FCPS students have been released early on Mondays for decades, allowing teachers time for planning, but Superintendent Karen Garza says the change is necessary because it will eliminate having to make up classes on account of snow days, as well as allow for more self-directed planning time for teachers.
Under the new plan, the state-required 180-day school year, currently used by FCPS, will meet Virginia requirements with a 990-hour school year. Both are options under Virginia rules. Loudoun County uses the 990-hour system and does not have to scramble when winter wreaks havoc on the schedule.
Fairfax has three days built in for weather cancellations, and FCPS says the system uses an average of four a year. By moving to an hourly system, the schools would be able to absorb 13 snow days in a school year because students would already be in school for the required number of hours.
In 2013-14, a particularly snowy winter, FCPS used 11 snow days, which has pushed the school year to June 25 in order to have the required makeup days.
The board proposal says there are other advantages to the change. Among them:
- 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 uniform calendar would allow the school system to plan for two weeks of winter break.
- The changes 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.
- The changes are responsive to parents, who have consistently asked for the elimination of the early Mondays due to the inconvenience for many working families.
- There would be no changes to music, art and physical education.
School board documents say that the changes will cost up to $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,” Garza said in the report. “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.”
However, some teachers are skeptical that this would be a smooth transition in an era of cutbacks, stalled raises and mounting work requirements.
“I’d like to know where the ‘more’ planning time is coming from,” said one elementary school administrator who asked not to be named.
“When they went to Mondays, they extended the Tuesday-through-Friday day. If they shorten that, will we have less time? The Monday schedule in elementary is crucial to professional development for teachers and is one of the only places they can get training in areas they need support.”
There has also been criticism that teacher opinions were not taken into account when formulating the plan.
The new plan would go into effect as early as September. This is a separate issue from the plan to change high school start times, which may also affect elementary school students as they may start school earlier in the day. The details of that plan are still being worked out, and it will not go into effect until at least 2015-16.
See the proposed Master Calendar for 2014-15 on the FCPS website.
Photo: FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza/File photo