How goes the school district’s late starts?

659-logo-150x65 Kari Eliason has a guest column in today’s Nfld News: Parents have questions about late starts. Allen Koch has a letter to the editor, too: Late start is affecting the environment. Last week: Late starts lead to traffic jams outside schools.

The Feb. discussion (287 comments) here on LG – Guest blogger Kathleen Galotti: My objections to the proposed changes to the school calendar.

51 thoughts on “How goes the school district’s late starts?”

  1. I’ll bite.

    On the plus side: It hasn’t been as disruptive to our schedules as I had feared. My daughter is still in 2nd grade, which spares her from being just thrown into the gym for the PLC hour (only the 3rd-5th graders get this treatment, so I won’t have to face this for a year). For kids in K, 1, and 2, they are doing some (minimal) programming at BW, and they seem to be reasonably staffed. So, ok. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

    My high schooler likes going in to school 30 min late–he doesn’t get the full hour off because I’m avoiding the traffic jam, and so I get him to NHS around 8:25, then drop the little one off at BW. So, no extra gasoline or carbon footprint, and really, not a lot of extra hassle. Again, to be fair, this hasn’t been a problem for us.

    On the other hand, I’m not seeing any evidence of educational benefit to either of my kids. So far, second grade shows LESS individual attention and differentiation than first grade did (even though 1st grade had more kids, and those teachers had less regular PLC time). And, in hs, my son reported seeing some teachers wandering around the cafeteria during PLC time. (The first week, we forgot and he was there the whole hour). Sadly, the specific teachers he saw wandering around aimlessly (both from the same academic department) were the very ones that, in my opinion, MOST NEED to be taking a hard look at their curriculum and their pedagogy.

    My prediction is that this will make the” rich” richer. Those teachers who were already doing a fabulolus job will do even better and will make substantive use of this generous resource they’ve been given. Those who did a sucky job of teaching before will “blow off” the time and won’t get any better. They’ll fill out the stupid form with some comment like “We discussed the problems of education in modern day America, and vowed to count the number of times our students say “awesome” next week.” Because accountability rests entirely with the principals, and because some of our principals seem to lack a backbone when it comes to dealing with problematic teachers, these sort of “blow-off” responses will be ignored and/or tolerated.

    But, the school board won’t hold the superintendant accountable (he’s great! he’s wonderful! wow!) , and he, in turn, will return that favor when it comes to principals.

    I hope I’m wrong. It is early in the year, maybe big changes are still to come. (And, maybe pigs will fly someday).

  2. Bully for Kari’s op ed–but where was she last year when I was the only interested parent at the school board meetings?

    Jefferson is a real mess, and it took TWO police at the intersection of Raider Drive and Jefferson–when I made the mistake of turning onto Jeffreson.

    The administration failed to explain the reasoning behind their “need” for these meetings–they failed to plan for the traffic problems. They failed to address the missing instructional hours. Their biggest problem is they are dishonest with the public–they only tell what they think the public want to hear.

    I agree with you, Kathie, that good teachers will make good use of their meeting time while mediocre and bad teachers will maintain.

  3. Last Spring, I recall Jeff Q. asking why this couldn’t be done outside of the school day and, to my recollection, he was never provided an answer (at least publicly). Nor were we, the parents, given any concrete reason as to why it had to be during the school day. This whole thing is a mess.

    To restate my position again, I am not against PLCs; I just don’t think they need to meet during the regular school day and at the student’s expense.

    I thought it interesting that at Monday’s Board meeting Jody Saxton West (NHS teacher) gave a briefing on what she’s been doing with her PLC time and when asked by Mike B. who she has been meeting with she essentially answered: no one. She has yet to meet with any other teachers! Seriously? Isn’t that why they needed this dedicated time because without it they were unable to find the time to meet with others? To her credit, she presented how she is looking at data to better serve the students but isn’t that what teachers are suppose to do anyway?

    And this one hour at the schools was clearly not thought through. I personally haven’t had to deal with the Jefferson mess but I feel bad for those of you that have. By the way, has anyone asked what this “free” hour is costing the District (aka, taxpayers)? So many elementary students are participating in the “PLC Hour” that they had to hire YMCA staff to care for half of the students. The other half are being cared for by KidVentures staff that are being paid for an extra hour each week, all at the District’s expense.

