Richmond Superintendent proposes to extend school days, teacher instructional time

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-06 02:10:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- In a packed board room, Richmond School Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden unveiled his highly-anticipated academic improvement plan for city schools.

The five-part plan is aimed at improving poor test scores and addressing economic disparity where 75% of students currently qualify for free or reduced lunches. The plan received unanimous support from the Richmond School Board Monday night.

Based on last year’s assessments, only 11 of 45 schools met full accreditation. The number of students meeting the benchmark for PALS testing also decreased. Bedden says systemic change is necessary to put schools on the right path.

Among several proposals, Bedden is suggesting more instructional time for teachers, a longer school day for students, and less micro-management by the administration when it comes to hiring qualified teachers, including more bilingual, special education, and advanced placement instructors.

The plan includes hiring 41 new employees and allocating $23 million over three years to go toward salaries.

“We want to create some structures that have a systemic approach, but also leaves room for school autonomy,” Bedden says.  “Because every school is not going to be exactly the same, at the same place, with the same needs.”

Bedden is proposing mandating a 40-hour workweek and more instructional time for teachers to plan lessons, assess student weakness, and remain in contact with parents.  The Virginia state code allows teachers a 200-day contract with 180 days for instruction and at least 20 days for professional development.  Richmond City Schools is currently operating at 191 days.

“We’re talking an additional investment of 200 to 225 minutes during the week, and we’re looking at 9 additional days during the school year,” Bedden says.

To avoid a negative impact on student instruction time, Bedden is also proposing a bell schedule that would put elementary schools at 8 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., middle schools from 8:30 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., and high schools from 9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. This would allow 20 more minutes for additional instruction each school day.

Bedden says whether funds are available to support some of these changes, including compensation for teachers, will have to be worked out by the school board and city council.

Charlotte Hayer, President of the Richmond Education Association, praised many of the initiatives, but says teacher compensation is a big concern for teachers who continue to be overlooked by state lawmakers for pay raises.

“To add nine additional days without additional pay is going to be something that will affect teacher morale,” