Mondays meant cutting arts and music completely, COTS would be alarmed. However, we believe that an appropriate balance can be struck to preserve arts and music education while also restoring full day Mondays. But of primary importance for COTS is “time in school.” Loss of learning time on Mondays for our kids can never be replaced.

Because of the urgency that COTS’ places on “more time in school,” we cannot support calls for delay. COTS has been advocating for this change for over a year. While in an ideal world, we would support bona fide community engagement over the summer, we also know that doing so will push off restoring full day Mondays for another year. Our kids cannot wait that long! Sadly, we also know that “community engagement” as currently undertaken by FCPS rarely, if ever, represents the full diversity of FCPS. COTS families in our more socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, whose children will benefit the most from full day Mondays, rarely come to school board meetings or forums. They rarely complain. Many are happy with anything they can get for their kids and don’t know how much more there is.

This silence, especially when juxtaposed against highly organized and empowered voices, will leave the erroneous impression that “more time in school” does not matter to our community. It does!  In 2009, the last FCPS schools with full day Mondays lost that time in school.  These schools were disproportionately minority and poor.  Every school that lost full day Mondays saw a decline in SOL scores and student achievement the following year.   Make no mistake: cutting full day Mondays hurt COTS kids then.  And it continues to hurt them today. Our kids need full day Mondays back. And they need it back next year!   School Board members, we are calling on you to please, “listen to the Silence.” Support the Superintendent’s recommendation. More time in school is the right thing for all kids, especially COTS kids. And no amount of community engagement is going to change that.

About COTS

The Coalition of the Silence is a community-based organization that seeks to end the achievement and discipline gaps that persist between racial and ethnic subgroups in affluent public school districts – like Fairfax County Public Schools. Tina Hone, who is the founder of COTS, served on the Fairfax County School Board from 2007-2011.

 

Fairfax schools may scrap half day Mondays

Fairfax schools may scrap half day Mondays, according to this TV news report by Peggy Fox on WUSA9. “The new plan would guarantee teachers get more planning time and it would give all students full school days.”

Fox said that the plan would give elementary school teachers time to plan when kids are in special programs such as music or art. “School Board member Elizabeth Schultz has been pushing to get rid of early release for years and says that the new administration is not only open to the new idea, but is working out the details,” Fox reported.

The plan has to go before the school board before it is approved.  The school board will hold a work session to study this proposal on May 28.  

Correction: The original post included a phrase that is not factually correct. The original sentence said “Fox said that the plan would add 10 minutes to every school day and give elementary school teachers time to plan when kids are in special programs such as music or art.” The phrase “add 10 minutes to every school day and” has been deleted.

The Fairfax County School Board’s budget hearing

An excellent speech in support of Superintendent Karen K. Garza’s Advertised Budget was given Tuesday by Steven L. Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. At the school board’s public hearing at Luther Jackson Middle School, Greenburg said, “Our organization continues to stand with our incredibly competent superintendent.”

“You have secured the best superintendent in the country, started us back on track to receiving regular step increases, added teacher workdays, made auditing improvements, reformed discipline, and will soon fix elementary planning, later high school start times, and problems with our school calendar,” Greenburg said. “You will also soon do more to really help our minority students with better achievement, and to improve the school climate for your employees.”

Tina Hone, founder of the Coalition for the Silence (COTS), spoke in favor of full-day Mondays, among other priorities. COTS seeks to end the achievement and discipline gaps that persist between racial and ethnic subgroups in affluent public school districts like Fairfax County Public Schools. Hone said:

 You know what you need to do.

  • Expand PreK
  • Restore Full day Mondays
  • Create a summer intercession program—not just for remediation, but for enrichment
  • Stop absenteeism before it becomes truancy
  • Eliminate out of school suspension
  • Confront the drop out crises that especially impacts Latino boys

I spoke on behalf of the Full Schooldays group. I said we supported ending the Monday early dismissal policy in the elementary schools. We should:

  • Provide a uniform school day of six hours and 40 minutes each day for students.
  • Provide a minimum of 5 hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full-time teacher.

I noted that although Elementary School Master Schedule Committee would present its recommendations soon, the cost estimates are not available yet. I recommended that the school board budget for the possibility that extra money would be needed to improve the elementary school schedule. I suggested amending the budget to include $2 million to provide increased assistance for the teachers in the elementary schools.

Two speakers included support for the current Monday early dismissal policy in their remarks. Carla Okouchi, a music educator at Hybla Valley Elementary School, said, “Maintaining this ‘teacher directed’ time is essential in order for our elementary educators to keep up with our workload. Site Rehearsals for our Annual All-County Choral Festival take place during this time. Our music educators utilize and hone their choral directing techniques, collaborate with, and observed colleagues while working on concert material. Why must teachers be required to sacrifice more of their own time in order to participate in such a worthwhile professional experience?”

The husband of an elementary school music teacher also spoke in favor of keeping Monday early dismissals. I didn’t catch his name, but he said that the new assessment requirements are absurd and require an extraordinary amount of time to complete.

Packed school days take a bite out of lunch

Increasing demands for instruction time is causing some high school students to forgo lunchtime for class time.

As high school students around the nation deal with increasingly tight school schedules, some public school districts are allowing students to take classes through lunchtime with parents’ approval, according to US News and World Report’s High School Notes blog.

In Skokie, Ill., school officials say about 300 of 4,800 high school students take a class for credit during the 45-minute lunch period, giving them nine classes per day, the report says. Rather than sit with friends in the cafeteria, the students eat at their desks, usually through an honors or advanced placement course, foreign languages or fine arts.

Few would argue that students aren’t better off having a real lunch break. But the practice is understandable as pressure mounts on students to squeeze more academics into the traditional 6 ½-hour school day.

It’s easy to see how a lunch opt-out policy could take off in Fairfax County Public Schools, as students face increasing requirements without added instruction time, forcing them to take new requirements as electives. If the only way to take art or music is during lunch, many students will take it.

The attack on lunch isn’t reserved for high schoolers, though. Many Fairfax County elementary school students get only 20 minutes for lunch – and 20 minutes for recess — each day as principals grapple with how to meet required instructional time. At the elementary level, increasingly tight schedules are exacerbated by FCPS’s early-release Mondays in which students are dismissed 2 ½ hours early once/week.

A superintendent-appointed committee is studying early-release Mondays to see if teacher planning time can be preserved if the county returns to five full school days for elementary students. Let’s hope they are successful. Students at all ages could use a little more breathing room in their schedules.