    I think PLCs are here to stay. However, I certainly hope that the School Board seriously reconsiders how this is handled in the future.

  4. So far, my middle schoolers have tolerated the change. They get dropped off at 8, so they loiter in the lobby for an hour. The first week, the library was closed and they said that a group of kids got into a fight in the cafeteria. It’s now a little better, but still lost time for them. My daughter (3rd grade) gets stuck in aftercare for even longer than usual, so she HATES Wednesdays at this point. I suspect she’ll coordinate her illnesses to fall on Wednesdays this school year.

  5. The last sentence of the second paragraph on page 8 states:

    “The district also implemented continuous school improvement plans in all buildings
    and is currently implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) across the district.”

  6. Like I said at the school board meetings last spring and in my comments to the school board, this decision was made before it was brought to the school board and the reasons were obfuscated to prevent explaining themselves to the pesky general public.

  7. I still think the principle behind PLCs is sound, but if Jody Saxton West’s comments, as reported above (#3) are correct, they aren’t being used as intended: to create communities in which teachers share and reflect on the practice of teaching.

    My two high schoolers love the late starts. As my sophomore says, it makes the week go faster. Fewer hours of that pesky education. More importantly, for adolescents, a change to sleep in. High school should start later every day.

    The traffic mess was foreseeable and inexcusable. About a decade ago, a school board member called me up and asked me to write a letter to the News supporting the construction of a new middle school. I said I would, if he could assure me that the traffic situation at the intersection of Jefferson would be addressed. He assured me, I believed him, and I wrote the letter. More fool me.

  8. I attended part of the Parent Advisory Council at the HS this Monday–PLCs were on the agenda. Another parent reported that she had heard of a number of cases (like, 5) of students who wanted to take advantage of the honors program at St. Olaf, but because of the Wednesday schedule, couldn’t.

    When pressed, she said she couldn’t absolutely be sure that it was the Wed schedule, but she thought that’s what she heard other parents telling her.

    The principal said he’d look into it.

    So, I am not positive this is true, but looking at the Wed schedule it is quite a bit different for the morning classes especially, so it is at least plausible. And, if true, a very direct cost to students.

    1. Anthony, I’m not at all surprised that teachers are avoiding this topic. I’m a meteorologist…do you think I want to get into some discussion about Climate Change? Oh, heck no! If I were a Northfield teacher I’d let the School Board, the Union, and the Parents have their discussions, wait for the dust to settle, and then press on with whatever decision is made. Getting involved in the discussion sounds like a recipe for frustration. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were the only one that felt that way, but ya never know.

  9. Like with any other new regulation that gets put on parents and citizens we find a way to cope with it.

    My kids had to learn to get themselves up on their own and go to school, so far so good.

    I am wating with anticipation to see improved results in the schools performance, which where promised to us as part of the deal.

    I kept my part.

  10. Editorial in today’s Nfld News: District can learn from PLC schedule.

    Transportation proved an issue when the board decided to run buses at the usual time on Wednesdays, which created a Jefferson Parkway bottleneck of elementary students coming at their usual time and middle and high school students arriving an hour later than usual.

    And at the middle school, although arrangements were made to supervise students who needed to come to school at the usual time, no one was prepared for the number of kids who actually showed up — a parent survey put the number at about 300, but about 600 actually came.

    When the district decided to undertake PLCs, it had no history to draw from on what obstacles it would encounter. Now it does. Going forward, the district needs to once again solicit community feedback on PLCs and address the “road bumps” before it releases its schedule for the next school year and continues with the program.

  11. They didn’t listen to the community (and some teachers) last time they provided feedback… what makes you think they will listen this time.

  12. I don’t think they will, either, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. Over and above the “how effective are the PLCs in Northfield reality” question, which is still a biggie despite the heavy-handed PR campaign the district has going, is the issue of scheduling. Clearly the planning that went into this sucked. Particularly, apparently, at the middle school. I think that over the year families and schools have made adjustments, but that doesn’t mean (contrary to the PR campaign) that everything is going swimmingly. It’s not. The district really ought to solicit parent feedback before they lock in the schedule for next year.

  13. It comes out in the school building newsletters–every month there’s another piece making vague references to “research” supporting PLCs. Building newsletters are accessible at this link
    http://www.nfld.k12.mn.us/newsletter/newsletter.shtml

    Any of the building newsletters in a given month carries the same article.

