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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough teachers seek more planning time to improve, union head says



As a growing number of Hillsborough parents complain about school early release days, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association has risen to defend the practice.

The extra time spent planning and preparing and training helps make for better teachers, which in turn improves student and school performance, HCTA executive director Nick Whitman wrote in a letter to the Gradebook.

"Frankly, to CTA and its members, it does not matter if that planning comes on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.  And, it doesn’t matter if it is in the morning or afternoon," Whitman wrote.  "What is important, if we are serious about breaking the public education mold, is that the additional time be incorporated into the school calendar."

Read on for his entire letter.


When community sentiment turns against a public institution, there is typically a request to “break the mold” and start over.  In my twenty years of working on behalf of public school employees, I have heard that phrase uttered hundreds of times.

I believe that the Empowering Effective Teachers (EET) Grant, a grant jointly and successfully pursued by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (CTA) and the School District of Hillsborough County (District), will likely “break” the public education mold.  For starters, it will provide new/inexperienced teachers with the weekly contact and support they need to quickly learn best practices and insure that they do not fall through the cracks, and eventually out of public education.  For experienced teachers, the new evaluation system will provide them with deeper, more relevant feedback and more credible/reasonable student performance data that they will then be able to utilize when choosing their teaching strategies and planning their lessons.  In addition, the utilization of a new career ladder will ultimately allow the most successful teachers to quickly reach their maximum earning potential and should help insure that the best and brightest potential teachers seriously consider education as a career – rather than choosing other professional options that have traditionally been more financially lucrative.

The changes being brought into the Hillsborough School District as a result of the EET Grant require teachers to have more “planning” time.  It takes time for a new teacher to have a meaningful weekly conversation with their mentor.  It takes time for an experienced teacher to have a meaningful post-observation conversation with their peer evaluator and/or administrator.  It takes time to review and seriously analyze student performance data.  It takes time to incorporate all of that feedback into the design of a teacher’s lesson plans.  And, it takes time for all the teachers of a subject and/or of a grade level to get together and insure that their actions are coordinated and synchronized.

When is that time going to be provided to teachers?  During their 30 minute lunch period?  During their 30 minute daily planning period?  Before and after school when they are escorting children to or from buses?  Before and after school when they are coaching athletic teams, serving as club advisors, and/or preparing for evening musical or drama performances?  On evenings and weekends when they are correcting papers and/or grading tests?  Or, during the summer when they are taking the courses they need to maintain their licenses or continue their professional development?

Many school districts across the state have answered those questions by providing their teachers with weekly planning time through the use of early release or late start days.  (Two examples would be Pinellas and Orange Counties.)  If those districts can find a way to provide weekly planning days, why can’t a similar amount of time be provided in Hillsborough County? 

To begin a dialogue regarding the need for additional planning time, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association did, during contract negotiations, propose the scheduling of a weekly early release day.  Frankly, to CTA and its members, it does not matter if that planning comes on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.  And, it doesn’t matter if it is in the morning or afternoon.  What is important, if we are serious about breaking the public education mold, is that the additional time be incorporated into the school calendar.

The community response to the CTA proposal has been surprising and disheartening.  In the rest of the country, the public seems to be clamoring for change in public education.  At the same time, in Hillsborough County, it appears that the community, or some small vocal section of it, is more interested in maintaining the status quo - or even turning back the clock.  CTA rejects a public education model that sees schools solely as daycare providers for parents who work or have other obligations.  Instead, we want to provide the “gold standard” in public education.  And, we are willing to try new and innovative ideas to achieve that gold standard.  Through the courageousness of our members and leaders, we are working to break the public education mold.  We sincerely hope that the District and community will provide the resources and support to allow that to occur.  Only when that occurs will every Hillsborough child receive the education to which they are entitled.

Nick Whitman
CTA Executive Director

[Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 2:15pm]


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