Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Four words and one definition are both the problem and the solution to one set of Alamosa School District (ASD) woes.
The ongoing debate around the district’s instructional time policy came before the Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) Monday night with the first reading of the policy itself.
This spring, the ABOE approved the 2013-2014 school calendar. The Colorado Compulsory School Attendance Law requires elementary students to attend school for 968 hours in a school year and secondary students for 1,056. Alamosa Elementary is in no danger of falling short of the requirements, but both Ortega Middle School (OMS) and Alamosa High School (AHS) are walking the line. The approved 2013-2014 calendar considers passing periods, a total of 25 minutes, student-teacher contact time, which the state approves, but ASD policy currently does not.
The ABOE is now spending time with the policy to see if it needs amending to reflect the state’s requirements. ABOE Official Keith Vance and a group of district parents disagree, believing the ABOE must not amend the policy because there is another solution that will keep “passing periods between classes” on the shall not include list.
Vance and his supporters want to amend the definition of the word “work day” in the master agreement between the ASD and the Alamosa Education Association (AEA). According to the 2013 master agreement draft, a “work day shall be an eight-hour workday with a 30 minute duty free lunch.” It also states “no staff member may come in later than 15 minutes before his/her assigned schedule not leave earlier than 15 minutes after his/her assigned schedule.” The master agreement is scheduled for signing this month and would remain in effect for three years.
The recommendation on the table to keep passing periods out of the instructional time equation is to: change the word day to not exceed 8.5 hours; remove the requirement that teachers have to arrive 15 minutes before and stay 15 minutes after their assigned work schedule; and include a work week clause to not exceed 40 hours, guaranteeing teachers are not working 8.5 hours, five days a week. This would increase instructional time upwards of 70 hours.
Teachers in the audience, however, did not agree with proposed language modifications or Vance’s perception of how teachers pass their 15-minute morning and afternoon prep periods and what students are making of their time between bells.
“It we were an A plus district would this matter?” Vance asked those staunchly supporting the value teacher/student interactions have in the halls. “Maybe not... I don’t see how they are achieving an educational objective when running down the hall.”
OMS parent Melissa Freeman agreed, “I don’t think excellence is the minimum... It is chaos (during passing periods). He (her son) is not learning.”
The teachers’ reasons to consider the passing periods as instructional time included aiding both special needs students and others; instilling social order and, in some cases, being there for a young person in need.
“What they can learn during a passing period is meaningful,” said AHS teacher Jon Dodds. “It reinforces positive behaviors and social skills.”
ABOE Official Christine Haslett, who is retired from a 25-year teaching career, supported the educators.
“That time is sometimes more important,” she said. “We teach the students responsibility, manners and respect.”
In Vance’s opinion, the policy is about the students and what they are being taught, and not those in a position of instruction.
“This policy isn’t to be looked at through the eyes of a teacher, but the eyes of a student,” he explained. “... The teachers are not relevant to this policy.”
Haslett responded, “You are minimalizing what they (the teachers) do. I feel sorry for them right now.”
Vance continued, accusing teachers of being paid to “drink coffee for the first 15 minutes in the morning and hang out for 15 minutes” after school, a statement he eventually apologized for making.
“As a teacher, I am highly offended right now,” said AES teacher Esmeralda Martinez. “I have given this district a lot of my time and I have a passion for teaching. Teachers are working very hard. All day long teachers are teaching.”
AHS Principal Glen Hodges also supported the policy change and said that his teachers are “instructing kids on proper behavior and that is quite an achievement.”
The ABOE does not have a set date to approve the proposed policy changes, but will review the document at least two more times before taking action.