    The thing is, when you look at the specific reports of PLCs given at the School Board meetings, only a handful are actually following the procedures described in the oft-cited Du Four article in the district’s articles. So although the concept of PLCs may (or may not) have been rigorously tested (my best read is that most of the supporting evidence is anecdotal reports of participating teachers), when you look carefully at what Northfield PLCs are doing, its NOT what the original PLC model describes–at least in some if not many cases.

    I call it “PR” because it seems like a one-sided “positive spin” message: PLCs are great, they always work for every student, only mean critical people raise hard questions about them, parents who oppose Northfied’s implementation are by definition anti-education, etc. There’s still no DISCUSSION with the district–only one-sided (and in my opinion, misleading) “messages.”

  14. Here is another link that specifically states “Our goal is to increase communication about PLCs” and the link shows how they are communicating with parents and the community:

    http://www2.nfld.k12.mn.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=30882&pagecat=1539

    Next year’s school calendar is being worked right now and to the best of my knowledge the District hasn’t sought any comprehensive feedback from parents on how it could be better implemented for next year.

    Or, better yet, maybe they figured out a way to hold the PLC meetings outside of the school day and, therefore, parent feedback isn’t necessary. That would be great!

  15. This year the District has decoupled the calendar approval from the PLC scheduling.

    As has been done historically, two calendar options have already been distributed to a predetermined list of individuals for review and comment. Parents of elementary aged students wanting to see the options being considered should contact their respective PTO Presidents. I think the best option for parents of middle/high school students would be to contact either Jeff Pesta or Joel Leer. All comments are due January 15th to the District office.

    The two calendar options being considered are very similar to this year’s calendar. They both plan for 174 student contact days; the extra day over the 173 required is to compensate for the PLC time. The difference between the two options being considered is that one has two weeks off for Winter Break, the other has only a week and a half off with students attending school through to December 22nd. The length of the Winter Break dictates when the last day of school falls. With the two week break, the last day of school is June 10th; with the shorter break, the last day is June 7th. Neither calendar option addresses how PLCs will be scheduled; that is being handled separately.

    The District’s administration intends to request Board approval for the continuation of weekly PLCs for next school year. I assume that once the Board approves the calendar and approves continuation of PLCs, they will then work on how the weekly PLCs will be scheduled next year. My understanding is that the District intends to seek feedback on how the weekly PLCs should be scheduled via a survey prior to Spring Break. They plan to ask preferences for what day of the week, whether they should be scheduled for morning or afternoon therefore requiring a late start or an early release, and when the buses should run on the shortened day.

    The first reading by the Board of the proposed calendar is scheduled for February 8th. Board approval of the 2010-11 calendar is scheduled for February 22nd.

  16. It bothers, but does not surprise me at all, that staff get to see the options and vote on their preference, but parents don’t. It’s well known that a small handful of parents only attend PTOs (and the last high school PAC meeting was mysteriously cancelled ON THE DAY IT WAS SCHEDULED due to “conflicts.” (!).

    Once again, folks, evidence that the schools are run largely for the convenience of the staff, not for what’s good for students or families.

  17. I assume that when a school signs up for the PLC program, there is a certain amount of money to fund it coming from state or federal. And there are certain requirements as to how it is to be run. Anyone know the details?

  18. Stephanie: I don’t believe that PLC’s are a state- or federally-sponsored program that districts “sign up” for. There are no external funds available, and each district can implement the idea as they see fit.

  19. The real test will be the promised increased scores in scool performance.
    Part of the selling *schtick* was that by given the teachers extra time to prepare would have a positive impact on the grades.

    tick…tock…tick…tock…

  20. We’re at the half-way point of the school year—Thursday marked the end of the first semester. I’ve waited to make more comments about how PLCs are going (in response to Griff’s initial post in this thread) in order to have a fair sample of time to assess.

    First off, I have seen some good things. One, the third grade teachers at GVP did a video that they presented at a school board meeting (which I watched on tv). They were instantiating a textbook PLC process—meeting, agreeing quickly on a short-term goal (I believe it was around teaching 3rd graders what a “main idea” of a story is), then implementing an approach, finding it not quite working, meeting again to revise the approach and try a new idea out, etc. This kind of recursive, focused goal-setting seems like it could have a big impact, although the long-term results aren’t in.

