A trio of teachers representing 101 members of the faculty at Flagler Palm Coast High School submitted a plan to the Flagler County School Board today calling for all Fridays starting Sept. 14 to be “enrichment” rather than direct instructional days for students. The proposal in essence turns Fridays into a version of study hall or tutoring options for students and planning, grading and tutoring for teachers.
Students currently attending in person would have the option of attending from home or to report to school. They would not be seated in their individual classrooms, but in other areas of the school under supervision other than that of their teachers, assuming deans and other personnel, including a rotation of teachers, would fill that role. Students attending from home would still be required to attend each period, logging into their class and remaining at their desk, as they do the rest of the week.
The plan was submitted by the teachers at the beginning of today’s workshop meeting of the board. All three of them and the president of the Flagler County Educational Association, the teachers union, pleaded with the board to consider the plan, keep an open mind and not see it as adversarial, but as a way to improve a situation they say hurts both teachers and students.
The board customarily does not address comments or plans discussed by the public during the public-comment segment, though in a latter part of the meeting a board member and the superintendent spoke of keeping an open mind. So it’s not clear how the board or the administration will respond, if at all.
Katie Hansen, president of FCEA, said the 101 FPC teachers’ points apply beyond the two high schools. “I have been president of FCEA for 11 years now,” she said. “This is the first year I am dealing with messages, emails, Facebook messages, every single day, with teachers in tears, threatening to leave a career that they have been working hard years of dedication to Flagler County, because of what is being asked of them. I shared at the table, when we were negotiating this, that I thought a blended plan was not a good plan. Not for our students and not for our teachers. And that’s what we’re seeing as a reality. And I know we’re only a week in and things may potentially get better. But I hope that you’re willing to listen to these concerns, because it’s not just these three people. There are hundreds of your teachers that are sharing these exact same concerns.”
The plan is being prompted by increasing frustrations among teachers after more than a week of instruction under the coronavirus-imposed conditions, with many teachers now required to offer “blended” classes. Those classes combine in-person instruction with instruction for the students who have opted for the remote-live option, following class from home through a live, video stream.
“Across the board, educators are saying the same thing: what we have tried to accomplish this first week of school is not sustainable for any length of time,” Tina McNally, first of three Flagler Palm Coast High School teachers to address the board today, said. “The added responsibilities of blended teaching have added an enormous amount of time to our planning.”
Before school resumed on Aug. 24 the teachers union tried repeatedly to keep the blended model from going forward, insisting that teachers should have the right to do one or the other–face to face instruction or exclusively remote-live, but not both at the same time, as that creates a host of issues and multiplies each teacher’s workload while technological issues and matters as laborious as electronic attendance drain class time.
With the blended model, teachers have to provide the same class content to in-person students as they do students at home but must alter it to fit technological constraints. They must alter tests in such a way that remote students can access and submit the material through current technology. Teachers must alter class activities in such a way as to ensure that online students are also engaged. They have to add several steps to their planning for tests when contending with the requirements of exceptional student education students (ESE) with specified learning plans, and convert all class materials to digital formats. They have to call students who don’t log in or don’t turn in work–all tasks that have been added to teachers’ regular workloads.
The district stuck to its blended approach during negotiations with the union, namely because it has limited means with personnel to offer more than it’s offering.
The three-page for “enrichment” Fridays is intended to alleviate some of those pressures.
“High School teachers are asking that one day each week is a dedicated enrichment day,” the plan reads. “All students will be given the opportunity to participate in structured and supervised enrichment and acceleration activities on campus,such as tutoring, SAT/ACT prep, AP/IB review sessions, etc. during the times that align with those courses in their schedules. Students who choose to participate
remotely will be able to do so. Attendance will be taken through schoology each period to verify student contact and participation. This ensures that seat time remains intact and there are no changes needed to the calendar. Faculty and Staff would still report to their school for normal working hours. This provides teachers with one day every week to plan, create content, grade, etc.” (See the complete plan below.)
Corinne Schaefer and Brandee Crist were the two other teachers who addressed the school board.
“This isn’t about complaining,” Crist said. “Teachers are on the front lines and are looking to collaborate with the district to create a plan where students are afforded the same level of education regardless of whether they are face to face or remote, and with what we’re working with right now, we cannot do that. I know personally myself and all of the teachers that I work with, we go to work, and then we stay working even after work. We had teachers on campus for five, six, seven hours this weekend, just trying to catch up from this past week. The enrichment days would not be used as a break for teachers. It is a day for teachers to try to work to get ahead, to keep up and to stay above water, because right now we’re not doing that. And we’re only a week and a half in. So once students are starting to do tests and they’re starting to do quizzes and assignments and all of that stuff on top, now we have to grade–we’re already floundering, and when that all starts, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I got into teaching to teach kids. I don’t feel like I’m doing that. I’m not able to make the connections that I previously was able to make with them.” Like many other teachers, she had been told just days before her return to school that she had to take on a series of courses she hadn’t taught before, and had to cram to prepare for.
