School board OKs planning period for teachers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Teachers will have a weekly average of five hours of planning time next year, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education decided Monday night.

The policy is a new one for the district, meant to back up a state statute encouraging schools to set a goal of five hours of planning time. The issue drove the main discussion of the board’s May 8 work session, and the policy was set to be approved as part of the consent agenda at the board’s Monday business meeting.

But Vice Chairwoman Susan Cox pulled the policy, saying she was still concerned about planning periods for elementary school teachers. Middle and high school teachers, she said, have an automatic planning period built into their days, elementary teachers have to take planning time in short snatches between exploratory classes.

“What I would like is for more teeth to be put into this policy. That would put more of the guarantee that planning time would be provided,” she said.

Cox said she wanted more discussion to ensure that elementary teachers have that time, as their current planning schedule is often “cumbersome” and they teach multiple subjects.

“Elementary school teachers teach four, five, six subjects. Middle and high schools may have one or two,” she said.

April Kuhn, chief legal officer for the school system, suggested giving staff time to survey teachers and administrators and to gather data before instituting any major change. Cox suggested a brainstorming session with elementary school principals on ways to optimize individual, duty-free planning time for elementary teachers.

“I would hate for us to say, OK, there’s five hours of planning time and three of that is going to be designated for grade-level meetings or data meetings and then two hours left, you know, for the teacher to have individual planning time,” Cox said.

Board member Dean Hunter, however, said that since the policy is based on a state statute, the board should make sure planning time guidelines are enforced by principals.

“We need to go back to our principals and make sure that our teachers are receiving, according to policy, at least five hours of planning time a week,” he said.

But the state statute says “with a goal” of providing five hours each week.

“So that isn’t an absolute,” Cox said.

If school administrators got together and brainstormed, they could come up with a policy that all elementary schools could implement, she said.

“If they say, ‘No, we can’t do it,’ then we’d be back at square one,” Hunter said.

Cox said she would hope no administrator would take a pessimistic approach about a brainstorming session before listening to other principals.

“I don’t think approving this tonight is going to hurt or help anything,” board Chairman Josh Wagner said. “I think, really, it’s going to be the actions of administration behind the scenes to make sure they understand and are working toward the goal.”

Board member Travis Allen said he wanted to see an emphasis on planning periods being duty-free.

“If you have to go to a mandatory meeting with your reading coach, that is not duty-free,” he said.

Superintendent Lynn Moody disagreed. Meetings with literacy coaches and principals and grade-level meetings are supports that help teachers plan and grow, Moody said. Spending five hours in isolated planning time is less effective, she said.

“I don’t think that’s good instruction. I don’t think that’s the intent of this law,” she said.

Teachers should have five hours to plan, she said, but sometimes that might be a grade-level planning session.

But Cox said she wanted guaranteed time during the week that teachers can use to plan for their personal lessons. She said she understands the need for grade-level and other meetings during the day, but elementary school teachers need protected planning time, as well.

Hunter suggested approving the policy Monday, since the system had no policy on planning periods, and the board could gather information from elementary principals and improve the policy over the course of the summer.

The board voted to approve the policy as written and seek more information in the future.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.