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.

FCFT explains benefits to teachers of improved schedules

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) says the proposed schedule reform the Fairfax County School Board will vote on Thursday answers the concerns of teachers regarding teacher time, planning, and workload. Here is the FCFT Update:

FCFT Members Heard: Address Teacher Time, Planning, and Work load


FCFT Members Voices Heard – ACTION TAKEN

The last year of ‘school until June 25th’?

The FCPS school board will vote on Thursday, June 26th to FINALLY TAKE ACTION to address teacher work load and planning time concerns.  

Dr. Garza has listened to us, taken our suggestions, and provided a plan for action.

FCPS School Board actions to address workload will include:

  • Protection by regulation of elementary teacher’s unencumbered planning time; 240 minutes per week
  • Protection by regulation of teacher collaboration time (60 minutes)
  • Additional planning and professional development days for ES, MS, and HS teachers with the more flexible Master Calendar options
  • Staff meeting expectations (before and after school) limited by regulation to 2X a month, with time banked in return
  • Shortened school year for ES, MS, and HS teachers with snow days ‘built in’.


FCFT has been listening to our members discuss TIME and PROTECTED TEACHER PLANNING concerns for ten years.


Thank you to our school board and Dr. Garza for finally ACTING vs TALKING.

Thank you for completing your 2013 FCFT Member Perspectives Survey; we will use the information to move forward with the local actions, above!



Fairfax County School Board approves FY 2015 budget

Early Friday morning the Fairfax County School Board adopted the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) FY 2015 Approved Budget of $2.5 billion, which includes a delayed salary step increase for all eligible employees and reductions of over $97 million and 720 positions.  The FY 2015 budget is an increase of $39.9 million, or 1.6 percent, over the FY 2014 Approved Budget.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, includes a step increase for all eligible employees that will become effective in November for teachers and instructional assistants.  Employees on the unified salary scale will have their step increases delayed four months from their anniversary date or until June 2015.

FCPS is projecting an increase of 2,160 students that, combined with changing student demographics, translates to an additional cost of $19.5 million.  The total projected enrollment for the school district in FY 2015 is 186,785.  Increases in retirement rate costs are estimated to be $38.9 million, and increases in health insurance rates are estimated to be $19.9 million.

Budget reductions were focused on protecting the classroom and include central support to schools, professional development, and school-based technology specialists. Reductions to school clerical and custodial staffing were adopted from the State School Efficiency Review, presented to the Board in September 2013. Class size was also increased and needs-based staffing was reduced.  FCPS has, in recent years, taken a number of  steps to address budget challenges, including reducing costs and eliminating more than 1,450 positions.

With the FY 2015 budget, more than 2,100 positions have been eliminated since FY 2009.  Test fees for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) will continue to be paid for by FCPS.  The budget also includes one additional position for each FCPS comprehensive high school to provide in-school suspension support to students.

The Board passed two amendments to the original budget motion:

·       Reducing the debt service requirement for Gatehouse Administration Center by $0.3 million, based on projected savings from refunding current bonds to add two additional preschool classes at a cost of $0.2 million and increase the funding for the Early Literacy Program and HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) by $0.1 million.
·       Reducing the funding for out of school support as a result of the savings projected from the addition of in-school suspension support at high schools by $0.2 million and eliminating the in-school suspension support position at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology by 0.5 to increase the staffing reserve by 3.0 positions, with the priority being the neediest schools and schools with chronically large class sizes most impacted by staffing formula changes.

The Board was committed to giving a salary increase to employees this year, as we realize the importance of fairly compensating our school-based and support staff members and of staying competitive in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area,” explained School Board Chair Ilryong Moon.

Additionally, we were faced with the challenge of dealing with the ongoing structural deficit,” he continued.  “We appreciate the Board of Supervisors’ efforts to increase the transfer this year although we remain disappointed that the board did not fully fund our transfer request.  We are committed to continuing the cooperative, collaborative process that was established during this budget cycle in future years.”

The county transfer increased by 3 percent as compared to the FY 2014 Approved Budget.  State aid to the school district is estimated to increase; however, Virginia General Assembly has not yet passed a budget for FY 2015. The school board also voted to appoint members to a joint committee with the Board of Supervisors to work together toward a collaborative budget development process for the FY 2016 budget. In addition, the school board directed the superintendent to include employee compensation increases, preferably step increases, in the FY 2016 proposed budget, and in doing so, committed itself to compensation increases.

More information about the budget deliberations is in this Washington Post article.

Teacher group asks for less burdensome work requirements

In testimony to the Fairfax County School Board last night, Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), presented several recommendations regarding the amount of work teachers are required to do.

“We convened an employee focus group and conducted a detailed survey of our members from April 15 to May 2, 2014,” Adams said. “We found that teachers feel that time should be freed up for self-directed planning and meeting student needs by spending less time on staff meetings, teacher evaluations, CLTs [Collaborative Learning Teams],  and professional development.”

