District to drop four days of school

The La Cañada Unified Governing Board decided, in a 4-1 vote, to give district teachers four pupil-free days in 2011-12 for professional development and collaboration. Joel Peterson was the board’s lone dissenting vote.

The action was the result of negotiations between the district and La Cañada Teacher’s Association. To account for the missed instructional time, both parties agreed to increase the length of the school day in the district by a few minutes.

Peterson said he does not think tacking on a handful minutes to each class will make up for missing four full days of continuous instruction.

“It would be one thing if it was one day, but it’s four days, almost an entire school week,” Peterson said. “We don’t have enough school weeks as it is.”

The four pupil-free days will be implemented next year as a one-year experiment, then the matter will appear before the board at the end of the year to determine if the district will continue with the program.

As he had done at last month’s board meeting, Ron Dietel, a former La Cañada school board member and the assistant director for research, use and communications at the UCLA Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, addressed the board with his concerns surrounding eliminating four days of class.

Dietel said some research has shown that teachers’ professional development is one of the weakest contributors to improving student performance. He said he was also concerned because there is no written plan for what will be accomplished during the four pupil-free days.

“I wouldn’t build my house without a written plan,” Dietel said. “This is a huge, huge change, losing four days of school. Any change you make is going to have an effect, and this is going to be a big one.”

Wendy Sinnette, LCUSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said crafting a plan is an ongoing process.

“We are making sure there is accountability and that there are actual benefits to students,” Sinnette said. “The benefit must manifest itself in results.”

Governing Board President Susan Boyd said teachers will use the time from the four free days to analyze their classroom data and figure out where they need to specifically focus their instruction.

Dietel said he was also concerned about how the district would evaluate the one-year program after hearing from Sinnette that all evaluation will be conducted internally by district staff.

“We have the professional development experts on staff to monitor our progress,” Sinnette said. “We will share it publicly with the board.”

Dietel encouraged the district to have an outside party do the evaluation.

“Personally, internal evaluations are oftentimes internally invalid,” Dietel said.

Boyd said the four free days should help compensate teachers for all they were asked to sacrifice in other areas during recent negotiations.

“We are asking teachers to do more, and we haven’t given them any increases,” Boyd said. “We keep piling on and piling on and not giving them anything.”

Board member Jeanne Broberg said she knows the program isn’t “the perfect thing,” although she voted for it.

“A lot of times you vote for things you don’t like for various reasons,” Broberg said. “I’ll go with this and vote for this for one year and see what happens.”

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