Money for full-day Mondays

The Washington Post has an article regarding tonight’s agenda item for the Fairfax County School Board on allocating money for full-day Mondays in the elementary schools.

The article includes comments from some members of the Board of Supervisors on whether they would provide any additional money. I posted a comment to the article, noting that although it is probably true, as Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said, that school officials had not mentioned a need to end half-day Mondays during their lengthy budget negotiations, I mentioned it and discussed it with my supervisor, Penny Gross (D-Mason). She is well aware of how inadequate the Monday early dismissal schedule has been for the elementary schools.

Under this schedule, the only way the elementary schools can comply with the state requirements for the length of the school day would be to limit recess to 10 minutes per day. I have not heard any of the supporters of the status quo argue in favor of a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess. I have also not heard any calls for a deliberate policy of not meeting the state standards for the length of the school day. So, in essence, the school board really has no choice but to fix this inadequate schedule. The Board of Supervisors should encourage and support the schools system’s effort to remedy the serious problem with the elementary school schedule. Following state regulations is critically important. The solution must be implemented immediately, even if it means that nonrecurring funds are used.

Are children less active these days?

Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today. Angela Hanscom writes that children are not moving enough in school. As a pediatric occupational therapist, she recently tested a classroom of fifth-graders and found that most of  the children had poor core strength and balance. “In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 19890s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance.”

The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.

Letter criticizes the timeframe of the decision on full-day Mondays

A letter to the editor of the Washington Post states that Fairfax County pondered a longer school day in too short a time.

I posted the following comments:

Actually, the Fairfax County School Board has delayed this needed reform for many years. As Dan Storck said at the recent school board meeting, FCPS has been “skating on thin ice” in regards to meeting the state requirements for the standard school day.

Sivan Leviyang says of the new schedule, “With only 20 minutes of recess and lunch as breaks, this is an unhealthy situation for young children.”
She is not the only observer who is apparently unaware of the little-known fact that this school system has had a policy limiting recess to ten minutes per day for the past seven years. Schools which allowed students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess were not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation for the length of the standard school day.

In 2006, the Virginia Board of Education adopted revised Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. These revisions added the words “and recess” to the section on the standard school day: “The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5-1/2 hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.”

To average a 5 1/2 hour school day, the weekly program hours must be 27.5. Adding a 30-minute lunch period bring the total to 30 hours per week. Any time over 30 hours per week could be available for recess. At the time the clarified language explaining recess went into effect in 2006, most Fairfax County elementary school students were in school for only 30 hours and 30 minutes per week. So if the schools were following the state rules, the students would have had only six minutes of recess per day. (Some schools had even less time during the week.) In 2007 Fairfax adjusted many bell schedules so that all 123 schools that had early dismissal on Mondays had 30 hours and 50 minutes per week in school, enough time to allow only 10 minutes of recess per day. This was not enough.

The ten-minute limit on recess was started in 2007

The Fairfax Connection has a great photo of the audience at the Fairfax County School Board meeting June 26 in this article: Full-Day Mondays Start in September.

However, the article is incorrect in saying, ““When Monday was chopped in half, recess time was also cut. Students had 10 minute recess breaks to make up for lost time in the classroom.”

The 10-minute per day limit on recess has been in effect since 2007, not 1971. When Monday early dismissals were first started in 1971, the length of the other days was increased. Prior to the Monday early dismissal policy, the length of time in the school week was 30 hours and 50 minutes. With Monday early dismissals, the total length was 31 hours per week. It is interesting that in recent years the total amount of time has dipped back to 30 hours and 50 minutes per week because the length of time of the early dismissals increased.

In 2006, the Virginia Board of Education adopted revised Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. These revisions added the words “and recess” to the section on the standard school day: “The standard school day for students in grades 1 through 12 shall average at least 5-1/2 hours, excluding breaks for meals and recess, and a minimum of three hours for kindergarten.”

According to Superintendent of Public Instruction Billy K. Cannaday, Jr., this change “clarifies that recess is not part of the instructional program and is not counted as instructional time.”

