Phoenix district schools add time to school year

Two Phoenix school districts have added 20 days to their school years. The Balsz district and the Riverside Elementary School District both started this school year July 25 and will finish June 6, 2012, (Riverside) or June 8 (Balsz).

Pat Kossan  reported in The Arizona Republic reported that Balsz Superintendent Jeffrey Smith found money to lengthen the year in 2009-2010 from several sources. He used a 14-year-old state law that gives a school an additional 5 percent in per-student funding if it lengthens the year to a full 200 days.

“The law sat unused because it is difficult to fund an 11 percent increase in days with a 5 percent increase in cash.

“At Balsz, voters agreed to pay extra property taxes to help the district, teachers agreed to a 9 percent pay raise for working 11 percent more days, and federal stimulus money was available.”

This year there was no federal stimulus money. Foundations and companies offered donations. The Ellis Center of Educational Excellence, an Arizona foundation, donated $2 million over five years to hire consultants to help improve teacher training and the curriculum. “The district got $700,000 in other private and government money, as well as 24 volunteer tutors from Hands-On Greater Phoenix, a non-profit group,” Kossan said.

Kossan reported that John Huppenthal, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, “is a former legislator who sponsored the bill that provides schools extra per-student cash when they expand to 200 days.”

Huppenthal wants this amount increased so that districts “that want to try a 200-day model are able to do so.”

There are early signs that Balsz is succeeding. Both its AIMS reading scores and its percentage of students passing AIMS reading are rising sharply.

Hat tip to Louise Epstein for sending me this important article from The Arizona Republic.


League of Women Voters advocates 20-minute recess periods

Elizabeth Bradsher, Tessie Wilson, Jim Raney, Tina Hone, and Brad Center listen to Helen Kelly

On July 28 Helen Kelly told the Fairfax County school board that the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area (LWVFA) supports a 20-minute daily recess period for elementary school students. Kelly, the League’s action director, referred to the annual report that the School Health Advisory Committee presented to the school board June 8.

“In its most recent Executive Summary Report, the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) recommended that schools specify a minimum daily recess period and insist that children cannot miss recess for failure to complete class assignments or for disciplinary reasons,” Kelly said. She also noted that The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that the minimum daily recess period should be at least 20 minutes in length.

“The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area supports both SHAC and NASPE in their recommendations,” Kelly said. “We believe that all elementary students should participate in a daily recess period lasting at least 20 minutes.”

“While it is important in reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity, exercise is not the only benefit students can gain from recess,” she said. “According to NASPE, besides offering students the opportunity to engage in physical activity, recess also allows them ‘to practice life skills such as cooperation, taking turns, following rules, sharing, communication, negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution.’”

“We calculate that in order to have enough time to allow 20 minutes of recess per day, the overall amount of time the children spend in school would need to be increased by 50 minutes per week.” Kelly said. “Because of the many advantages it offers our students, we urge you to adopt the 20-minute minimum daily recess period for the 2012-2013 school year.”

SHAC also made recommendations regarding recess in it 2007 annual report, stating that recess should to be least 20 minutes per day with the exception of short Mondays. The staff responded in November 2007 that 10 minutes is all the time that is available for recess while still meeting the requirement for 990 hours of instruction annually. “By setting recess at 20 minutes, it would be necessary to extend the school day, or create a uniform weekly schedule,” the staff said.

Indiana school district switches to paraprofessionals for elementary school music, art, and PE; adds Rosetta Stone instruction

The New Albany-Floyd County Schools system in Indiana will substitute paraprofessionals for teachers for  elementary school art, music, and physical education, according to  Harold J. Adams of He reported that the school system is “designating lead teachers certified in art and music who will develop the curriculum for those subjects and train the noncertified paraprofessionals to teach them.”

And physical education has been changed to something called “physical movement,” which will be coordinated by a teacher who also works fulltime in a middle or high school.

Also, a computer-based curriculum using Rosetta Stone software will be used to make foreign languages available to all students in kindergarten through eight grade for the first time. Rhonda Mull, director of middle schools, told Mr. Adams that middle school students will go to the computer lab one day a week and elementary school students will have two foreign-language lab periods per week. All students will have the software available to them to use at home as many times as they want. The languages offered will be Spanish, French, German, and Chinese.

via Floyd school district announces plan to teach art, music and PE at elementaries | The Courier-Journal |

When is it safe to leave a child home alone?