    A second big success story is the 9th Grade Academy at the high school. There, a group of teachers has formed a team (and PLC group) to work intensively with 60 or so academically at-risk students. And it seems to be working, if the data reported are correct: whereas 25% of 9th graders in past years failed at least one class, the failure rate in the academy students first quarter was around 8%. That’s a pretty dramatic effect.

    Now, my elementary student goes to BW and my high schooler is in 11th grade, so I have no direct experience with either program. But these two examples strike me as clear-cut cases of success, driven largely, we are told, by the implementation of PLCs. (The cynic in me occasionally thinks it probably has a lot more to do with the individual teachers involved, but I’ll let that one go).

    So, am I ready to join the side of the PLC enthusiasts? No, I’m not. And the reason is this: Although these 2 examples are indeed great, they involve a grand total of 7 teachers, of the approximately 228 employed in the district. And about 160 of the 3300 students in the district schools. And, I don’t think these publicized examples are necessarily representative—the district has been clearly pulling out all the stops to win over public opinion. So it’s no accident that the success stories have been heavily publicized.

    So what of the experiences of my own two kids? What’s effect are the PLCs having on their academics so far this year? Answer: Very little. The second grade language arts teachers have been meeting (weekly) to place the kids into differentiated groups according to their MAP reading scores with a future plan to offer differentiated instruction. GREAT idea. Love it. Support it enthusiastically. Here’s my problem: They’ve been working on this for 15 weeks. We’re running out of school year to get to the part where the teachers differentially instruct.

    I’m all for planning. But the PLC model, with quick turn-around, data driven instruction, experimentation, tweaking, refining has not happened YET to my younger kid. And we’re halfway through the year. Moreover, apparently this grouping in 2nd grade happened last year as well—before implementation of weekly PLCs. So I’m not sure how much PLCs are responsible for this great (and as yet to-be-implemented) idea. Overall, my daughter is having about the same kind of year as she had in first grade and in kindergarten. These were all very good years—so I don’t have complaints—but I don’t see any big new improvement this year.

    I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing either of my child’s second grade teachers—I think they have done some creative, high-impact things with my kid and with the other kids. Overall, the year has become terrific, after a somewhat bumpy start. It’s just that the terrific aspects are not what’s coming out of the PLC meetings. They’re stemming from the fact that these individuals are committed, high-energy, professionals, ( and, probably, that I’m a fairly vocal parent. )

    Turning now to the high school. The PLC model (as outlined on the web site) seems to apply only sporadically there. For example, the AP bio teacher was trotted out before the school board in September or October to describe her PLC activities—it turned out that she uses the time to review her own testing data. No “community”. Reason? She’s the only one teaching AP bio, so, apparently, has no one she could meet with. (One could quibble here about why she didn’t want to/couldn’t form a professional learning community with the “regular” bio teachers, but I’ll let that one go, too). Well, pretty much every AP teacher in the school is in this boat—the AP world history teacher teaches the single world history AP section. Ditto the AP US History teacher. There are 2 sections of AP stats, but both are taught by the same teacher. Same teacher, in fact, of the only two AP Calculus sections. In fact, three of my son’s teachers are AP teachers, which would seem to imply that none of them have peers to meet with. So, they may be using the PLC time for more “prep”, or to focus on other courses, which is all very well except its really not the PLC model we were all promised would have profound effects for EVERY student. (EVERY would seem to include the AP students, at least in my book). My son’s other three teachers, while not teaching AP, are all still teaching “singleton” classes, and presumably, not using PLC time to improve teaching of those classes. So he and his classmates in those classes are not deriving any tangible PLC-related benefits. Moreover, although hes’ not taking any of these, there’s only one French teacher, one German teacher, one Chinese teacher, one Band teacher, one Orchestra teacher. How can the PLC model (the one we are promised is going to be used—the one where common formative assessments are used one week, a new plan formulated and implemented the next, new data gathered thereafter) be implemented for them? Answer: I don’t think it can. So all the kids in these classes, too, are not deriving PLC-related benefits.

