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March 22, 2012

Scheduling Proposals from School Board Candidates

Amanda Haddaway

Earlier this month, Frederick County Public Schools had late openings and early dismissals for parent-teacher conferences. These partial days wreaked havoc for many parents who work outside of the home and require childcare.


So, we asked those seeking seats on the Frederick County Board of Education in the April 3 primary election: “What, if anything, will you do to limit the number of early dismissal and half days during the school year?”


The unedited and complete responses that we received prior to the deadline are included below. We did not receive responses from Zakir Bengali, Donna Crook, Colleen Cusimano, Kiesha La Kay Edmonds, Emily Ann Meyer and Tom Shade.


Tony Chmelik: “It is unfortunate that the school year calendar of 180 days as put forth is loaded with state mandated days off including holidays, election days, etc., often interrupting a full work-week for our students. Once again it comes down to our teachers having too much administrative work. With input from teachers and parents, I would like to find innovative ways to decrease the administrative duties on teachers. Instead of multiple half days, one solution might be to lengthen the school year as needed to allow full days for conferences and administrative work which in turn would allow our children more uninterrupted weeks of schooling instead of the current hodgepodge that exists.”


Katie Groth: “Each year, members of the Board of Education are faced with a big challenge. How do we make provision for everything we want to put on the school calendar for our own purposes when so much of the calendar is dictated by the state? We have state holidays that require FCPS to be closed. Schools are closed for election days. We have testing dates that are set by the state as well as those that involve AP exams and SAT testing. Those go on the calendar first. Some holidays are traditional here in Frederick, such as Fair Day and some religious observances. Then there are negotiated decisions that are agreed upon for our various employee bargaining units, including a number of work days for teachers, support personnel and administrators. After all of these are placed on the calendar. Then we talk about early dismissal days, conference days and vacation days (such as spring break). Adding just one full day for conferences would add about $1 million to the budget. This leaves little room for making local decisions. We ask folks to weigh in on calendar issues each year. We know we can't make everyone happy. We do try, though!”


Jim Hoover: “With so many parents working during the day it is important to maintain the published scheduled. Over the past several years The Board of Education has become very free willing to close schools early, delay opening or close for the day with little or no advance notice. Most of these decisions have been based on weather forecast; it might snow, it might freeze, it might be too hot. This has been a pet peeve of many for many years for two reasons. (1) As a parent of Frederick County students it created child care issues for me and my wife. (2) It teaches the students a poor work ethic. In the “real world” employers are not going to be so liberal with their leave policy. Employees are expected to show up on time every day.


“I will not support decisions that allow the administration to make unnecessary decisions. When making such decisions part of the thought process must include the impact the decision will have on the parents and students.”


Cindy Rose: “There are 5 contracted teacher work days, most of which are split, filling the school calendar with 11 interrupted days (3 full days, 8 half days). With more and more mandates coming from the state and federal governments we need to renegotiate the amount of work/development days during the school year because we are spending potential teaching time, not teaching.


“Here’s my solution (using the current calendar as my example):


“We remove December 29, from the ‘Winter Break’ and April 5 from ‘Spring Break,’ freeing up two days.


“We have 9/23, Fair Day as Teacher work day #1.

“November 4 as Teacher work day #2

“December 29 as Teacher work day #3

“January 23 as Teacher work day #4

“April 5 as Teacher work day #5


“We’ve fulfilled the 5 contracted days, kept winter/spring break from being interrupted and removed half days of Sept 30, Nov 23, Dec 23, Jan 20, Feb 17, March 23 and June 15, that’s 7 full days of instruction vs. 7 half days of instruction. Teachers aren't losing anything because they have to be there all day for the half days anyway. Wins all around in my opinion.


“Staff development days can be taken the same time as the teacher work days or during the summer when school is not in session.”


Joy Schaefer: “Currently, there are seven two-hour early dismissals, all of which are for teacher work sessions, and five full days that are teacher work days, or for staff/professional development. One of those days coincides with the day students are off for Fair Day.


“Work sessions and days offer opportunities for teachers to plan with each other across grade levels or academic disciplines, or identify student performance trends and develop strategies to close any gaps. The work days at the end of each quarter also allow teachers to close out the quarter, record grades and prepare for the next. Both allow for our teachers to receive professional development, training in new content and technologies that they can incorporate into their classrooms. On the state and regional training day, many use it as an opportunity to attend training, conferences, or meetings for professional development in other parts of the state – our music teachers, for example, can attend the statewide music teacher’s convention.


“What I would like to eliminate is the three half-day parent-teacher conference schedule. I would like to see those condensed, which would result in less disruption of our students’ week and instructional time and help parents’ better juggle work schedules.”


Pam Ward: “I have always hated the dreaded 1/2 days for many reasons. Not enough learning takes place on those days, kids see them as an "easy, get nothing done" day. Parents who work have to find alternative care for their children (if they don't normally have care during the school day). The buses are still running, and cost the same amount as a full day. Now, with gas prices going up, this will increase the cost of transportation even more. Everyone has access to a telephone and possibly email, so parents can access the teacher outside of school to conference. Tacking the days onto a weekend, just encourages some to skip the days completely and have a nice long weekend in or out of town.


“I would propose one day for conferences, where the teachers come to school around noon and conference until 8 P.M., thus sticking to the negotiated contract for teacher time at school and allowing day and evening conferences for the parents' convenience.”


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