Fairfax County school officials are considering a switch to full-day Mondays for elementary schools.
Eliminating Monday early dismissals would give students an additional 2.5 hours of instruction each week. The change would include protected teacher planning time, replacing the current block of planning time on Monday afternoons.
Superintendent Karen Garza brought the plan before the School Board on Wednesday, and said the change could occur as soon as this September.
“We can get it done this year,” Garza said. “It’s going to be aggressive, and it’s going to be tough. But I think it’s an investment in instructional time, and an investment in our teachers.”
The recommendation came as the result of a working group led by interim deputy superintendent Dan Parris that studied scheduling across all grade levels.
In the current elementary schedule, the final bell rings 2.5 hours earlier on Mondays than it does the rest of the week. Those hours are used by teachers for lesson planning and professional development.
Under the new schedule, that time would be spread throughout the school week, giving students six hours of instruction each day, Monday through Friday. The new schedule would also include an extra 10 minutes of recess each day, increasing recess to 20 minutes daily.
Parris cautioned that the initial charge of the working group was not to create a final plan, and said more work was needed before putting a new schedule in place.
Parris pointed to the cost of the plan, which he estimated at between $4 million and $7.6 million, as one hurdle, particularly with the school system’s already tight budget. He also noted a lack of teacher and community engagement, as his working group included school administrators and principals, but no teachers or community members.
School Board members too questioned the feasibility of such a quick turnaround.
Each elementary school would need to create its own daily schedule based on the school system’s new guidelines. Giving teachers more planning time would necessitate hiring more staff to cover the extra hours.
Larger schools, with more faculty and classroom space, and experienced principals, adept at scheduling configurations, could more easily adapt, said School Board member Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee).
“But what about smaller schools?” Kaufax said. “What about less experienced principals? I would like to take more time if we can make sure it’s done right.”
Yet others pushed to move forward with the goal of a September implementation.
“I think right now we have the perfect storm,” said School Board member Patty Reed (Providence). “There are a lot of issues that are all interrelated, and this seems to provide a good fix for many of them.”
Since the Fairfax County school system started Monday early dismissals in 1972, the schedule has been the target of criticism, but thus far, pushes for a change have fizzled.
One major sticking point has been teacher planning time. In the past, educators have expressed concern that if early dismissals were eliminated, that planning time would disappear.
The new schedule would establish time guidelines for teacher planning. Teachers would be guaranteed 240 minutes per week for individual planning, and 75 minutes each week for collaborative work.
“Waiting until next year is just an untenable concept to me,” said School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield). “Working with teachers to give them more planning time is key, especially when we weren’t able to give the full pay increase in the budget.”
The plan recommended Wednesday has received the support of the county’s teacher and principal organizations, according to Garza.
“Whether we do it this year or next year, I do believe we need to do it,” Garza said. “This is the real long-term fix.”