    The English Department has been brave enough to post minutes of their weekly sessions. (You can go access the minutes at this url: http://www2.nfld.k12.mn.us/education/components/docmgr/default.php?sectiondetailid=30648&catfilter=1467#showDoc.)
    Now, I assume the teacher who is posting these is doing so to show how much this PLC is accomplishing. And, that particular teacher is one my son has had in the past, and she went above and beyond the call of duty in addressing kids’ writing issues, so personally I think she’s very effective as a professional. But, when you read through all the minutes carefully, I don’t see much evidence of a ton of DIRECT improvements FOR STUDENTS. I can give lots of examples of why I’m saying that, but that’s probably a separate post. Bottom line—it looks good if you don’t read the minutes too carefully, but if you stop and think about them, or if you ask students what they are noticing IN CLASS that’s different from last year, there’s not much discernable effect.

    Here’s my overall take. I don’t think PLCs are worthless. They have not become a mere coffee-and-doughnut break, as some feared they would. I think at the very least lots of teachers are having good discussions and some are making use of the extra prep time. But, I think their beneficial effects are not as direct, widespread, or powerful as the claims about the magical effects of PLCs would lead you to believe. The district’s new mantra, repeated in all its newsletters, is that “While teachers definitely benefit from their time in PLC teams, it is clear the benefit to EACH OF our students is far greater.” (my emphasis added). Sorry, but I find this statement to be completely untrue for my own kids, and, I’m guessing for many other kids.

    I’m tired, as a parent and a taxpayer, of having my tax dollars go to support this “spin” and this PR campaign that overstates benefits and glosses over problems. (Although, the district spins almost all information they provide to parents or the public—that’s another post, too). The day-to-day experience of MOST students in the district schools (the Academy students excepted) is pretty much the same as it’s been last year and the year before. The teachers are getting more prep time. The dedicated teachers use it well. That may have indirect benefits for some or many students, but I see no major differences in the learning environment from last year to this.

    So, where to go from here? I think that kids and families are paying too heavy price for PLCs. Although there are some PLC successes, I want a better balance between who’s really benefitting from PLC time (the teachers), and who’s bearing the cost (students, families).

    Here’s an idea. Stop with the hour-long late starts or early releases, which are causing headaches, traffic jams, and some scary lack-of-enough-proper-adult-supervision issues. Instead, next year, shorten each regular school day by, say, 7 minutes. (Why 7, you ask? Well, the middle and high school have 7 periods a day—this would shorten each one by one minute, which shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone). That provides teachers with 35 extra minutes a week that they are getting paid for, but not seeing students for. Since most of the “PLC activities” this year are really planning/prep activities, ask the administrators and teachers to “pony up” 25 additional minutes from their contracted prep time or from other scheduled meeting times—that would be like 5 minutes a day from them. Surely they could contribute 5 minutes a day, if their students and families are contributing 7! One day a week they meet for an hour. Everyone shares in the costs, and, hopefully, more students eventually get to see a direct benefit. Principals and EAs won’t have to staff and supervise a gym full of 300 kids. Parents will be more able to adjust to a daily 7-minute change in schedule than trying to remember what to do on a Wednesday. Teachers continue to be paid for the time they put in. Kids sit around unproductively less.

  21. Wow. Thanks for that comprehensive comment, Kathie. Have you shown it to any school board members?

    Also, I see Maia Rodriquez has two new articles in her PLC series on Northfield.org. I’ve not yet read them but have you a reaction to them?

    PLCs from one Teacher’s Perspective
    http://northfield.org/content/plcs-one-teachers-perspective

    PLCs: The Curriculum and Staff Development Department Speaks
    http://northfield.org/content/plcs-the-curriculum-and-staff-development-department-speaks

  22. Great comments Kathie. I especially agree with being sick and tired of our tax dollars going to pay for packaging and spin instead of substantive information.

    I think the academy program is great for the students in academy–maybe–since if may be argured that some of them are being coddled when they are capable of more challenging work–but at the same time, my ninth-grade daughter–not in the academy–had 37 students in her regular English class–they dropped down to 34 during the semester, but there is apparently a price to be paid by other students so the academy classes can have only 20 students. At the first parents PAC meeting with Joel Leer, he was talking up the academy and saying that it has resulted in other classes having increased sizes of say 29, 30 or 31–when I told him about my daughters class, he was dismissive and suggested that I was just wrong. Giving the impression to all the other parents that I was an uninformed parent rather than admitting to the disproportionate class sizes. And that is great that academy failure is only 8%–but not so great if the failure rate outside of academy is higher. How can teachers give the proper amount of attention to the non-academy students?

