Sat through the first school board meeting of the new school year last night. At times, it becomes a personally victory to outlast every other non-district employee in the room. When I finally left after 3 1/2 hours, it was just me and the education reporter from the Everett Herald left in the cheap seats. I think she was about to leave, too. We should have gotten a prize as we left.
The meeting had two main purposes last night. First, to present the district-wide results of the Washington State MSP (Measurement of Student Progress) test. And, second, for the board to vote to accept the new three year teacher contract including a lengthy justification of the new "Early Release Fridays" to provide collaboration time for teachers.
A whole lot of time was given to the newly accepted three year teacher contract last night. The calendar is actually a good thing. Instead of what seems like endless amounts of random early release days throughout the year, they have decided to put most of them on Fridays from October through May. So, our kids will get out 75 minutes early (not totally a half day) every Friday. Thank goodness it's FRIDAY. The scuttlebutt was that it started out as Wednesday which was totally useless. At least on Friday you can hit the weekend a little early if you're going somewhere.
Some of our breaks were shortened a bit and there were fewer half days of other types. The result is that we get out in the TEENS in June (17th) which has been almost unheard of for a lot of years. Last year we were out 10 days later than that. Most parents I'm talking to like the calendar.
However, the point of early release Fridays seems to be lost on a lot of people right now. I heard the word "Collaboration" no less than 200 times last night (I should have counted. I wanted to start screaming whenever I heard it after a while). I agree that teachers need to be on the same page for continuity. However, I am not entirely convinced that weekly sessions for an entire school year are needed to accomplish this. But, the district seems to think it's the most brilliant plan EVER. Oddly, most of the districts around us are already doing this or started it this year. School Districts love to keep up with each other!
I appreciated the question asked by Director Pam LeSesne. She wanted to know how the district was going to prove to the School Board and the Public that collaboration time improved student scores. Throughout the presentation, I heard two disturbing assumptions. First, that collaboration time was every bit as important as instruction time, and, second, that it shouldn't matter WHO your child gets for a certain subject. With collaboration, all teachers should produce the same result. Really? That is sort of offensive to teachers. That kind of implies that you could train anyone to present material and produce the same result. I have no problem with a GREAT teacher helping an average or even poor teacher to be a better teacher. But, teachers are not the same. Two can present the exact same material and one will inspire and excite the students and the other can put them to sleep. Personalities are different as are students. There will never be equality to that extent no matter how much time is spent "Collaborating".
Anyway, the answer to Director LeSesne's question was basically, "ANY increase in student test scores will be assumed to be a result of these collaboration Fridays." Well, that doesn't prove ANYTHING. If scores go DOWN, will THAT be assumed to be a result of a loss of instruction time because of these collaboration Fridays? I'm thinking that would be a "no".
I HOPE that teachers will use this time as it's intended. Like everyone, I want to see greater success among our students. I want to be more than "average". This is a huge change in the calendar and somewhat of an inconvenience for parents and if we can't measure results, then we need to get rid of it next year when they re-evaluate. But, my gut tells me they will want more time and Fridays will become true half-days.
The other very disturbing part of the contract was the Union wanting the school board to issue a statement against Initiative 1240 - the Washington State Charter School Initiative. We are one of only 9 states in the country without charter schools. If they are as bad as the Union wants you to believe, then why do 41 other states have them? The Union wants the assurance that if that law passes (will of the people) that the Everett School Board (supposed to be "the people") will NOT authorize any charter schools in our district. If they do, the Union can demand the whole contract be re-negotiated with 30 days notice. It's akin to extortion. "Permit charter schools here and we might exercise our option to make some trouble for you." Wow.... The board didn't issue a statement against Charter Schools but DID agree to that provision to re-call the contract. However, my gut tells me the majority of the members don't support Initiative 1240. But, if it passes, I expect the board to honor the will of the people and not the will of the Union. They represent US (in theory but not reality). But, then, we like "average" here so we wouldn't want a charter school to make us look bad....
My final thought about the meeting last night was the pettiness that continues to plague the school board. During Board Comment time, Director Carol Andrews felt the need to bring up the fact that Director Olson was absent last night (she was sick) and pointed out the exact percentage of meetings she has missed. She then spit out, "I thought we were a FIVE member board." Then, she must have realized how ridiculous she sounded (given the fact that I am relatively sure that when Director Olson called in sick that there was some internal celebrating going on in at least 3 members and the superintendent given the content of the meeting last night) and said, "Well, I know there is a lot of sickness going around this time of year." It was so petty and disingenuous because for nearly 2 years, it's been a FOUR member board with one member who is always the beaten down (literally and figuratively) outsider. Carol got her dream last night - a discussion on a three year teacher's contract with a lot of unanswered questions in it and the presentation of very average MSP scores and no "Contrarian" to ask too many questions and make it "messy". I am sure she was happy about Director Olson's absence so to act like they have this warm and fuzzy relationship with the 5th member and they missed her presence was just "Theater".