Seven pupil-free days is ridiculous

As a teacher in San Marino and a parent in La Cañada, I am concerned about LCUSD’s proposed seven staff development days for 2011-12. Having taught in two neighboring districts over the past 18 years, I have seen my fair share of staff development days, some useful and some not so useful. I have simply never heard of seven in one year — it is excessive. Currently, in San Marino Unified, we are slated for four days at the high school level next year. Neither the teachers nor the parents in the community I serve desire any more. While it is appropriate to have a few staff development days each year, seven is ridiculous because any benefit to the staff would be completely offset by the loss of so much student instruction time

LCUSD proposes making up for the lost days by lengthening the remaining school days by 9-12 minutes. At the 7-12th grade level, this would apply to the two-hour block classes, already a long stretch for the attention span of adolescents. Research demonstrates that students pay attention in 20-minute increments, with a peak focus about halfway through the traditional one-hour class period. Our kids find their weekday lives intense and compacted as it is — they run out of steam and begin to check out toward the end of the day. Sixth-period teachers witness this phenomenon in our classrooms. Clearly, we will not get the same learning bang for our buck that we would get from four full instructional days with well-rested students ready to learn the day’s content. If LCUSD desires to remain a top-performing district, it is heading down the wrong path with this decision.

Finally, as a parent, I cringe at the thought of hiring babysitting for two of my children while tracking my third with a cell phone call on my lunch break. How is school-age children “hanging out” on traditional school days while their parents are at work a good thing for the community, exactly?

I have not spoken with one parent in La Cañada who supports the idea of seven pupil-free days. In fact, many complain about the money they are giving to our Foundation and the return they are seeing in instructional time. Having been involved for 5 years with LCFEF (my husband served as president last year and has heard an earful from donors over the past week) we feel responsible to help deliver the best product we can. We participated in phone banking recently and asked people (many of whom are struggling financially) for $2500 per household to support a premium education for our children. They paid for it, let’s deliver it.

With the mandated days for state testing and the two buyback days already on the LCUSD calendar, can we really afford seven more days with no teaching of content?”

Jackie Schaedel, M.Ed

La Cañada Flintridge

 

Personal attacks, angry voices, emotionalism

 I was asked recently why I have not spoken publicly against the four days of teacher collaboration and planning scheduled in LCUSD for 2011-12. The answer is simple: I am in favor of those professional days.

Some vociferous critics have characterized these planning days as a “four day giveaway to the teachers’ union.” The truth is quite different from that inaccurate and dismissive characterization. On the contrary, the teachers have committed to additional professional work with no additional compensation. Along with adding extra minutes to each teaching day, the teachers are also committing to attend professional planning days to engage in work that will directly benefit the students in their classes. That work is essential to what happens in the classroom — it involves the detailed analysis of individual student assessment results, the consequent designing of intervention strategies to assist students, the collaborative creation of lessons, the creation of quarterly anchor assessments to determine if students have mastered the learning units and whether instruction needs to be adjusted, the differentiating of curriculum to address students with special learning needs, and the design of learning activities that apply technology to specific curriculum standards.

They are professional days that have specific agendas and required work products. They are for the kind of professional teacher work that extends beyond the classroom teaching itself but that directly impacts and improves that teaching. It is the kind of collaborative work that teachers do regularly as part of their compensated tasks in every school in every high-achieving country that I have visited and studied. Sadly, in the United States, this essential work is not sufficiently included as part of a teacher’s paid work day or year. Hence, the teachers and administrators plan to “bank” minutes to do this essential work anyway.

We are not talking here about professional training for some new, controversial, unproven concept in teaching that requires a detailed plan of implementation or some outside evaluator. This is the rigorous and obvious work that teachers and administrators know needs to be accomplished. It is work — in particular, the disaggregated study of assessment results — that I have been pushing the schools for many years to more fully engage in. “Teaching smarter” is every bit as important as the amount of time spent teaching.

I am heartened that the schools have a plan to generate the time required of this hard work. What I am disappointed and discouraged by is the hostile tone that has crept into the discussion. Too often throughout this past year, in fact, district decisions regarding class size, permit students, educational program and other matters have been greeted with threats, personal attacks, massed angry voices and emotionalism. That is not the La Cañada I have known and admired for 20 years. Being outraged by some issue does not necessarily equate to being right. I hope that civility will return to our discourse and that we can pursue debate with reason, respect and logic.

James Stratton

Superintendent, LCUSD

 

Board should reverse its decision

 As a parent of children who are attending LCUSD schools, I am deeply frustrated by the district and board’s decision to cut four days from the 2011/2012 school year. (“District to drop four days of school,” June 2.) Virtually every one of the dozens of parents I spoke with this weekend still do not understand the logic behind this decision, or why it was made so quietly, without community discussion or review.

While teacher training, professional development and ongoing evaluation is obviously critical to maintaining a high quality of education, these activities should not diminish the number of days of classroom attendance and in turn counteract any gains made in teacher performance. Forcing students to stay home on random days in the middle of the week is disruptive to families and is obviously of less educational value to our students, who would otherwise be in the classroom learning.

Among the many difficult tasks parents rely on the school board to perform, most important is maintaining the highest quality of education possible while keeping parents informed so that parents can support these decisions. Making a disruptive decision such as this without parental awareness or understanding is highly destructive to this relationship, which is based on trust, and ultimately diminishes the effects of the board’s efforts. Many parents who donate more and more each year, making greater financial sacrifices, begin to feel that they are not represented or dealt with fairly and openly.

For the above reasons the school board should reverse this decision, re-evaluate the issue over the next school year, and make a presentation to the public that reflects a written, accomplishable goal with manageable metrics. If the quality of education can be raised quantifiably, then the public is likely to wholeheartedly support the change. All concerned parents should sign the petition asking the board to postpone the four-day elimination at www.lcusd.wordpress.com and come to the July 12 Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m.

Hart Getzen

La Cañada Flintridge

 

Less is not more. It is less.

The La Cañada school board has recently negotiated for four days for teacher training with the teachers union. This will take place during normal school days, resulting in the children losing four days of instruction.

In these world-wide competitive times we really can not close down our schools while teachers go to school. We simply can not afford this. The reality is that we need more days for student learning, not less.

As a fellow educator, I believe that if the teachers need four days of additional training, they should receive it. Professionals should constantly increase their knowledge. The reality is that anything that enhances the skills of our already skilled and excellent teachers is good for the children. However, in fairness, I believe the teachers should, at no cost to the district and the children, be asked to come back a week earlier in August to enhance their skills on their own time so that the children do not lose four days of critically needed instruction.

Less instructional days is not more in this situation. It is less. As a former school board member [in another state], I strongly feel that cutting instructional time by capitulating to teachers union demands is simply something a school board should never consider.

Al C. Restivo, Ph.D.

La Cañada Flintridge

 

Government is micromanaging economy

Once again, our government has acted to restrict our economy from recovery.

The release of the petroleum reserve for political gain instead of developing our own oil and gas deposits shows that micro-management of the economy is stupid.

In 2005 through 2006, President Bush faced oil at $140 a barrel. He signed an executive order expanding drilling and exploration. Within four months, oil dropped to $80 a barrel.

Talk of continued reduction of the pay-roll tax to stimulate consumer spending is stupid. Robbing the Social Security funding so people have more money to spend on gasoline is circular micro mismanagement.

No business can expand facing the uncertain tax and regulatory expansion of the government. On June 21 I watched the chamber of commerce meeting on C-Span. The business owners all complained that government and EPA regulations have forced them to reduce their workforce.

Richard Batista

La Cañada Flintridge
 
 

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