Here are the FEA recommendations:

  • By the start of the 2014-15 school year, FCPS should limit the number and duration of mandatory meetings of staff held on days when school is in session. Meetings should not exceed two per month and should not total longer than two hours per month. Meeting should not displace teachers’ self-directed planning time.
  • FCPS should reconvene the Evaluation Task Force to find ways to reduce the time and documentation required to complete evaluations. Both teachers’ and administrators’ time should be conserved as much as possible. Changes should be made prior to the 2014-15 evaluation cycle.
  • By the start of the 2014-15 school year CLT’s should become true autonomous peer collaborations. Principals should provide common planning times for teams. Meeting dates, meeting durations, team leadership and agendas  should be determined by the CLTs. CLT meetings should not supplant self-directed planning time.
  • By the start of the 2014-15 school year, FCPS should ensure that professional development requirements are individualized to a teacher’s needs and preferences. Reduce travel time by hosting school-based and web-based professional development.

Elementary school schedule proposals to be announced

This afternoon Fairfax County School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon scheduled a work session May 28 to discuss the recommendations of the Elementary School Master Schedule committee, chaired by Interim Deputy Superintendent Dan Parris. One of the goals of the committee is providing full-day Mondays for the students.

At the school board work session today that reviewed the 2014 Working Conditions Survey, Superintendent Karen K. Garza said that “time at the elementary level is a policy resource challenge that we need to figure out over the next couple of weeks or so.” She also said that this has been a prevailing issue for the last 9-10 months.

The Working Conditions Survey is an anonymous, online survey conducted by FCPS and supported by its employee associations. The New Teacher Center—an independent, non-profit organization—developed the core questions which were tailored to meet FCPS needs by an FCPS advisory committee.

At the Monday work session, Eric Hirsch from the New Teacher Center explained that both in Fairfax and nationally the workplace climate is generally more favorable to staff in the elementary schools compared to the high schools. However, time is the one issue where this is flipped.

The FCPS Working Conditions Survey was administered in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. The first survey in 2008 showed connections between working conditions, achievement, and future employment plans. The survey assesses eight teaching conditions areas, including Time; Facilities and Resources; Community Support; Student Conduct; Teacher Leadership; School Leadership; Professional Development; and Instructional Practices.

The following table shows responses to questions about whether school leadership makes a sustained effort to address teacher concerns about a range a topics. It shows that the lowest percent agreement (75.9 percent) was to the issue of “the use of time in my school.”

Gains in: School Leadership Makes a Sustained Effort to Address Teacher Concerns about:

 Area Percent Agreement
2014 2012 Difference
Community support and involvement 90.2 86.9 3.4
Facilities and resources 88.9 85.8 3.2
Leadership issues 80.1 77.1 3.0
Managing student conduct 82.4 79.7 2.8
The use of time in my school 75.9 73.4 2.6
New teacher support 88.0 85.8 2.2
Teacher leadership 87.1 85.0 2.0
Instructional practices and support 89.6 87.7 1.9
Assessment practices and support 88.2 86.9 1.3
Professional development 86.1 85.2 0.9

Note: This post was edited May 13.

Replace, don’t improve Monday afternoon teacher planning time

Why in the world are Fairfax administrators trying to improve the Monday afternoon block of teacher planning and professional development time while at the same time other administrators are seeking methods to replace it? This seems like an incredible waste of effort.

Like busy beavers strengthening a dam, some administrators are adding even more layers to that highly questionable block of time exclusively reserved for elementary school teachers on Monday afternoons. It’s time for the Fairfax County School Board to stop admiring the construction of the dam and address the basic question of whether the dam serves our interests in the first place. It is very disheartening to see Fairfax employees trying to add more barriers to the readmission of children back into the schools on Monday afternoons.

The Operational Expectations Monitoring Report for the Instructional Program states:

In 2013-2014, the division focused on improving professional development for elementary school teams utilizing the existing designated Monday structure. The objectives were to help teachers meet the increased rigor of SOLs and further the division’s focus on 21st Century Skills. The ISD staff trained 132 school-based facilitators to deliver the professional development on designated Mondays throughout the school year. Each participant was asked to complete a short survey to gauge the effectiveness and relevance of the professional development.

Summary to date:

3 sessions (90 mins each)

  • October, November,and February (postponed from December)
  • 132 Facilitators presented at 56 sites, (1 site per grade level, per cluster )
  • All Grade Levels K-6
  • Average Attendance: 4,133 Teachers, Specialists, Resource & Other
  • Average Survey Response Percentage: 27%

Adding a consistent survey approach to gain feedback has been beneficial to the organizers and the facilitators. Feedback shows a mostly positive reaction to the new approach to designated Mondays. The relevance to work survey question results below is indicative of the response to the professional development.