“We need some help,” Crist continued. “We’re not trying to go over anybody’s head. We really would like to start a conversation. If this isn’t it, and this isn’t the plan that we can go by, then please, let’s continue talking about it and like Tina said, you all were in a really, really difficult position. Your hands were really tied as far as opening. But we are all on a really steep learning curve, so we have to continue to adapt to the needs of our students and our teachers.”
Hansen shared one of the innumerable messages she’s receiving from teachers that she told the board captured the essence of the teachers’ challenges “Today I felt like I was dancing on hot coals while juggling five balls and a baton that was on fire.” That, Hansen said, is how teachers feel, with parents interrupting instruction, being rude to teachers over Zoom, in front of other students, technological issues, and so on. “Teachers are saying I’m wasting so much instructional time just trying to take attendance and figure out who’s in my class and who’s not. So I hope that you’re listening. I hope that you have an open mind and are willing to collaborate. If it’s not this plan–a plan, something to do more support for our teachers and our students, because our teachers are struggling, but our students are struggling as well.”
The teachers’ plan acknowledges the district’s difficulties in reopening under a state mandate, against which it could do little but to offer a set of options within the mandatory reopening requirements. “We have done everything we can to make sure we opened safely for the students, now let us collaborate to ensure that no student gets left behind because of blended learning,” the plan states.
When it was their turn to speak toward the end of the meeting, Board members Andy Dance and Trevor Tucker did not address the proposal, and Maria Barbosa offered thanks for those bringing concerns.
Colleen Conklin spoke in greater detail, urging her colleagues and the administration to live up to their own slogans: “It’s always refreshing when people come to share concern but also share an idea or a possible solution, so I really do appreciate that–that additional effort,” Conklin said, “and I just want to encourage us, all of us as a leadership team, to be open to listening and hearing what teachers are sharing right now. I don’t think anybody should feel defensive about it. I think it is what it is. We’re learning as we go. But I think being open to what is being shared with us, understanding, acknowledging, recognizing the frustrations and the concerns that are happening, and then realizing that as we keep telling everybody, the word of the year being ‘fluid’ or for the importance of us all being flexible, that that includes us as plans evolve.”
Janet McDonald, who chairs the school board, spoke well, though without addressing the teachers’ concerns so much as commending them for working hard. It was at times difficult to follow the thread of her thinking: “It’s been incredibly rewarding, and I don’t mean this in a slight way at all,” McDonald said. “But everyone has stepped up and given 150 percent in spite of whatever obstacles have happened. They continue to deliver for our students, with the additional layers that we heard about that come through the airwaves from those in the environment that aren’t necessarily in to complicate the educational process of our students with as hard as our teachers are working. We need our families and our parents to work just as much to honor that space that’s been provided for their choice in the way they’d like their students to engage. It’s the students and the teachers that are engaging, and we need to keep at that relationship, and separate comments by parents would be appreciated by the teachers outside the instructional point, I think, because truly everyone has the best interest of everyone in mind.” She said exhaling and breathing would help.
Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt pledged continuing open minds. “It’s not always what we’re sharing out, but the other part of that is how we’re listening or digesting. And we’re not ion the defensive mode. We’re always on the offensive mode to make something better for all of our stakeholders and all of our faculty and staff,” she said, though at no point let on what she thought of the Friday “enrichment” plan, namely because she had a broader summary of the district’s work in the past few weeks in mind. She reverted to metaphors of her own: “We are still walking up that mountain and we’re walking up that mountain together.”
Mittelstadt noted of teachers and employees: “It’s a two-way dialogue here, and we are listening and we want to meet their needs. So as you hear through your social media, though your emails, through your phone calls, through walking our community, I appreciate your support, and just reverse those folks back to us, because we’re the ones that are boots on the ground trying to make all our learning models be successful for all our students.”
The superintendent toward the end of the meeting again acknowledged the teachers’ concerns, saying the blended approach was “yeoman’s work, it’s a very big lift,” before deferring to Diane Dyer, the director of curriculum, who spoke of the teachers’ proposal directly. She said the administration has been soliciting faculty concerns and ideas to come up with solutions. Some ideas include setting up help desks for students having trouble with Zoom, so a class isn’t affected by one student’s issues. Another administrator spoke of the sharing of solutions from one school to the next as one way to maximize problem-solving. But the district hasn’t conducted a more systematic survey to learn where the recurring problems are. “We are listening and we are trying,” another district employee said.
“I’ve never heard this level of concern from teachers, from all grade levels,” Conklin said. “While it’s new, is it the best model moving forward.” She said she was worried about teachers and the sustainability of the current approach.
“Everyone is struggling with remote-live” across the state, Mittelstadt said, noting two factors that must be protected: the number of minutes students are teaching, and the quality of the teaching. The current plan is still being re-worked, as long as it respects the time.
The one thing none of the board members or administrators who discussed the teachers’ proposal did not address was the central plank of the proposal: the altered “enrichment” Friday.