To average a 5 ½ hour school day, the weekly program hours must be 27.5. Adding a 30 minute lunch period totals 30 hours per week. Any additional time is available for recess. At the time the clarified language explaining that recess went into effect September 7, 2006, most Fairfax County elementary school students were in school for only 30 hours and 30 minutes per week. So 30 minutes per week, or six minutes per day was all the time available for recess for most of the schools. Twelve schools had even less time in the week, with total hours ranging from 29 hours and 50 minutes to 30 hours and 10 minutes. Some schools were in violation of the requirement that a shortened day must be at least four hours long. On the plus side, there were 16 schools that had more time in the week since they had full-day Mondays at the time.

In September 2007, FCPS lengthened the school hours to comply with the four-hour minimum day and to provide 10 minutes per day for recess—thus bringing the total weekly hours back up to 30 hours and 50 minutes. Although this 10-minute limit for recess was not changed until the vote this year on June 26, the limit was seldom actually enforced.

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

Garza asked the right question to encourage reform

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the Fairfax County School Board has acted to implement full-day Mondays starting in September.

At last night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Karen Garza said that one of the first questions she asked elementary school principals when she arrived in Fairfax was, “Oh my goodness…How do you address all the instructional needs of our students given our current structure?

The answers about the difficulty in meeting these needs clearly built the momentum for studying ways of restructuring the elementary school schedule. The result of that effort was seen last night in the wise decision of the school board to improve the schedule starting in September.

Thank you, Dr. Garza, for asking the right questions and for encouraging a teamwork approach to finding answers. As Ryan McElveen (at-large) said last night, this vote addressed a problem that has languished in our system for 40 years.

I will give more details on this historic meeting in future posts.

Here is the testimony I presented during the citizen participation portion of the meeting:

Thank you very much for placing the proposal for full-day Mondays on the agenda tonight. This is a major step forward in the quest for an improved schedule for our elementary schools.

Eliminating the Monday early dismissal policy and adding 2 ½ hours to the school week will be a huge benefit to the students.

The master schedules of our elementary schools have numerous priorities that compete for a limited amount of time.

We need to provide more time to meet today’s priorities.

We need to provide time for the core curriculum as well as physical activity and recess.

Currently the elementary schools have only enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. Schools which allow students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess are not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.

A 10-minute limit for recess is unreasonable. Ignoring state requirements is illegal. The substandard elementary school schedule in Fairfax should be fixed immediately so we can provide at least 20 minutes for recess while still meeting the state requirements for the standard school day.

The cost of $7.6 million for all 142 elementary schools represents an affordable investment for a very substantial improvement in the schedules for both students and teachers.

The first time I testified in favor of full-day Mondays was in 1989. The school board was considering proposals for restructuring both the secondary school day and the elementary school day. They agreed to the 7-period day for the secondary schools. They supported the concept of a uniform elementary student day but voted to delay implementation until the following year.

One of the reasons given for delay was to allow further study. The next year the school board rejected the revised proposal. This shows how a vote to delay can turn what could be a win-win situation into a “no-change” situation.

We don’t need MORE study—we need action to help children, and this WILL help children.

Please vote to adopt the proposal presented here tonight to implement a full school week starting in September 2014.

Action Alert!

Please attend the Fairfax County School Board meeting tonight! Your in-person presence can make a difference by demonstrating positive support for implementation in September 2014!

Where: Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Rd., Falls Church. (Map)

When: Thursday, June 26. Arrive by 8:00 p.m. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. with several resolutions, recognitions, and awards. The Citizen Participation portion of the meeting starts at approximately 8:30.

This is your chance to show your support. Bring a sign saying “Full-Day Mondays!”

Speakers

Two former school board members will testify on the proposal for full-day Mondays at tonight’s meeting. Tina Hone will speak in favor of implementing full-day Mondays in September. Stuart Gibson will speak against it.

I will be speaker #4. Also supporting the proposal will be Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, and Michele Menapace.

Kevin Hickerson, vice president of the Fairfax Education Association, will probably urge delay of any schedule change until the 2015-16 school year. Melissa Cox will also be testifying on the full-day Mondays proposal.

Another agenda item, the Passages Monitoring Report, will be discussed by three speakers: Avis Catchings and Lolita Mancheno Smoak (both representing the Coalition of the Silence) and George Becerra.

