Professional Learning Community? First, supply teachers with photocopy paper.

Ring the bells, the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) no longer requires elementary school teachers to do yard duty.

It has only taken, what, 50, 70 years for this condescending practice to end.

GUSD had to stop the yard duty requirement since it does not match the latest education trend that has taken over schools these days, Professional Learning Communities or PLCs.

Having educators supervise recess is not professional, a waste of their talents and their stature.  That’s like having lawyers station the security checkpoints in courthouses.

The idea behind PLCs is for teachers to learn how to collaborate with one another since most of them work in isolation.  Of course, the $64,000 question is:  where is the time for such collaboration?   Since you can’t expect teachers to volunteer during their planning period or after work, the time needs to be imbedded in the school day, meaning, students can’t be at school so that teachers can meet.

The simplest solution is to extend the school day slightly to “bank” enough minutes for a weekly 45-minute time slot for such collaboration.   While that is a good first step, that is not sufficient time for a major overhaul that a PLC requires, for just when the conversation gets down to business, teachers have to leave, dashing to open the door for students, interrupting the intellectual stimulation of the collegial conversation, shelving it for another week.

Another option would be to have a daily period of teacher collaboration.   This would be more effective in terms of taking a pulse of students that teachers have in common.  “Did you notice Jason was lethargic yesterday?” “How can we get Erika to do homework?”  Such concerns could be shared among the students’ instructors in order to devise a “prescription” on how best to aid them.

One idea I proposed years ago in my first book, The $100,000 Teacher, was to have instructors teach four days a week, each day an hour and a half longer, and collaborate the other day.   And what would happen with the students on that fifth day?   Field trips, guest speakers, tutoring, job shadowing, art days, sports days.   This would require: 1) organization, 2) parent involvement, 3) funding.  However, change is often preceded with the adjective “difficult,” and if school districts truly wish to invest in revolutionary changes, money is going to have to play a pivotal role.

But before any discussion can begin about changing the work schedule to foster a professional learning community, teachers’ working conditions must meet a professional standard.

Recently, my school ran out of copy paper. That’s like a hospital running out of syringes.  It should never happen.

Over the three decades I have been in teaching, the number one complaint from principals about teachers is the amount of paper used.   But paper is a necessity not a luxury when working with students.

The teacher walkouts that have occurred recently in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona offer a glimpse into how powerful 3 million teachers as a workforce could become in demanding improved conditions for themselves and for their students, an equal footing in the education hierarchy. It is not something that the powers that be would want unleashed, nor could manage.

This year, GUSD mandated two days of training for all English teachers.  Not one teacher was consulted about this.  It was a completely top-down decision.  Was this a model of a Professional Learning Community?

PLC is a nicely contained idea that allows teachers just enough independence and decision-making to give them the feeling of empowerment.  But it barely moves the needle.

Show teachers they matter; saying it on a pen or keychain (Teacher Appreciation Day is May 8) doesn’t make it so.

Have teachers play a leadership role at the district level.  Has a teacher ever facilitated a principals meeting?  Teachers are not the districts’ students, being assigned pre-determined work.  They are the experts on how best to teach kids.

Not until that tectonic shift occurs can there be a professional learning community.

But first, supply the paper.

 

Remembering an Educator

Don Duncan who passed away on Dec. 15 at age 82 is someone whose work in Glendale schools should be remembered.

Mr. Duncan (I can’t let go of the formal title) graduated from Hoover High School in 1952, then taught in Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) in 1957.  He became principal of his alma mater in 1974 and remained in that position until he left in Feb. 1995 to recruit students for California’s first full-time evening high school in order to ease overcrowding in Glendale schools.

By May when it became clear that was not materializing, Mr. Duncan expressed regret in a News Press interview that “if I had any feeling that it was not going to work, then I would have preferred to stay at Hoover.”

His tenure in Glendale ended without much fanfare even though he and his brother Charles combined for nearly 80 years of service to Glendale’s schools, and their father owned Duncan’s Variety Store in Kenneth Village.

I interviewed with Mr. Duncan for a teaching job when I earned my credential.   While there weren’t any openings, he kept me in mind, and when the 1989-1990 school year began (in Sept., by the way), and a position opened up, Duncan called me and asked if I was still interested.

The problem was that I had just started my first teaching job for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

It was two weeks into the school year and Don’s brother, who was in charge of Human Resources for GUSD, was able to get me out of my LAUSD contract, and in Sept., 1989, I made my debut at Hoover.

