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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 18, 2009

Elementary day will be 25 minutes longer next year for teachers

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Come fall, the school day will be 25 minutes longer for elementary teachers but not for their students. The problem the district faces as it attempts to lengthen instructional time is transportation.

Almost all of Guilderland’s students are transported in a three-tiered bus system. The high school, middle school, and five elementary schools are each located in different places, and current scheduling is so tight it doesn’t allow for an extra 25 minutes in the elementary-school day, district leaders say; adding more buses to make fewer than three tiers would be costly. The district will hire a consultant this year to conduct a transportation study.

The shape of the school day was considered by a committee in 2006, and 20 minutes were added to the elementary school day for the 2007-08 school year.

Adding another 25 minutes brings the elementary school day in line with the length of the day at the middle school and the high school, said board President Richard Weisz.

Last July, the school board approved a contract with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association that required a committee review changes in the elementary school day. The district had brought the proposal for a longer teaching day to the table to give it more flexibility. The chief negotiator for the teachers’ union, Larry Tuxbury, said at the time, “We’re taking it as a positive thing.” Elementary teachers, he said, have a packed schedule with many demands placed on them. “This provides an opportunity for teachers to have a little more space and time for collaboration and planning,” Tuxbury said.

The matter was explored — at times, with pique — by the school board at its meeting on June 9. Changes had to be made in the teachers’ contract in order to accommodate the longer workday. Some board members expressed frustration that they hadn’t realized, during negotiations, that teachers were being given more planning, rather than instructional, time.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton presented a report from a committee he had co-chaired with Maceo Dubose, the president of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association. The committee, stipulated as part of the district’s July 1, 2008 agreement with the teachers’ union, also had nine teachers, Foreign Language Supervisor Albert Martino, and elementary principals Peter Brabant and Allan Lockwood.

“What’s important,” Singleton told The Enterprise this week, “is not the total minutes but what we do with the time.”

He noted that the district is “still struggling” to come into compliance with state requirement that elementary students have four 30-minute physical-education sessions each week. Currently, Guilderland offers just three sessions with certified physical-education teachers.

The longer day could eventually help solve that problem, Singleton said, and another benefit could be “an eased pace in instructional areas.”

He stressed, “The possible extended school-day model is strictly hypothetical.” Next year, only teachers will have a longer day.

Currently, elementary teachers work each school day for seven hours and 20 minutes, from 7:45 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. (Students arrive at 7:55 a.m. and are dismissed at 2 p.m.) The teachers’ prior contract gave them no less than 200 minutes of planning time each week. This included up to 65 minutes a day before or after school, and 180 minutes per week while students are in special classes for art, music, or physical education. One day a week was designated for a meeting from 2 to 3:05 p.m.

For the next school year and afterwards, the teachers’ workday will be seven hours and 45 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Under the new contract, teachers are guaranteed no fewer than 50 minutes of planning time on the required meeting day (now from 2 to 3:15 p.m.) and no fewer than 110 minutes of planning time on each of the four non-meeting days. They still get 180 minutes a week of planning time while students are in special classes, and also up to 85 minutes a day for planning before or after school.

Board concerns

Board member Cathy Barber, who served on an earlier task force that found no simple solutions for re-arranging transportation, noted that an original impetus was to allow high school students a later start to their school day since adolescents require more sleep.

Singleton noted there are constraints preventing a later day because of scheduled sporting events, to which Barber replied that perhaps the entire Suburban Council could be talked into changing.

Board member Denise Eisele questioned the need for so much planning time. “What are teachers planning?” she asked.

Singleton responded that the time was used for grading, planning instruction, and conferring with colleagues.

He elaborated this week: “Teaching doesn’t just happen,” said Singleton. “It is planned, monitored, reflected upon. Teachers continually respond to students’ needs and evaluate student performance.”

“For that huge increase in salary, we thought we were getting student teaching time,” said board member Barbara Fraterrigo.

The contract, which runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2011, gave 4.7-percent raises in the first year, 4.4 percent in the second year, and 4.4 percent again in the third year.

Guilderland teachers progress up a 23-step schedule. A teacher on the first step in 2008-09 earned $42,000 while a teacher on the highest step earned $71,909.

“I think ‘planning time’ is a misnomer,” said Weisz. He said the term makes it sound “like people are sitting around and not working.”

“These pieces all touch one another,” said Superintendent John McGuire. He went on to say that negotiating with the GTA to have the teachers available for the extra time was the first step and the next step would be getting the students there.

He also said that “non-educators” might not grasp the importance of planning time. “No one should think of this as wasted time,” said McGuire.

Fraterrigo persisted, “How did we go from 200 to 500 minutes of planning time?” She said the board was not informed of this during negotiations.

“You’re right; we were not consulted,” said Weisz.

“It’s not right,” said Fraterrigo.

Singleton reiterated this week that the 200 minutes in the old contract was a minimum standard. Charts presented to the school board last week, to be posted online at the district website (www.guilderlandschools.org), show that planning time for the current year totaled 440 minutes in a given week while, during a hypothetical week next year, it totals a minimum of 490 minutes according to the new contract with an actual total of 565 minutes.

Board member Gloria Towle-Hilt, a retired middle-school teacher, said that the elementary school teachers had always been shortchanged in planning time. “That’s always been a bone of contention...Now it’s much more equitable,” she said.

“It’s all being used very purposefully,” McGuire said of the planning time.

Fraterrigo conceded that board members should have read the contract carefully when negotiating.

“There was certainly no intent to withhold this information,” said McGuire.

Barber said that she did read the contract. “It says a whole bunch of things that planning time is used for,” she said. “It sounds like work to me.”

McGuire said that, of the 25 extended minutes, potentially 20 will be used for instructional time. “If we could get the children there, we could do it,” he said. He added that the district hopes it can find an affordable solution to the transportation problem.

Board member Colleen O’Connell said she was not optimistic there would be a solution the district can afford.

“There’s a clock ticking,” said O’Connell, noting that the next school year marks the second year of the three-year contract with the teachers. She asked if the district would continue to pay for the added planning time if the students could not be transported to school to use it.

“What are we paying for?” O’Connell asked.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Made summer-school appointments;

— Amended the 2008-09 budget to authorize transferring $2.6 million to the capital fund, and authorized appropriating corresponding revenue from the fund balance as approved by voters in 2007 for additions and improvements to buildings.

“It has no impact on the taxpayers,” noted Weisz;

— Approved a policy on student use of personal electronic devices;

— Heard from Weisz that the board’s audit committee will be soliciting applications from community volunteers;

— Received three state-mandated district plans for review, to be approved at the June 23 meeting;

— Heard congratulations from Singleton for Julia Vining, a seventh-grader who worked all year to study the comparative anatomy of the human brain with other animal brains. She is teaching fifth-graders about her research with a workbook she created and a 45-minute presentation;

— Learned that sophomore Dustin Maguire was one of five New York State students to receive a scholarship to the World Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. in July. He was the Guilderland delegate to the Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) Leadership Conference at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in May; and

— Heard that freshman Jordan Scott had a poem published on her uncle‘s homecoming from Iraq.

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