Agenda Update

When the agenda was first posted, Action Item 4.02 was entitled Elementary Master Schedule. It has now been renamed Master Calendar Revision 2014-2015. This more inclusive title is better since it applies to all grade levels.

Yesterday a correction was made to the first bullet point listed under Key points. The bullet point now posted is accurate:

  • A uniform elementary day would increase instructional time for all elementary students and would allow for 20 minutes of daily recess for children.

The original wording included the phrase “state required” prior to “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.

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))

Further study of full-day Mondays is not needed

“As the Fairfax County school system rushes toward a decision on whether to eliminate Monday early dismissals for elementary schools next year, lack of teacher and community input has some officials calling for a slowdown,” the Fairfax Times reports. “The absence of teacher voices in particular has proved a sticking point in the debate over an issue inextricably tied to teacher planning time.”

Time out.

Trust me on this:

If Steve Greenburg, president of Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, voices support for this, that is all the proof needed that not only did teachers have a strong voice, but they drove a good bargain for themselves.

Over the years that I have known him, Steve has sometimes annoyed me with his vehement and intransigent support of the Monday early dismissal policy. It is a very significant (and surprising) development that he is willing to support this specific proposal for full-day Mondays.

Greenburg supporting full-day Mondays is like Nixon going to China.

This plan includes new protections for teacher planning time and new regulations limiting the number and length of faculty meetings. The revised school calendar that is also being proposed would add three additional days that teachers work but students stay home during the  school year.

If parents not employed by the school system had been on the committee, would they have agreed to the additional teacher work days? Who knows. At any rate, I seriously doubt that a more inclusive committee would have come up with even more benefits for the teachers. The current committee pretty much gave away the store already. If the principals were pressured to make even more concessions, perhaps they might be forced to convert their offices into teachers lounges and work out of tents in the school parking lots.

The real bias in the membership of the Elementary School Master Schedule Committee is that it was entirely composed of employees of the school system.

A future committee might be unable to reach any consensus on the major issues and just report on the pros and cons of various options, in much the same way that the Meals Tax Referendum Task Force issued a long report without taking any position on whether the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should schedule a referendum on a meals tax.

Or, if a future committee did come up with a recommendation, the school board might decide to ignore it anyway, as it has done several times before, most recently in 1996. With its track record of ignoring previous task force reports on full-day Mondays, the school board should certainly not decide to appoint yet another task force.

The final report of the Elementary School Master Schedule Committee should be judged on its merits, not on the composition of the committee that drafted it.

Superintendent Karen Garza has done her job well in presenting the option of a greatly improved schedule to the school board. The school board should judge the recommendations on their merits and not spend time criticizing Garza for the way in which she sought advice from staff.

It is often true that taking extra time for further study is the safe and sensible choice. But not in this case. It would be a risky gamble to cling to an outdated and inadequate schedule that doesn’t provide enough time in the week to ensure compliance with the Standards of Accreditation for the school day.

Currently the elementary schools have only enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. Schools which allow students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess are not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.

Do supporters of the status quo support a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess? Or do they support not meeting the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation?

A 10-minute limit for recess is unreasonable. Ignoring state requirements is illegal. The substandard elementary school schedule in Fairfax should be fixed immediately. Fairfax should end the Monday early dismissal policy.

The Fairfax County elementary school schedule is substandard

A vote against the proposal for full-day Mondays for elementary schools would be a vote for the status quo. The Fairfax County School Board will vote on this issue June 26. I understand the concern that the decision is being made on an accelerated timetable. I understand the concern about the cost. However, the status quo is quite problematic.

Currently the elementary schools have only enough time in the week to allow 10 minutes per day for recess. Schools which allow students to have more than 10 minutes per day for recess are not meeting the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.

Do supporters of the status quo support a limit of 10 minutes per day for recess? Or do they support not meeting the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation?

A 10-minute limit for recess is unreasonable. Ignoring state requirements is irresponsible. The substandard elementary school schedule in Fairfax should be fixed immediately. Fairfax should end the Monday early dismissal policy.