Avossa: Worries over teacher-meeting rule due to inaccurate “buzz”

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with Lakeria Gates, age 10, and her brother Daveon Gates, 9, as they eat breakfast at West Riviera Elementary School on the first day of school in Palm Beach County Monday, August 15, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with students at West Riviera Elementary School on the first day of school Monday. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa defended his new requirement that teachers spend up to 90 minutes a week in group meetings, saying many teachers’ opposition is based on “buzz” that’s “just not accurate.”

Responding to a question during a Facebook Live chat on Monday, Avossa said students would benefit from the new rule that teachers spend an hour each week of their planning time meeting with other teachers, calling it “a best practice” that improves student learning.

“Some of the schools that have the best progress with our kids, the teachers are planning together,” he said.

“When a group of third-grade teachers plan together, they’re able to actually lessen their load by working together, and that’s really what that common planning is all about,” he added.

Here’s the video. His remarks on the meeting requirement appear at about 12:05.

As they returned to school last week, teachers at several schools said they were told by principals that as much as an hour and a half of their planning time each week would have to be spent in department meetings.

The meetings between teachers who teach similar subjects or grade levels are intended to allow teachers to plan together and talk about best teaching strategies.

Teachers union leaders acknowledge that so-called “collaborative planning” often helps teachers, but they say requiring teachers to give up some of their planning time to attend group meetings violates the contract and makes it more difficult for them to manage their classes.

The planning time is vital for classroom duties such as grading papers and calling parents, they say.

“This is taking a step beyond the contract and saying you have to do it, you have no choice,” union president Kathi Gundlach said.

Other teachers, meanwhile, have defended the requirement, saying on social media that they have benefited from group planning at their schools.

The union has vowed to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the federal government.

In his remarks, Avossa did not dispute that teachers are being required to spend more of their planning time in group meetings, but he said they were not “administrative” meetings.

“I don’t want people to lose a lot of sleep on that,” he said. “It’s not an administrative meeting, and it looks like there’s been a little bit of buzz created around that that’s just not accurate.”

The question he was responding to — posed by a viewer and read aloud by a school district official — didn’t mention administrative meetings. It asked “What’s going on with extra mandated teacher planning time?”

But the term is important because the union’s contract protects teachers from being required to spend personal planning time in administratively called meetings, Gundlach said.

“Every time a principal tells a teacher they have to be at a meeting, that is an administratively called meeting,” she said.

During Avossa’s online chat, the district official did not read aloud the second part of the question he was responding to, which said: “Our school is cutting fine arts time to allow for this?

The school district later responded in writing to that portion of the question, saying on its Facebook page: “No school should be cutting programs.

Here are Avossa’s full remarks on the topic:

It seems like a little bit has been lost in the translation. We’ve not asked our teachers to sit in any additional administrative meetings.

What we’re simply asking is that teachers plan together. And what we know about that is when you have junior teachers, teachers who have a little more experience and senior teachers planning together, that’s best practice.

So when a group of third-grade teachers plan together, they’re able to actually lessen their load by working together and that’s really what that common planning is all about.”

But we’re going to continue to work with our teachers. The vast majority of our schools already operate in this model. It’s called collaborative planning time.

Since early 2000, this has been a best practice and many teachers across this county already do that.

We really want the rest of our teachers to do that because what we’ve seen is that schools that operate in that system, like a Wynnebrook (Elementary) for example, some of the schools that have the best progress with our kids, the teachers are planning together.

But there will be more to come on that. I don’t want people to lose a lot of sleep on that. It’s not an administrative meeting and it looks like there’s been a little bit of buzz created around that that’s just not accurate.

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