    By the way, Molly has a great English teacher who did a fabulous job first semester with a large class–but I don’t think that PLCs did the trick–I think she is already a great teacher trying to improve all the time. And that is the problem with PLCs–good teachers will use their extra time productively to improve, but does this really make any difference with the other teachers? And there is absolutely no data that they have improved all students performance so they need to quit claiming what they have not yet earned.

  23. Griff,

    I have read Maia’s articles. Maia made errors in the interview she did with me–stuff she could have checked on but didn’t. For example, she claims I wrote an invited editorial in the Northfield news when in fact it was an unsolicited letter to the editor. My sense from her article and from her questions (and her gratuitous use of quotes around some of the words I used) was that her own feelings are very pro-PLCs. So, I’m not surprised that 3/4 articles are very supportive of PLCs.. It’s certainly ok for her to have her own opinion, and for it to differ from mine, but I didn’t find her work to be sufficiently objective or balanced. Of course, she’s a student and this may just stem from her lack of experience in journalism.

    As for school board members: Over the years, I’ve had many in-depth discussions with past (and even present) school board members. My overall feeling is that there are real process problems in the way the School Board works (ones that make the City Council issues pale in comparison). The Supe meets individually with many if not all members before meetings to “share” information and to get everyone “on the same page.” There’s apparently (and this is according to actual board members) a fair amount of subtle coercion to toe the “party line.” Reinforced, apparently, by other board members who are big Dr. R. fans. So, no, I haven’t presented my ideas or comments to them, because I believe Dr. R. has decreed that PLC’s are the biggest and most important educational innovation since replacing stone tablets with paper–and brooks no criticism. Board members will put aside their own feelings and judgements to jump on the bandwagon. My comments, obviously, are critical. So, they’ll pretty much be ignored. The current board seems even more dependent on the supe than past boards–there’s no real voice of independence, unfortunately. They aren’t bad people, or uncaring people, but they are united in their unqualified support for any and all of Dr. R’s ideas and proposals.

  24. Jane,

    You raise very important points about the down-sides to the Academy. And you are dead-on about ridiculous class sizes. It’s insane! My son’s history class has 39 kids–there are something like 37 or 39 in Statistics–and yet, if you look in other places (French classes come immediately to mind) there are like 15 or less. There seems to be a real balance problem.

    And yes, the high school principal has often been dismissive of parental concerns. Both at the PAC meeting you refer to (I was there, I remember), and in face-to-face individual meetings, and over email, and on the phone….

    I don’t know how the Academy is REALLY working, so I don’t know how many students really benefit. And, whatever those benefits may be, you are right on to point out they should be weighed against the cost to other students.

  25. I have followed this discussion closely as I am of the opinion that the solution to many ‘ woes’ lies in a good education… and I am not suggesting that many, if not most, of the NFHS students get a good education.

    But what I am suggesting, is that the problem that you both, Kathy and Jane, have suggested lies at the bottom of the School District’s reactions to parental concerns is the same as that which resides at the bottom of the local government process, i.e., it is unacceptable to most people in this community to ‘make waves’.

    I’m sure that in talking with other parents you find many who will agree with what you are saying, but will not join in a vocal expression of their dissatisfaction.

    This is a mystery to me… and to some degree it centers on a very real dichotomy that I have seen in the 20 years I have lived in Minnesota… and that is that this ‘state’ has a huge history of social concern but often acts/legislates/ in a punitive manner.
    What kind of culture clash is this?

    In recent years, when I had quite a few interactions with the high school because of my role with the Key, I was often disturbed by the dismissive attitude by some in the administration. I was especially impressed by some excellent teachers who always seemed to follow their principles and do more than required to get kids to freely express themselves; and to delve into the critical thinking modes so necessary to true lifetime learning.

    So my conclusion is that somehow, the ‘excellence’ breaks down at the administrative/ governance level.
    IMO, this can only be, because the citizens allow it to break down.

    Our systems are set up to reflect the will of the people; it is wrong to abdicate that responsibility, leaving it to the few who are willing to ‘sit in the front pew’.

    I think there is an undue respect for hierarchy here (undue when not deserved by performance) and that is an unhealthy situation for the pursuit of excellence, whether in schooling or governing.

    1. ***error in last sentence of 1st paragraph; it should read: … and I am not suggesting that many , if not most, of the NFHS students do *NOT* get a good education.

  26. Brava, Kiffi. I think all of our public institutions have learned to spin first, ask questions later. A smooth delivery is considered more important than what is actually “delivered.”