Designated Mondays Elementary Professional Development Relevance to Work Rating

A pie chart illustrates the following responses:

Not at all–3%

Minimal Extent–15%

Moderate Extent–44%

Great Extent–38%

All of these monitoring reports are prepared by staff members and are therefore biased in favor of figuring out what is popular with staff members while mostly ignoring the more fundamental question of what is best for students. Schools are for the students. Let’s not ever forget this fundamental fact. Fairfax County must end its policy of dismissing elementary school students 2 ½ hours early every Monday.

Model Reinvents Schedule to Add Instruction, Planning Time

What if schools could increase learning time by 30 percent without increasing the budget or adding hours to teachers’ workdays or work year?

Generation Schools Network, a nonprofit funded by the Ford Foundation, claims to do just that. In its recently released report, “Cost-effective Strategies for Extending Learning Time and Expanding Opportunity in K-12 Education” [http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/time_and_learning/ELT.pdf], GSN says its model of “reinventing” the typical school schedule has improved student performance and teacher satisfaction in its two model public schools in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Denver.

Brooklyn Generation School, grades 9-12, and West Generation Academy, grades 6-12, have significantly increased student performance, the report says, by adopting the GSN model of adding instruction time to core subjects and career guidance. The model expands school time from the common six-and-one-half-hours per day, five days per week, 180 days per year to eight hours per day, five days per week, 200 days per year. That reduces the typical ten-week summer vacation to six weeks – but just for students. Teachers maintain a nine-month work schedule with staggered leave based on grouping teachers at the same grade level. No longer are teachers and students on a contiguous schedule, partly because students rotate through month-long career guidance twice a year, while teachers take a week of professional development, then three weeks of leave.

Developed in collaboration with the United Federation of Teachers, GSN leaders say the model improves teacher satisfaction by lowering class sizes, reducing the number of classes per teacher and expanding planning time.

Like most major education policy changes, the GSN model is complicated, and it demands a radical shift in the typical school day. GSN leaders also report there are tradeoffs to using the model, including having less time when all the staff is working at the same time.

But at a time when teachers and students are desperate for more quality time in the school day, innovations in schedules, such as GSN’s, shouldn’t be ignored.


Prince William County cuts recess to 10 minutes per day

Last night the Prince William County School Board adopted the recommendation from  Superintendent Steven L.Walts to reduce elementary recess to 10 minutes per day, starting February 24, to help make up instructional time lost due to weather-related closings and delays.

The board also changed March 31, currently a teacher professional development workday, to a full instructional day for all students; keeping June 17, the current last day of school, as a full day of instruction, and adding a half-day of school for elementary students on June 18.

I’m glad to see the idea of a 10-minute recess prominently displayed in news reports:

Surplus of Snow Days Cuts Recess for Elementary  Schoolers in Prince William County | NBC4 Washington.

Prince William School Board approves snow day make-up plan – INSIDENOVA.COM

Parents Launch Petition to Restore Lost Recess Time – Bristow Beat  

Let’s hope that the reporters also notice that Fairfax County has limited recess to 10 minutes a day for the last seven years. However, this policy is so poorly publicized that many administrators and teachers do not even know of its existence.  So, those students who are allowed more than 10 minutes per day for recess do not receive the amount of instructional time required in the Standards of Accreditation.  Fairfax has simply failed to provide enough time in the week for the elementary school program.

Fairfax can easily fix this problem by ending the policy of dismissing elementary school students 2 ½ hours early every Monday.

Note: This post was edited on Feb. 21.

Weekly early dismissals begin in Illinois school district

On January 31, the Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 started early dismissals on Fridays. The new schedule, which allows for the launch of the District’s professional development program, will have the same number of instructional minutes as the old schedule. The Chicago Tribune reports that students “are starting school five minutes earlier and ending five minutes later on Monday through Thursday and ending 50 minutes earlier on Fridays.”

The Tribune noted that some parents had some concerns.

Community Consolidated School District 15 is the third largest elementary district in Illinois, serving a diverse population of all or part of seven northwest suburban communities: Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, South Barrington, Arlington Heights, and Schaumburg.

District 15 has fifteen elementary schools, four junior high schools, and one preschool early childhood center and alternative public day school.

Teaching is actually two jobs

Ryan Fuller, in his second year teaching 11th grade math and robotics at Sierra High School in Coloroda Springs, says there are days of teaching that make a day in the office seem like a vacation. Fuller left his previous job as an aerospace engineer to join the Teach for America program. Teaching in America’s highest-need communities isn’t rocket science. It’s harder,” he says.

One of the biggest misconceptions about teaching is that it is a single job. Teaching is actually two jobs. The first job is the one that teachers are familiar with; people who have not taught can pretend it doesn’t exist. The tasks involved in this first job include lesson planning, grading, calling parents, writing emails, filling out paperwork, going to meetings, attending training, tutoring, and occasionally sponsoring a club or coaching a sport. The time allotted to teachers for this work is usually one hour per workday. But these tasks alone could easily fill a traditional 40-hour work week.