On Friday (June 14th, 2013) I sent a note to NSD Superintendent Francois and the NSD School Board, voicing my disappointment with the decision to implement weekly staff planning times on Wednesday afternoons as opposed to Friday afternoons. Friday afternoons had overwhelmingly been chosen by 65% of respondents to a NSD public survey. Superintendent Francois responded to my feedback in an email that stated many reasons why the NSD went against public opinion and chose Wednesdays. He sent this same email to several parents I know who voiced negative feedback. Below are some of my responses to his email:
Dear Superintendent Francois and NSD School Board -
Thank you for your timely response. I can see you have put a lot of thought into this matter and I appreciate your consideration:
"Our reasoning to favor a Wednesday early release was a belief that it would be less likely that students/families would choose to not come to school at all on Wednesday (middle of the week) versus Monday or Friday where we already have higher absence rates." – Superintendent Francois (6/17/2013)
As for your reasoning as to why Friday wasn't chosen, the message I can't help but to hear is that "parents don't really know what's best for their kids and family". I'm sorry that some parents already allow their children to skip school on Fridays. I can't imagine why they would do that. Perhaps there is a false opinion that Fridays are mainly for class parties and other "busy work", and that it's not a great day for learning? I can assure you that my family (and most families I know) value every hour that our children are in school. Personally, I work very hard to make sure that I don't take my kids out of school early unnecessarily. In the 7 years I've had my boys in school, it's been very rare that they are absent for reasons other than illness or unavoidable Dr. appointments, and trust me this has not always been appreciated by my kids (and sometimes not by my husband!). That said, I don't appreciate the NSD administration and the school board assuming that the poor choices of some families should bring consequences to those of us who encourage diligence in our children. After all, this is data I'm sure you were aware of before this process started, so why did you give us the option to vote for Friday? There is just no way of overstating this - getting out on Friday afternoons vs. Weds afternoons would be much more convenient for families. And, it would soften the blow of this decision overall with a bit of "goodwill".
"we hope and expect that PTAs and other organizations will utilize the collaboration time to offer extended learning opportunities for students. We believe it is more likely that students and families will access these opportunities on a Wednesday versus a Friday." – Superintendent Francois (6/17/2013)
I would caution the statement you make about hoping community organizations should pick up the slack for your decision. Whether our PTA is willing to help with this or not will be up to next year's Board of Directors. However, please remember each local PTA unit has its own independent mission statement and goals, and it shouldn't be assumed that they would feel obligated to bridge this gap. That is an unfair yoke to place on these parent volunteers.
"While the District and Northshore Education Association were not opposed to a Friday early release, both believed that the time would be much more beneficial to those ends on a Wednesday when staff are fresher and more receptive to new learning than at the end of the week where folks are generally more tired." –Superintendent Francois (6/17/13)
Finally, to your point that collaboration at the end of the week would be less effective because teachers would be less tired... my question then is whether teachers should be spending their most tired hours of the week with our children? I would think our kids would benefit most from classroom time when teachers and students are the most "fresh" (Wednesday not Friday). Having done a fair bit of studying myself, I have come to realize that adults are quite capable of learning at all hours of the day and night, as long as the environment is conducive to learning. How many of us have taken evening classes and had to study late after the kids have gone to bed? Certainly a grown adult and professional educator can muster the strength to devote an afternoon toward professional collaboration and lesson planning. This is a burden the teachers should bear as adults, and not at the expense of valuable classroom time early in the week. An opportunity to finish the week with reflection and forward thinking to Monday morning is by no means a hardship.
All of this said, I concede there are many factors that I'm probably not even aware of that go into running a school district. So, I don't wish to come across as hostile or disrespectful. I just want you, the administration office and our School Board, to see that communication is best accomplished through transparency and engaging in dynamic conversation. What I am (and many others are) hearing is very likely a different message than you intended to send. First, you said the transition from in-service days to weekly planning was out of your hands, and that you couldn't tell us until it was too late (because of the private nature of contract negotiations). Then you said you wanted parents to give you feed back so you could advocate for us in your next round of negotiations. Finally, you are now saying that our opinions weren't well enough informed, and that we should just let you decide for us. Putting it into those terms, I would think that you could understand the frustration. What is happening is that parents are losing confidence in the administration and the school board. And with a bond/levy coming, this is exactly the wrong time for this to happen. I want our school district to succeed and I hope to rally support for the upcoming bond/levy. But I don't see my efforts going very far in the present climate. It's not too late to stand up for the majority opinion on this. It seems like you are giving in to the teachers union 100% on this, and not willing to fight for the parents who went to the trouble to vote. And if the teachers union had nothing to do with this decision, it seems that you have a no confidence that our parents can make wise decisions for their own children and families. You can choose to send a message of compromise and goodwill to the parents by changing the weekly planning time to Friday afternoon.
Thanks again for your time and consideration.
Angela Van Lierop
Parents, I hope you will take the time (even with the final days of school upon us) to email the NSD Administration (firstname.lastname@example.org) and School Board (email@example.com) with your opinions on this matter. - Angela Van Lierop