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Daniel Ruth

She finds sure footing on way out the door

There is something liberating when an elected official finds herself on the way out the door. From the mouths of defrocked pols … comes common sense. At last. • Hillsborough County School Board member Jennifer Faliero lost her re-election bid a few days ago. It was a tenure marked by petty bickering, oftentimes initiated by her, and some personal travails.

But in one of her last acts in public office, Faliero found her footing. She was the lone School Board member to vote against a new teacher contract, which would include 14 early release days. While other states and school districts around the country are advocating for longer school days and even an extended school year, in Hillsborough those in charge of overseeing the education of the community's children decided they should attend classes even less.

And this may explain why Florida so often finds itself ranked somewhere between Dogpatch and Haiti when it comes to the quality of our schools.

For starters, let's all agree teaching is a tough, difficult, demanding job, its most dedicated practitioners woefully underpaid and all too often underappreciated. Under the new contract, teachers and staff will receive a 2 percent pay increase, which would be an embarrassment if it wasn't so laughable.

By any standard teachers certainly deserve to be better paid. No argument there.

But Faliero's well-stated beef with the contract was on another issue.

In addition to such things as "professional study days," the new contract also includes 14 "early release" days. Or more pointedly — at least three weeks of every month on the school calendar include one day when students are released from their classes early.

If all these kids were budding Rhodes Scholars, perhaps reducing their in-class time might be justifiable. But they are not — or, as Faliero noted, early release days are "too disruptive for all." Let's face it, these early released students are hardly going to be rushing home to take advantage of the extra time to study Shakespeare.

Many already harried parents will now have to leave work early or make other arrangements to pick up their children in the middle of the school day — and then return to their jobs, while teachers busy themselves with collaboration time. These parents aren't under enough stress?

It will hardly come as a shock that the new contract, which was signed off by a more compliant School Board than the Vichy government, was then approved overwhelmingly by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association. This was more of a slam dunk than a Cuban presidential election.

School and union officials argued the early release days were vital to the education process because they would provide time for teachers to prepare their lessons and collaborate with one another.

At the risk of being accused of … skepticism … just how much preparing and collaborating does anyone honestly think is going to go on here?

Can anyone imagine as the last school bus pulls away at noon, the remaining teachers will assemble, breathe a sigh of relief and say to each other: "Thank gawd we're rid of those dreadful brats. So what will it be? A thrilling discussion about Bloom's Taxonomy? Or maybe we can really stir things up with a collaboration on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs."

Most good teachers have their lesson plans developed and ready to go well ahead of the start of the school year. And while no one would seriously argue educators don't benefit from working with each other, do they need 14 extra days a year to figure out how to be better teachers?

Yes, teachers do hold a special status in any community, charged as they are with the welfare and education of our young. But they are also public employees who draw their paychecks from the taxpayers.

Other vital public employees don't enjoy the same benefit of 14 early release days from their labors — police officers, sanitation workers, corrections officers, courthouse clerks, paramedics, firefighters.

Several parents objected to the School Board's decision to give teachers a head start on happy hour, arguing the additional 14 early release days — at the very least — devalue school in the hearts and minds of many students. And that attitude has some resonance.

In the real world, everybody else has to show up for work — a full day's work. And when parents and students see their teachers shutting the school door early, what kind of message does that send? That there are more important things for the teacher to be doing than attending to the student's needs in the classroom.

Across much of the nation, school boards ponder not only extending the school day but the school year as well. Indeed the United States lags behind (you might want to take a breath here): Japan, South Korea, Israel, Scotland, Thailand, England, Hungary, Luxembourg, Swaziland, Hong Kong, Finland, Nigeria, and yes, even France in the length of the school year.

Perhaps when all those Hillsborough schoolteachers start collaborating, communing and sharing, they might want to chew on that. If only they can find the time.

She finds sure footing on way out the door 09/06/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 6:50pm]
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