Second thoughts on teacher workdays

My previous post urging some school districts to cancel the upcoming teacher workdays was written rather hastily. This afternoon I talked to a neighbor walking home with her son from Weyanoke Elementary School. She said that it is very time-consuming for the teachers to enter in the end-of-quarter grades.  One reason is that the computer program is rather cumbersome.

Perhaps Fairfax should go ahead and switch to a more up-to-date computer program.

Cancel the upcoming teacher workdays!

 The Washington Post points out that Prince William County has a scheduled teacher workday Monday, so students will have had 13 days away from school when they return on Tuesday: Some parents and educators fret about so many days lost to snow cleanup . This is an example of an overly bureaucratic approach to sticking to a schedule. Let the students go back to school on Monday!

Also, Fairfax should skip its scheduled 2-hour early dismissal on February 4 and student holiday on February 5. Let the students have more time at school!


Teachers shouldn’t be expected to work extravagantly long hours

Jay Matthews reports that teachers at J.E.B. Stuart High School put in lots of extra hours to try to help the students: This high school was struggling, but a community was able to turn it around. It is good to see that test scores rose, but Matthews didn’t give any helpful suggestions to other schools how to achieve similar results.

Teachers were staying late after school and working on Saturdays to help students who were furthest behind. One teacher ignored doctors’ advice that he take two or three weeks to recover from an operation and was back at work in three days, said veteran Stuart math teacher Bill Horkan.

As the SOL tests approached, “teachers gave up all their planning time, meeting time and just time in general to help out students,” Horkan said.

A commenter [Crunchy Mama] said, “Sufficient planning time during the school day might be a start, WaPo. Yes, the kids CAN learn, and sometimes they DO need more than we’re paying for. That doesn’t mean teachers should then work *for free* to make up the difference. That way Burnout lies.”

Another commenter [Urban Dweller] said, “I’m a teacher and I’m willing to give some extra time–with out remuneration or accolades. But this is over the top. A teacher went against his doctor’s advice and potentially sacrificed his own health?…”

Matthews concluded his column by saying, “A united school community almost always makes a difference, but that takes educators who are willing to make an extra effort, an element in educational transformation that rarely gets mentioned in speeches and commission reports.”

Let’s hope that there are not a lot of speakers who would attempt to say that the key to higher achievement is for teachers to work even more extra hours. If time for students is truly important to members of a community, they will ensure that sufficient resources are provided for the schools to provide this valued time. And of course these resources should provide for scheduled planning time for the teachers.

Re-Elect Pat Hynes

Pat M. Hynes’ recent experience as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring school district gives her a valuable perspective for considering alternative ways of administering the schools. She was elected as the Hunter Mill District representative on the Fairfax County School Board in 2011.

At the June 26, 2014, school board meeting to vote on full day Mondays for elementary schools, Hynes said, “Many parents have requested this for a long time. It’s been under consideration for years and it will allow us flexibility and control of our calendar which we have not had.”

“The promise and the challenge of this is to protect the teacher planning time and I think that’s the part of it that teachers have always worried about,” Hynes said. She concluded that Superintendent Karen Garza had not given her any reason to not have faith when she says we will get this done. [Read more…]

Re-Elect Janie Strauss

Jane K. Strauss has served as the Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County School Board from June 1991 to 1993, and January 1996 to the present. She is in favor of expanding Head Start and the Virginia Preschool Initiative. She voted for full-day Mondays for the elementary schools and later high school start times. [Read more…]

Re-Elect Sandy S. Evans

Sandy Evans deserves applause and appreciation for co-founding SLEEP in Fairfax and then tirelessly working as a community activist and then as a school board member to ensure that high schools start at 8:10 or later rather than at 7:20.  She was a former chairman of the School Board’s School Health Advisory Committee and the Transportation Task Force. She was a founding member of the Fairfax Education Coalition,, a steering committee member of the Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition, a former president of the Sleepy Hollow Elementary School PTA, and a former legislation committee chairman of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.

Evans was elected to the Fairfax County School Board as the representative for Mason District in March 2010. At the October 23, 2014, school board meeting, Evans introduced the motion to approve and adopt the plan for later high school start times. She said:

Today, the board is going to take a historic vote for student health and well-being. We have before us tonight a plan that finally will get our high school students on to a much healthier school schedule. One that will help our teens get the sleep they so desperately need for their physical and mental health, and to do their very best academically. It’s been a long journey to get here but one well worth taking. Sleep deprivation among our teens is a public health crisis. Our school system has a responsibility to play its part in addressing this problem. Adolescents need nine hours of sleep a night for optimal health.

During the many years she spent studying the school and bus schedules, Evans also became an expert on the elementary school schedules, and she was a strong advocate for more recess time for the students. On June 26, 2014, when the school board voted to provide full-day Mondays for the elementary schools, Evans said, “This is a red letter day for us.”

She noted that the change benefits our students with more time, benefits our teachers with more unencumbered planning time, and benefits our students’ health with more recess time, which is absolutely critical.

