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Fairfax County Teachers: Workload Proposals 'Not Enough'

School board agrees on a number of measures to re-evaluate teacher workday, but associations say teachers "need relief now."

Fairfax County School Board members agreed Monday on four initiatives to address the system's years-long teacher workload issue, including the creation of a committee charged with returning to the board with recommendations on reducing teacher time demands by the end of the month.

But the board did not agree on specific actions to relieve teachers in the short term, as teachers associations and some school board members had hoped.

More analysis and discussions, they said, are "not enough" —  and continuing for much longer without concrete action will begin to impact student achievement, if it hasn't already, they said.

"I'm not happy. ... This has been the No.1 issue in my tenure," Michael Hairston said of his time as president of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents more than 5,000 employees. "They had an opportunity today and they didn't take it. For some reason, I don't know why, we have not been able to make change and that's incredibly frustrating."

Monday's work session comes two months after a town hall sponsored by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, in which teachers said they couldn't sustain the workload they were facing.

The biggest issue: new initiatives, some of which were implemented without bringing teachers into the conversation, they said.

This fall, teachers had to navigate a new evaluation system, new elementary school report cards, online textbook implementation and changes to Virginia's Standards of Learning requirements, among other changes.

they said, noting both training for and participating in the new teacher evaluation system — introduced this year as part of the state's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act — is one of their most time consuming tasks.

Getting a better sense of what is truly required from state and federal agencies, and pushing back on things that don't make sense, is one of the pledges school board members made Monday.

“We need to lay out specifically what is required at the state level, because I think we will be blown away by what idiotic things they require of us,” Ryan McElveen (At-large) said, noting it was a chance for Fairfax County to show national leadership on the issue and “put our money where our mouth is.”

"We need to back off as far as the state and the feds allow us and be very careful not to ask for any more," Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said. "It's understanding where we have flexibility and where we don't."

“We Cannot Allow This to Continue”

Board members asked staff Monday to create a task force to examine the consistency of how the evaluation system is being implemented at individual schools across the county.

They also backed two additional proposals from Phyllis Pajardo, assistant superintendent for human resources.

One will require the system's leadership team to bring forward items that will affect 500 or more employees “ and consider the “timing, communications, and implementation” of those initiatives in strategic discussions with the school board.

The other: focus on a priority 10 percent of schools that need immediate support — perhaps those with lowest scores on the system's Working Conditions Survey, with more than 18 percent teacher turnover or with significant transitions in leadership or student achievement.

Monday’s discussion did not delve into a list of 19 recommendations issued by FCFT last week, nor four no-cost solutions Hairston says FEA has offered since 2010.

Some board members questioned why those weren't part of Monday's discussion; many hoped to attack some "low-hanging fruit" through small, concrete changes they could offer to teachers immediately.

Kathy Smith (Sully) said she was hesitant to rush into any changes without better understanding what the broader implications are, particularly with students and achievement.

Though the meeting was intended to be a board discussion only, a majority of board members voted for a motion by Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) to include Hairston and Greenburg at the table, along with Pajardo, so they could provide more information.

"To have this discussion without those that are directly affected ... is probably useless," Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said.

She noted some veteran teachers of two to three decades have called this school year the worst they've ever seen.

“We cannot allow this to continue,” she said, echoing frustration from some other board members that they couldn’t reach more concrete solutions Monday.

The lack of specific action by the board will be difficult to communicate and sell to teachers, Greenburg said, and doesn't leave Hairston optimistic change will happen in time for next year.

"Having access to power and effective change are two very different things," Hairston said.

The board will discuss the topic, along with recommendations Pajardo and teachers associations reach together over the next two weeks, at its April 27 retreat.

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