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PLC expansion on hold for 2014-15 school year
By Kim Becker
At its Feb. 19 meeting, the Board of Education decided to table the administration’s Professional Learning Communities (PLC) proposals for the 2014-2015 school year. Both proposals would have significantly affected the school calendar by mandating a two-hour early release every Tuesday across the district. In a prepared statement, Board Chair Ron Walther said the board is “… not satisfied that the implementation recommendations currently on the table fully address concerns regarding how much additional collaboration time is required, the loss of teacher classroom time with students and the proposed abbreviated school days.” However, Walther said the board is very supportive of teacher collaboration time and urged the administration to “further explore alternate implementation options with the expectation that revised recommendations will come back to the board in the near future.”
Alan Addley, Superintendent of Schools, had stated that PLC time is “the highest priority of this administration.” The high school currently has an hour of PLC time on Thursday mornings resulting in a delayed start. The other schools have between 45 and 60 minutes per week during the school day and interrupts instruction time. The administration had hoped to standardize the schedule and give teachers more time to collaborate, study student achievement data, and develop strategies to enhance learning for struggling and advanced students. Additionally, this time was supposed to give teachers a chance to work with colleagues across their grade level, subject matter, and throughout the district. With the board’s decision, PLC time will remain at current levels during the next school year.
On Feb 11, the Granby Education Association President Laurence Coxon, sent the board a lengthy letter outlining opposition to the PLC proposals among other issues. The letter alleges that PLC time at the high school is not always used for collaboration, but rather for district initiatives, surveys, and faculty meetings. The way PLC time is structured cuts into teacher preparation time, and that administrators control the agenda rather than it being teacher-driven and classroom-focused. Coxon refused to comment on any aspect of his 19-page letter, and it is unclear if the GEA’s constituents provided input to the letter or know of its existence.
Many stakeholders weighed in with thoughts on the PLC proposal at a special board meeting on February 12. Many parents spoke of their concerns with the proposed PLC time. While almost all favored teachers having more collaboration time and saw benefits to the changes, many parents who work outside the home were concerned with additional childcare costs. Also, several parents of teens were worried about the impact on local businesses if students descend on the town center every Tuesday afternoon. Other parents advocated for caution in attempting to fold high school midterms into full days and were concerned about scheduling challenges for specials classes, after school activities, and sports.
Walther and Bob Gilbert, president of the Granby Association of School Administrators, expressed their confusion and surprise at the contents of the GEA letter. Gilbert, in a formal response to Coxon’s letter, wrote, “The response from the GEA is simply not consistent with the data from the two teacher surveys completed for the PLC study or with the overall feedback administrators have from teachers in their buildings.”
When asked to comment on the letter, Alan Addley, Superintendent of Schools, said that teaching is “a matter of science, art and the heart” and he believes that improving teacher collaboration and strategy will result in higher student achievement in Granby.
At the February 19 board meeting, the administration made its one-to-one computing recommendations, following a pilot study conducted this year in the eighth grade. The board was asked to expand the program to grades seven through 10 and to purchase Chromebooks for all students in those grades. This piece of the five-year planned expansion would cost $73,263 in fiscal year 2015. The money will come from the Quality and Diversity Fund, not the general operating budget.
The administration believes that expansion into the seventh, ninth and tenth grades is most efficient because the curricula don’t include many course choices or electives. The five-year plan includes expansion into grades 11 and 12 during the fiscal year 2016, and down to grade five in FY 2017, eventually reaching kindergarten in FY 2019. The board had concerns about plans to include the primary school levels, and the administration acknowledged not having a solid model for those grades.
The expansion plan calls for several areas of improvement, including the need to update policies and have clear standards of use for teachers and students, improve the use of Haiku (a learning management system) and its ability to “speak” to Naviance (college and career readiness program) and other programs, update curriculum with technology-based resources, teacher professional development for technology issues and curriculum implementation, and increase technical and software support.
The high school hockey, golf and football teams asked the board to consider their budget requests. The hockey and golf teams would like transportation to practices and games, instead of parents or students doing all the driving. Parents have concerns in particular about students driving themselves and teammates to practices, etc. The transportation will cost the district approximately $5,000.
The football booster club made its case for the district to shoulder some of its financial burden. For the past five years, the parents have financially supported the team, purchasing everything from jerseys to personal equipment and training equipment. They asked for $420 per player, the average cost to the district for any athlete, which equate to roughly $34,000 for the team.
Addley, at the Superintendent’s Forum on February 20, let those parents know he put their requests into the proposed budge that he will present to the BOE on March 5. He warned that they not might get everything they want, but this was a start. He also explained to the hockey parents that if the transportation money is approved by the board, he will expect all players to use the bus provided.