Evans was a former staff writer and reporter for the Washington Post.  Her writing skills are evident in her email newsletters to her constituents in Mason District. She does a great job summarizing news from the school system and explaining the complexities of the $2.6 billion budget for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Evans is running unopposed. She is endorsed by the Democrats, the  Washington Post, the Fairfax Education Association, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, and Class Size Counts.


Kasich whimsically proposes abolishing teachers’ lounges

Ohio Governor John Kasich, musing about what he would do if he were to become king, rather than president, of the United States, said he would abolish all teachers’ lounges. Speaking at an education forum attended by six of the Republican presidential candidates, Kasich imagined that the lounges are places where teachers “sit together and worry about “woe is us.”

Politico reportsAmerican Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fired back on Twitter.

.@JohnKasich -after u get rid of places teachers eat lunch,what’s next -getting rid of teachers’ chairs so they stand all day? #walkitback

And Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, bashed Kasich for his expansion of private school vouchers and past cuts to education spending.

“Educators will absolutely discuss how they can overcome these obstacles to help their students, as well as hold elected leaders accountable,” she said in a statement.

Politico also posted Takeaways from the GOP education forum, which was held Wednesday at Londonderry, N.H.

Fairfax County 2015-16 School Calendar is approved

On March 26 the Fairfax County School Board approved the 2015-16 school calendar which sets Tuesday, September 8, as the first day of the school year and Thursday, June 23, 2016, as the last day. There are 180 days in the calendar; apparently this will be the new normal for Fairfax County. In previous years 183 days were scheduled so there would be extra days in the event of snow days.

The press release announcing this decision stated that the 2015-16 calendar “was developed with input from a number of teacher, parent, and community stakeholders.” The only “parent” group participating in this questionnaire was the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. These groups were given the choice of two versions of a 180-day calendar. Clearly there is room for further discussion in future years on the topic of the optimum amount of time in the school year.

On the bright side though, elementary school students will continue to benefit from not having weekly early dismissals. The school board deserves credit for the major accomplishment of having eliminated Monday early dismissals, starting with this current school year.

Steven L. Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told the school board Thursday that FCPS management and labor continue to solve serious problems in a collaborative manner “so parents, teachers, and students all end up better than before’…we set a model for others to achieve success.” As an example he cited “Full day Mondays that help students learn, protect teacher planning, and fix calendar issues for parents.”

There will be seven days when all students are dismissed two hours early: October 30; November 25; December 18; February 4, 2016; April 21, 2016; and June 23, 2016. Student holidays are planned for the following:  teacher workdays on November 2; February 5, 2016; and April 22, 2016; a staff development day on January 19, 2016; and school planning days on October 9; November 3; and March 28, 2016.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed a motion to give students the day off on Veterans Day. Steve Hunt, a former school board member, testified in favor of this proposal. Speaking on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469, Hunt said that this should not be just another school day. “I know that there are schools that have special events. It is my hope that much like Martin Luther King’s Birthday or President’s Day those events will continue on a day other than the actual holiday.”

Steve Martinez also supported the amendment, but said “it does not go nearly far enough to fully recognize the 11th of November as a holiday for FCPS, as it should be.”

I have been addressing the issue related to Fairfax County Public Schools not recognizing Veterans’ Day, a Federal & State holiday, as a school holiday (i.e., day off) on the school calendar for over 3 years now. I am passionate about this matter since Veterans’ Day is the ONLY holiday which occurs during the school year that is not recognized with a day off for everyone…students, faculty & staff…by FCPS.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) also supported this amendment, which failed by a 10-2 vote.

Winter break is scheduled for December 21 through January 1, 2016, and spring break will be held March 21-25, 2016.  Makeup days may be used to ensure 990 hours of instruction during the 2015-16 school year.  Missed days, delayed openings, and unscheduled early dismissals are considered in the calculation of these hours.  State code requires school districts to make up the first five missed days of school, and then requires only every other day of missed school to be made up.  FCPS asserts that it has the equivalent of 13 days (78 hours) built into the 2015-16 calendar. If a 14th day is missed, no makeup is required by the state.  If a 15th day is missed, April 22, 2016 will be considered a makeup day.

Teachers in survey point to need for more planning time

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers has posted the results of its member perspectives survey. Here is one of the questions:

What are the greatest future challenges we must address in order to further implement full day Mondays even more effectively? (Choose all that apply.)

A majority of the respondents (52 percent) said teachers still need more individual planning time.

See also Teachers report heavy workload.

Teachers report heavy workload

The Fairfax Times reports that a survey shows workload remains stressor for Fairfax County teachers.

“The shift to full-day Mondays for elementary schools received support from 56 percent of respondents, despite drawing initial criticism from teachers who felt left out of the decision-making,” Kate Yanchulis reports. “But with the new schedule, teachers lost 2.5 hours of planning time on Monday afternoons.”

The survey was conducted from October 31 through November 21 by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers– “91 percent of respondents said they have as much or more work as last year,” the Times reports.