Mr. Duncan came across as paternal, always in the main office in the morning greeting teachers as they arrived, his height and gray hair adding to an “in-charge” presence without an air of intimidation.  He was even-tempered, “cool as a cucumber” according to granddaughter Nicole, never tipping off if things were going well or not.

Often not going lockstep with the district, he used to joke that we were the Hoover Unified School District.   One example of this was back in 1987 when the school newspaper wanted to publish an ad for condoms right before the prom.   And Mr. Duncan supported the publication of it.  Unfortunately, district officials heard about this and put a stop to the ad before it was published.

In my 24 years of doing the school newspaper, I have had my share of run-ins with principals about stories.  I only had one with Mr. Duncan and he supported my decision.  In fact, he loved the school newspaper.  He often would come to the journalism class and tell the students “nice job” which meant so much to the kids.

Mr. Duncan gave all teachers a generous present of a one-hour coupon for him to cover a class period anytime someone wanted to run an errand or take a walk.

He enjoyed dressing up as Santa Claus on the last school day before Christmas vacation, and would host staff Christmas parties at his house.  He also enjoyed speaking on the P.A. about historical days on the calendars so that students understood why school was closed.

City Halls memorialize councilmembers.  Schools should have a way to honor teachers, administrators, clerks, and custodians who dedicate their careers to education.

Here is a man who devoted his adult life to Hoover, the longest tenured principal in the school’s history (almost 21 years), yet his name is nowhere to be found on campus.

Before another street is named for real estate developer Rick Caruso, consideration should be given to the Duncan family in ensuring their legacy does not disappear from Glendale’s history.

Parent Input is a Must in Developing a School Calendar

Last month I wrote about the early start of school in Glendale and now there is an online petition, Save Our GUSD Schools, for parents to sign who want to push it back closer to Labor Day. Currently, the petition has surpassed 2,000 signatures, nearing their goal of 2,500.

As previously explained, the shift of the school year from September to August has to do with secondary students finishing their fall semester final exams before Winter Break, as well as providing more time to learn material before the Advanced Placement Exams in May.

While all school districts have 180 days of instruction, Glendale schools begin earlier than all other neighboring districts in Burbank, Pasadena, La Canada, and Los Angeles because of the extra days off within the start and end dates, thus stretching school over 296 days compared to Burbank which begins one week later but ends almost a week earlier due to fewer days off.

For the past two years, Glendale schools have closed on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If this trend of lengthening 3-day weekends into 4-day weekends continues, schools may have to start in late July.

Next year’s first day of school will be the earliest ever: August 8.

Besides the early start date, here is another curious characteristic of Glendale’s calendar. Looking at a month-by-month breakdown of the number of school days, notice that the 180-day year is split unevenly, with 85 days in Fall and 95 days in Spring, a 2 week difference.

Aug. = 16, Sept. = 20, Oct. = 21, Nov. = 15, Dec. = 13, Jan. = 16, Feb. = 19, Mar. = 17, Apr. = 21, May = 21, June = 1

If GUSD kept Labor Day as a single holiday, and Thanksgiving as a two-day holiday, there would be 89 days in Fall and 91 in Spring, close to an even split.

Also peculiar is that students need to return to school for only two days following Memorial Day.   Again, cut out two of the oddball days so children and their families can celebrate the end of the school year along with high school graduations right before the Memorial Day weekend.

Christine Walters, school board president, said that the GUSD calendar is “a contract item which has to be negotiated” with GTA (Glendale Teachers Association). So how much weight will the parent petition carry in deciding any changes?

Last year, BUSD sent out an electronic survey on their calendar. What they discovered was that the majority of parents did not want a whole week off for Thanksgiving because it would extend the school year into June. So the board members listened to their constituents and, with the approval of the district’s unions, had the calendar reflect the wishes of the parents.

There are some Glendale and Burbank district employees who have to scramble for child care due to their children attending the other city’s schools, each district’s Spring Break often occurring on different weeks.

Here is a proposal. Have All BUSD and GUSD school board members, PTA presidents of all schools, and teacher union presidents of BTA and GTA meet to discuss a common calendar.   Develop a few sample calendars and present them at public forums. Then, email parents in both cities to vote on them. The calendar with the most votes gets implemented.

Nayiri Nahabedian, Glendale School Board Member, said that she is “not opposed” to a common calendar, while Roberta Reynolds, Burbank School Board Member, thinks that having the same calendar is “an interesting idea.”

If such a meeting would occur in the near future, there would be plenty of time to go through this process and have a unified calendar in place before June.

The calendar issue will be discussed at Tuesday’s GUSD school board meeting so any interested parents or employees should attend.