    In the case of PLCs, Northfield schools, like every other school, are headed to being labeled “failing” under the No Child Left Behind act. (The way the school is measured is unreasonable–yes, it is good to expect to progress for each and every student–but the actual design of the NCLB benchmarks will result in every public school in the United States being labeled as Failing by 2014. This result was known and discussed by the Bush administration. Hence, my conspiricy theory that there is a movement to dismantle the public school system.)

    Northfield administration, in order to stave off the dreaded “failing” label, like every other school system worth its salt, must present a plan to the state department of education to prove they are working to get rid of any “failing” label, jumped on PLCs as a great way to look like they are doing something and MAYBE even actually doing something. I do not doubt that cooperative meetings among teachers can help improve teaching in general. However, the administration, instead of admitting that they were engaging in an experiment to see if they could have an impact, did their “spin first”, and got everybody on the same page and rammed through PLCs without discussing the pros AND cons with the public.

    Our public officials, including city, cannot err by telling us too much. As you point out, Kathie, the school board appears to be having “serial” meetings to get everybody on board so they can have the least amount of discussion at their meetings–put it on a consent agenda and pass it through.

    I have to say that City of Northfield does do a better job–they televise their work sessions and sometimes they discuss decisions in great detail (very boring–but very necessary.) I think we need to see more of this–boring discussions that put the public to sleep but actually show public officials discssing how they feel about something (as opposed to what the school board does—a PowerPoint presentation with little discussion.) And they need to give real attention to the concerns of citizens–rather than just a little lip service.

    During the PLC decision debate, the public got a time-limited comment while somebody else did a 20-minute PowerPoint, often debunking any arguments that were transmitted to board members before hand, while anything that they couldn’t explain they simply ignored without addressing.

    Although there are many people who do not wnat to participate in the messy problems of governing, there are others who deserve to have the process be tranparent and respectful of their right to observe and participate in communicating their concerns to the governing body.

    It really comes down to communication–respectfully providing all the facts and all the discssions so the public, if they want, can examine AND criticize. (Or maybe even give a bit HooYah!)

  27. I have a few questions. Background: Assuming that things have not changed within the past year, on the Fridays before School Board meetings, at least three documents are sent out to Board Members, District Staff, PTO Presidents (aka, parents) and most likely others. The three documents are the minutes from the previous meeting, the agenda for the upcoming meeting, and a memorandum from Dr. Richardson highlighting and expanding on the topics to be discussed at the upcoming meeting and any recommendations he may have on those topics. Only the agenda is posted prior to the meeting. The minutes are posted after the meeting once approved by the Board. The memorandum is never posted. Questions: Why do certain members of the District and community have access to this information and others don’t? Does this violate open meeting laws? Also, shouldn’t all presentations and information covered during Board meetings be posted to their website? Finally, shouldn’t the District archive all of this data somewhere?

    To comment on Kathie’s suggestion in the last paragraph of her previous post (#31), last year I had emailed the School Board members recommending similar ways of implementing PLC time. Only until recently, buried in the Sibley Star newsletter, did the District attempt (unsuccessfully IMO) to give reasons why the PLC time cannot be scheduled outside of the school day. I understand that change is difficult. If the District decided to require teachers to show up early one day a week for their PLC time, I am certain that it would be met with opposition. However, only 220 or so teachers and their families would be impacted. Keep in mind that how PLCs were implemented this year impacted 3,000+ students and their families. Sure, some stay at home parents viewed this as a time to spend quality time with their children, others saw it as a way not to have to drag their teenager out of bed that one day, but for most, we had to juggle work schedules, lean on family/friends to care for our children, drive to school to drop off/pick up our student that normally would have rode the bus and so on. Yes, ultimately we all made it work. Similarly, the teachers (and District administration) would make it work. As I am certain there are discussions going on behind closed doors, I can only hope that alternate options on how to implement PLCs outside of the school day for next year are being considered.

