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Hernando teachers union asks district to 'loosen up' on lesson planning rules

By Megan Reeves
John Stratton, the executive director of business services who heads up the district's negotiations team, told union representatives he will return to the next bargaining session with a proposal to address teachers' concerns over common planning requirements. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times]

BROOKSVILLE — As negotiations continue between the Hernando County School District and its teachers, conversation about the way instructors plan their lessons is at the forefront.

At a meeting Monday, representatives from the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for instructors, told district staffers that the current requirement for teachers to participate in common planning, or scheduled group work with other teachers, needs adjusting.

Kathy Marcucci, chairwoman of the union’s negotiating team, said the setup places unnecessary regulation on how teachers do their jobs, then told the district’s team to "loosen up" and trust teachers to manage their already limited time how they see fit.

"It seems to be kind of overkill directing where I have to be at a certain time during the day instead of recognizing that I am a professional and my lesson plans are good," Marcucci said.

Marcucci, a history teacher at Weeki Wachee High School, told the Tampa Bay Times that while union members agree with administrators that common planning is a proven best practice that should be used, it shouldn’t be required. Instead, all planning, she said, should be left to an individual teacher’s discretion.

"Teachers feel micromanaged when their time is scheduled for them," she said. "It is demoralizing and creates an atmosphere where they are not treated as professionals."

According to the current contract, teachers are afforded five planning periods, or "non-student contact time dedicated to carrying out professional responsibilities," each week. While teachers are free to use 80 percent of that time as they wish, the remaining 20 percent can be filled with "directed activities," or tasks assigned by school or district administrators.

Because "directed activities" is not explicitly defined in the contract, it is unclear which tasks can be assigned to teachers, and, by default, common planning often is.

Marcucci said she can agree that "good planning in many cases is collaborative, but there are exceptions," such as when a teacher teaches a niche subject and could better plan on his or her own than with others who teach unrelated courses.

Lisa Masserio, a teacher at Nature Coast Technical High School and second vice president of the union, agreed. She said required common planning is unnecessary "overstepping" by the administration that doesn’t always make for better instruction.

"I shouldn’t be required to sit in a meeting on my campus to accomplish something that my administrator deems productive if my time could be better used elsewhere," Masserio said at the meeting. "Why would the district and administrators seek to control instead of trusting us as professionals?"

John Stratton, the executive director of business services who heads up the district’s negotiations team, told union representatives he doesn’t think "any of us are trying to seek control."

"I think we agree (common planning) is a best practice and want to ensure that it is happening," Stratton said.

But the union argued that there are other measures in place to determine whether a teacher is on par, like annual evaluations and district walkthroughs and visits during the school year, making administrators’ involvement in planning unnecessary.

"If a teacher’s goal is to teach good lessons, they will find the other teachers and resources they need to make that happen," Marcucci said, and if not, "let the evaluation process take care of it."

Marcucci told Stratton she would like to see the contract, set to expire in June, include an explicit definition for "directed activities," to make clear what kind of duties administrators can impose on teachers during their planning time.

Whether that definition will include common planning is still to be determined, but Stratton agreed to come to the next negotiating session, set for Nov. 16, with a proposal.

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.

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