I’ll begin this with a letter to the editor I submitted to the Northfield News, which I think is self-explanatory:
On Feb 9 the Northfield School Board entertained two options for next year’s school calendar. Both involve having a one hour late-start EVERY MONDAY of the year, so that teachers can have the time to meet in professional learning communities. These meetings would replace the four days that have traditionally been scheduled with 2 hours either late start or early release. Parents have one month to comment on the proposed calendar.
I strongly object to this change.
First, it will further reduce instructional time for each student. We already have fewer instructional days (173) than other areas of the country (e.g., the Northeast, which has about 180); now we are chipping away at those fewer days. We are reminded each year by building principals that every minute of instruction counts. If true, then reduction in instructional time is a very big issue.
Second, this calendar, while perhaps convenient and congenial to teachers and principals, is problematic for working parents of elementary students. Working parents are unlikely to be able to stay home until 9 or 9:30 every week with their young children. They will now have to pay extra to have supervision for their young elementary children (or else leave them unsupervised). The plan is not “cost-neutral” as claimed by the district, but a new cost imposed unilaterally on parents.
My third objection is that the only options on the table contain this late-start provision. Parents had no voice in formulating these options, or discussing with the committee what effects this change would have on them.
Lastly, the justification given for this change is that “research” has “shown” that professional learning communities are beneficial for education. I find this statement vague and possibly misleading. Our teachers have been in PLCs for at least some time already, and our performance as a school district is heading down, not up. What exactly is the evidence, IN NORTHFIELD, that PLC’s are improving student experience?
My experience as a parent is that the Northfield school district is a very staff-centric one. We do (and fail to do) far too much to suit the convenience and preferences of teachers and administrators, instead of centering efforts, energies, and resources on students. Parental concerns are ignored far too often. It’s time for this focus to change.
I urge other concerned parents to make their views known to school board members, and to do so soon.
I haven’t yet heard back from the News—usually they publish my letters though sometimes it takes a few weeks. They also limit letters to 400 words, so there is not a lot of room for expansion.
But as I wrote the letter, and as I phoned and emailed school board members about the issue before writing the letter, I became increasingly clear about how I felt about a larger issue: The Northfield School district has become increasingly staff-centric, and that compromises the overall educational quality delivered to its students.
I don’t deny that having teachers be in professional learning communities has value. I question the relative value of those meetings against instructional time for kids. I also question why these meetings can’t take place after school or before school (in the case of Bridgewater, which already has a very late start). I suspect the answer has something to do with the large proportion of teachers who coach. But that raises the question, why is coaching more important a priority than teaching. And, coaching aside, I question why the burden of holding these meetings should fall upon families with both parents working outside the home, or single parents who work outside the home (like me).
For more information, see the ISD 659 website has PDF of background information and Frequently Asked Questions.