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.

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

Teachers would gain unencumbered planning time with proposed schedule change

We are very fortunate that Steve Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) strongly supports the proposal for full-day Mondays and dedicated teacher planning time. He has sent two messages to members within the last week. Here is the first message: [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.

The New PE deemphasizes competition

The Washington Post reports on a major shift in physical education classes to encourage children to learn “what it means to be healthy and physically active for a lifetime.” This is often call the New PE.

Out are dodgeball and other sports that use kids as targets, contests that reward students who are the strongest, and exercise doled out (or withheld) as a form of punishment: Still talking? Four more laps!

In are personal fitness plans, target heart-rate zones, and sports that play to different strengths and introduce students to activities that they can pursue across a lifetime. “Physically literate” and “lifelong movers” are buzzwords of the New PE.

The Post notes that a Fairfax County program gives students pedometers to track their exercise, but fails to note that currently elementary school students only have enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. It’s true that the students are usually allowed more time for recess, but the current official policy is hardly an enlightened one. A more reasonable amount of recess will be included in the official master schedule if the Fairfax County School Board votes this month the eliminate Monday early dismissals next year.

Most Fairfax County elementary schools provide 60 minutes of PE per week, a few provide 90 minutes per week.

The Post reports:

Just six states require elementary schools to provide at least 150 minutes of physical education a week, as recommended by the physical educators’ association. Just two states require middle or high schools to offer the recommended 225 minutes weekly, according to a state survey by researchers at the Bridging the Gap Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The 2010 Healthy Schools Act in the District requires elementary and middle schools to meet these standards by next school year. Virginia and Maryland laws have no time limits.

Note: This post was updated Sunday evening with more information about the recess policy in Fairfax.

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?

Fairfax does not stipulate how long recess should be

On February 27 I requested a copy of any written policy on the subject of recess in the elementary schools in Fairfax County Public Schools and any instructions to elementary school principals regarding recess. On March 14, I received a reply from Brandynn Reaves, Public Information Specialist, Department of Communications & Community Outreach.

It is significant that there is currently no written directive about the length of time that should be allowed for recess. However, we need to keep in mind that the number of hours in the current elementary school week only allows enough time for a maximum of 10 minutes per day of recess while still meeting the state requirements for the length of time in the standard school day.

Here is the information on the FCPS policy regarding recess:

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Accreditation require a daily recess but the length of that recess or its location is not stipulated.  The Code of Virginia §22.1-207 states that physical and health education shall be emphasized throughout the public school curriculum by lessons, drills and physical exercises, and all pupils in the public elementary, middle, and high schools shall receive as part of the educational program such health instruction and physical training as shall be prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the State Board of Health.  Here is a link to the code:  http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+22.1-207.

Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) Regulation 5008.2 addresses recess in elementary schools.  It states that “Elementary schools provide daily recess that promotes physical activity beyond physical education classes.”  For your convenience here is a link to the regulation: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/8JYHAH478D58/$file/R5008.pdf.

Additional information about Fairfax County Public School’s Health and Physical Education program can be found at: http://www.fcps.edu/is/hpe/index.shtml.

The Office of Safety and Security (OSS) encourages teachers and administrators at elementary schools to create a safe and fun environment for recess.  When the weather is inclement or when there are extremes in temperature, FCPS will often issue warnings to administrators regarding air quality or student safety.  Here is a link to the OSS’ Cold Weather Safety Sheet: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/safety-security/publications/seh-23.pdf.  FCPS’ OSS also publishes a Safety Rules for Outdoor Recess Fact Sheet (SAF-2) and the Playground Supervision Guidelines for Staff and Volunteers Fact Sheet (SAF-33) which can be found on the OSS General School Safety Fact Sheet website.

School administrators are also reminded that the school grounds (to include the playgrounds) should be inspected daily by custodial staff to determine whether any vandalism or significant safety issues have occurred overnight. On playgrounds, school staff should be noting playground equipment or ground cover in need of repair or replenishment.

Student physical activity bill passes Virginia Senate

Today the Virginia Senate passed a rather modest bill (SB155) that would require schools to provide a program of physical activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year. There is additional language referring to grades six through 12, but I’m not clear what it means.

Here is how the bill would amend the current law:

A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia, relating to public schools; physical activity requirement.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 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 activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year and available to all students in grades six through 12 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) recess, or (iv) 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 implement such program during the regular school year.

I do not understand what the bill means in saying “available to all students in grades six through 12.” I do know that the last portion of this sentence doesn’t actually require anything. Fairfax County and other school districts know that “goal” is a legislative code word for “not required.”

The language regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week as a goal has been in the Code of Virginia for several years and Fairfax and other school districts pay no attention to “goals” that are not actually requirements. (Actually, Fairfax even ignores some requirements–I have often mentioned that most Fairfax elementary schools don’t meet the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation.)

The provisions of this act would become effective beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. Virginia already requires daily recess. Recess alone could satisfy the requirements of the bill, and it is not terribly ambitious to state that recess or other physical activities should last at least 20 minutes per day. According to PilotOnline.com, “Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, asked Miller whether he would consider putting an emergency clause on the bill, an amendment to make it effective much sooner. Miller said he wouldn’t.”

Saslaw represents my district and I agree with him that the implementation would be delayed too long.

Recess and physical education are making a comeback

Recess and physical education are making a comeback, according to the PBS News Hour.

Making time for regular physical activity in school is precisely what a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine is advocating. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School indicates students may benefit academically and become healthier in general.

“It does impact the brain,” said Jayne Greenberg, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and a member of the committee that produced the report. “It does impact speed of cognitive processing, attention, memory and hence enabling the student to become more physically active is correlated to better academic performance.”