Fairfax County provides the following guidelines:

Child Supervision Guidelines – Fairfax County, Virginia

Lack of supervision is one of the most prevalent child neglect problems in Fairfax County.

The following represent minimally acceptable standards for the supervision of children. These guidelines have been developed by social work professionals in collaboration with the community. REMEMBER, they are guidelines only.

There may be situations, even within these guidelines, when it is not safe to leave a child unsupervised. Parents are ultimately responsible for making decisions about their child’s safety.

Whenever any child is unsupervised / unattended the following should apply …

  • There must be no emotional, medical, or behavioral problems which affect judgement or decision-making skills.
  • Child must be comfortable being alone.
  • Youth must have a safety plan worked out with the parent/caretaker, which includes:
    • How to access parent or other responsible adult at all times (including knowing the parent/caretaker’s whereabouts and having a telephone number where parent can be reached).
    • What to do in case of emergency.
    • Guidelines for acceptable behavior.
    • Knowledge of emergency telephone numbers.
  • Youth must demonstrate the ability to follow the safety plan and to make decisions that reflect concern for personal safety.

Age Guidelines …

7 years and under:
Should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.

8 to 10 years:
Should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.

11 to 12 years:
May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.

13 to 15 years:
May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.

16 to 17 years:
May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).


Asheville, NC, adds three days to school calendar

via School Leaders Add More Time To Students’ Schedules | WSPA

In North Carolina, Asheville City School leaders  added three days to the school calendar, but rejected a proposal to increase elementary school days by 30 minutes, and the high school and middle school days by 15 minutes

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, a survey showed “81 percent of teachers disagreed with the idea to lengthen the school day.”

Fairfax Superintendent undermines authority of principals

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale recently sent an email to the two teachers’ unions that focused on teacher workloads. As I noted in an earlier post, I believe that he is ignoring the time problems of students. I am troubled by this paragraph in his email:

I will speak to all the principals about ensuring we do not create inappropriate work load/time demands on our teachers this next school year. I will also ask you to help identify some kind of a process to deal with issues that arise from both teachers and principals perspective. To start that discussion, I will also talk with the Leadership Team.     –via FCFT.ORG

The principals are the instructional leaders in their schools. They are responsible for advocating for the needs of students.  Since Dr. Dale supervises the principals, it is troubling that he publicly mentions “inappropriate workload/time demands” before consulting with the principals about this issue. If some principals make inappropriate or unprofessional demands on teachers, their tenure should be re-evaluated.  However, it is wrong for the superintendent to make a statement that tends to undermine the authority of the principals as a group.  It could also have a chilling effect on the willingness of principals to speak out on policies that affect all of the schools.

Hatch Act: Small violation brings big penalty – The Washington Post

The Hatch Act, which sets limits on political activities of federal workers, has a single sanction for violation of the act–termination.

Joe Davidson wrote an article  explaining that D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that, far from a deterrent, the one-size-fits-all penalty of termination has the opposite effect. Agencies are reluctant to report violators “and therefore,” Norton reasoned, “the violations perhaps are encouraged to continue.”

via Hatch Act: Small violation brings big penalty – The Washington Post.

I posted an online comment to this article,  saying  that the Hatch Act is one of the justifications sometimes cited for “nonpartisan” school board elections in Fairfax County. Everyone knows that the elections are partisan, but continuing to designate them as “nonpartisan” allows federal employees to accept the endorsements of the two political parties.

Steve Stuban, who hopes to receive the Fairfax County Republican Committee’s endorsement for an at-large seat at the school board, could not speak at a recent committee meeting due to restrictions on political activity by his employer, the Department of Defense.

via School Board Candidates Make Their Cases to Fairfax Republicans – Reston, VA Patch

It is wrong for a prospective school board member to have to worry about losing his job if he violates some rule of the Hatch Act.  If Fairfax County returned to having an appointed school board  it would be easier for federal employees to serve on the school board without complicated posturing as “nonpartisan” beneficiaries of the endorsements of the political parties.