  28. Kathleen, Jane, and Kiffi

    I agree with many of your points. I think there are repeated and intentional violations on the part of the school administration of the Open Meeting Law’s INTENTION, if not the actual letter. Stuff gets snuck onto the agenda all the time–the original discussion of PLCs is one example. The bonus for Dr. Richardson (in a year when over 1/2 of his buildings are not making AYP) is another (egregious) one. My guess is, if someone brought an actual lawsuit, the central administration (e.g., Dr. Richardson) would have to share the full agendas and all documents with the public. But, he seems to feign ignorance over the law’s intentions. (I brought this up in discussion with a current Board member, who was going to “look into it.” Predictably, no follow-up. )

    Kiffi’s point is well taken though. These guys act in this egregious fashion because WE, the parents and taxpayers, LET them. We very rarely call them on all the “spinning” they do. We swallow what they tell us, even when it’s clear they are lying or prevaricating. We tolerate lousy teachers and don’t insist they be dealt with. We tolerate wussy principals who don’t show leadership. We are afraid to complain. (Of course, that fear in Northfield is well-justified: it’s ok to lie, to do a poor job in the classroom, and to ignore legitimate parental concerns–but NOT to complain. That sin gets you ostracized.)

  29. Someone asked about state or federal dollars. According to 2009 Minnesota Staff Development Legislation Changes (http://education.state.mn.us/mdeprod/groups/SchImprove/documents/Memo/015266.pdf), Staff development plans require PCLs. So while there is no monetary support, they are pushed from above:

    Staff development plans have additional requirements.
    The plan must include the staff development outcomes under subdivision 3 and the means to achieve
    the outcomes and procedures for evaluating progress at each school site toward meeting education
    outcomes consistent with relicensure requirements under Minn. Stat. § 122A.18 Subd. 2(b). The plan
    must:
    (1) support stable and productive professional communities achieved through ongoing
    schoolwide progress and growth in teaching practice;
    2
    (2) emphasize coaching, professional learning communities, classroom action research and
    other job-embedded models;

  30. The “PLC Survey” where the District is seeking PLC feedback is now open. The link to the Survey can be found on the District’s homepage.

    For one of the questions, they are asking which day of the week should PLCs be held. For reference, for the 2010-11 school year, there are the following number of days in the calendar:

    Mondays = 32 student contact days
    Tuesdays = 37
    Wednesdays = 36
    Thursdays = 35
    Fridays = 34

    So, to minimize loss of student contact time, the best day for PLCs to be held is Monday.

    Note: I still don’t understand, nor have they explained, why PLCs cannot be held outside of the school day.

    1. Yeah, you’re right, Katy. The attempt at an explanation is supposedly that teachers are “busy” after school. Of course, this was offered with the district’s usual style of “proof by repeated assertion.”

      I still think that they should shorten each school day by some small number of minutes (say, 7-10), and just meet after school one day.

      Oh, wait, that will interfere with sports. We CAN’T interfere with SPORTS.

  31. I completely agree with the idea of shortening each school day by 6 minutes. By doing so, that shorten the school week by a total of 30 minutes. The other 30 minutes would be outside of the school day. I don’t get the sports conflict issue either. In any given season (Fall, Winter, Spring), seriously, how many teachers are tied up with sports anyway? Also, most (if not all) are held after school; why can’t they then meet before school? Also, please note that coaches are paid up and above their salaries for coaching and is not part of their contract time. Therefore, if they coach immediately after school, they have to be arriving at school extra early to get their union contract time in.

    One thing I have to disagree on is the “proof by repeated assertion”. They have been nearly silent on why it can’t be held outside of the school day. The only thing I have seen/heard was a small paragraph in the Sibley Star newsletter a few months back. Instead of addressing this question, they keep chanting “PLCs ARE GREAT! PLCs ARE GREAT! PLCs ARE GREAT!”. No one would really have cared one way or the other if PLCs worked or not if they had held them outside of the school day to begin with.

  32. Katy—

    “Proof by repeated assertion” is my sarcastic way of saying the district administrators have provided no explanation—just repeated the assertion that PLCs can’t be scheduled outside of the school day.

    Can I raise another issue? This survey is much less biased than the last one (That’s a low bar) but……are the data they collect public? They never share the numbers or make the raw data available for inspection. Does anyone know what the legal requirements are?

  33. From the “Recomendations” page:

    • Maintain Wednesday for the PLC day

    • Move to a one hour late start for all students K-­12 so that both elementary and secondary staff work in their PLCs on Wednesday morning

    • Buses will run one hour late each Wednesday so as to arrive at each building shortly before school starts

    • Since there will be no early bus transportation, there will
    be no supervised actvities for students except those that are currently provided through the Kids Ventures program

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