Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Pasco elementary teachers look to rein in workload

NEW PORT RICHEY — About a dozen Deer Park Elementary School teachers convened Thursday for what has become an increasingly common conversation about how much work they have to do each day.

They've met like this for nearly two years. And their loads have only increased.

"It's getting to the point where it's such unrealistic expectations," said Kathy Kennedy, the group's facilitator and school representative to the United School Employees of Pasco. "There has been more and more and more added to our workload with no extra resources and no extra help."

The teachers spoke of paperwork added because of federal laws, state mandates and district initiatives; a spate of new tests such as the state's FAIR assessment; and a variety of meetings they must attend to talk about student performance. Time to plan lessons, they said, has dwindled as a result.

What they wanted, more than anything, is some relief. Yesterday, if possible.

District leaders say they're listening.

"We have started with the elementary principals to say we need to take stock of all of the things we are doing," assistant superintendent David Scanga said. "It's very timely to take a look at all the things you do and make a decision of whether you have to keep doing them or not."

Each school might have different things it finds important and necessary, he said. So discussions must take place at individual campuses, with no real mandate from on high.

Schools must follow state and federal requirements on things such as testing, Scanga added. But working together, the teachers and their administrations should be able to find areas to ease back.

He mentioned meetings and assessments as two key focal points for consideration.

USEP, which has urged such a review, has pushed for reductions in those areas and others.

"We are trying to continue the process to see what potentially could come off the plate," lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said, mentioning paperwork as another possibility.

It's an issue across Pasco County.

"We have seen the increase of our workload just continue to rise," said West Zephyrhills Elementary teacher Lisa Mazza, who sits on a district committee looking into the topic.

Mazza said she's supposed to arrive at work at 7:30 a.m., but she actually gets there closer to 6:30 a.m. so she can have enough time to complete required tasks before preparing for the day's lessons. She works into the evenings and brings materials home with her, too.

"It becomes a 12-hour day very easily," Mazza said.

Even after all those hours, she added, there's not always enough time for planning.

And that's not acceptable, said Donna Busby, principal of Veterans Elementary School in Wesley Chapel.

"We want to not lose focus of the most important thing we do, which is teaching students," Busby said.

She has led her staff through several discussions on how to make changes to the workload, in order to keep that focus. Already, the school has consolidated committees and reduced its number of meetings, which Busby said can otherwise eat up teachers' morning prep time.

The faculty also is looking at cutting back on the tests it uses, aiming to rely on those that it must use because of state or federal rules rather than those that are optional.

"It is pretty overwhelming," Busby said. "The teachers here like to use the data. I think we really need to focus on the information that is going to be the most helpful to meet the needs of the kids."

Teacher input is critical, she added, because they're the ones who really know what they need and what they can do without. She expected to have some measures in place for the next school year.

Fox Hollow Elementary principal Lisa Miller said her staff also is paying close attention to assessments. The goal, she said, is to give teachers more choices in which ones they don't have to offer.

"It's an ongoing conversation," she said.

The Deer Park teachers suggested there are plenty of small areas that could generate big time savings beyond changes to testing and meetings.

Teacher Beth Brewster noted, for example, that the district's new reading manuals lay out lesson plans, yet teachers still must write out detailed lesson plans because of other district requirements. Perhaps that duplication could be eliminated, she said.

Teacher Bill Miller questioned the district's requirement on giving each student eight grades per subject area each quarter, even if some lessons last a couple of weeks. That often leads to unnecessary graded tests or assignments, he said.

Teacher Nancy Carr observed that she could save a couple of days each year if she simply were allowed to leave some of her classroom materials unpacked over the summer.

"It takes a day or two to unpack at the start of the year," Carr said. "They 'let' us come in a week early. If you don't, you're dead."

For many of the educators, the issue boiled down to treating them like professionals.

"They can stop micromanaging us," Kennedy said. "Because of (Learning Focused Strategies), we are told how to arrange our rooms. We are told how to do our bulletin boards, how to do our lesson plans. If we were free to use the teaching methods that work for us . . . that would free up time."

Teacher Patti Martin said she wished the effort would be taking place now. She noted that because of furloughs, teachers will have only one planning day at the end of the year, rather than two, to close their books, pack up their classrooms and complete all their work.

"The district is focusing a lot on what they can do next year," she said. "They need to focus on this year, too."

Scanga said he welcomed ideas, and added that he would look for themes that might lend themselves to sharing among the schools. The schools should never stop asking questions about how they can operate more effectively and efficiently, he said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Comments
Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to ...
Published: 12/15/17
Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring...
Published: 12/15/17
Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Three months later, the Pinellas County school district has totaled up the costs of operating 16 schools as shelters for 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma.The district is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a reimbursemen...
Published: 12/15/17
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17