"I began my career with Volusia County Schools 22 years ago and spent all but two at an elementary school. I love everything about elementary education. From the parent loop to developing rigorous lessons that inspire our youngest learners, I have enjoyed the time spent and lessons learned with students and teachers. Our students' early years are the most critical to developing productive citizens. As a member of the board's negotiating team this year, the dynamics of changing the length of the elementary day was not lost on me. We did not take it lightly. In preparing for negotiations, we considered changes that would help our schools provide the best possible opportunities for our students. At the negotiating table, the board's bargaining team must advocate for all stakeholders — our students, parents, employees and community.
Both the district and the union teams worked to create a contract that allowed for the needed instructional time while phasing in the additional time for teachers to allow them to adjust their schedules. There is no single reason for making the change. This was a process of weighing pros and cons as one does with any big decision. Implementation of the plan is in progress. Superintendent Tom Russell will have a committee of all stakeholders to develop a proposed implementation plan. We want to make sure the voices of all are heard.
The following factors supported the decision to increase the instructional time for our elementary students and teachers:
- Student day in Volusia County vs. other counties: Our elementary day is shorter than most Florida districts. We reviewed school bell schedules of districts to which we are often compared, and they tell the same story — Volusia County elementary students and teachers have less instructional time. If we are to give our students a competitive edge, let's start with making sure they have a level playing field. This is not the only answer to improving elementary school performance — but it is an important piece of the puzzle.
- Recess time: In 2017, the Florida Legislature added a requirement for 20 minutes of additional student recess time at elementary schools. This requirement is in addition to the state mandate for 150 minutes each week of what we know as physical education (P.E.) We were already short of available time when compared to other area districts, so this worsened the situation for our elementary schools. Although recess is valuable, this means that our elementary schools are obligated to provide a total of 250 minutes per week of nonacademic time — almost an entire school day. Adding time allowed us to maintain the 300 instructional minutes and accurately reflect this recess time.
- Legislative requirements by subject: Not only is the minimum amount of instructional time dictated by the state, time for instruction in certain subject areas are also regulated. We are required to provide a minimum of 90 uninterrupted minutes of English language arts (reading) instruction each day and our K-12 reading plan calls for an additional 30 minutes. When times for math, science and writing are scheduled, the recommended and legislated subject times exceed the amount of time we currently have in an elementary day. This does not even address the need for other student intervention and enrichment programs critical to improving school performance.
- Equity: Elementary teachers had been required to report to work for 7 hours, but were paid and earning sick leave for a 7.5 hour day under the former union contract. Middle and high school teachers have been paid and earned sick leave for 7.5 hours — and required to work for 7.5 hours. Few teachers work only 7.5 hours a day every day much less 7 hours. An equal contract is a good place to start to negotiate more for our teachers.
The negotiating process this year was an extraordinary learning opportunity for me. It took leadership on both sides to step back, look at the big picture and come to an agreement that is the best interests of our students and teachers. Change is inevitable but pain is optional. An implementation plan that includes all stakeholders will help minimize the pain. While there are other issues to tackle that are not negotiated with a union, such as curriculum, we agreed to form several important joint district-union committees to make recommendations in areas important to our teachers. As we move forward, it is my sincere hope that everyone will work together to ensure that this instructional time is used as intended — to move our students forward."
Executive Director, K-12 Curriculum
Volusia County Schools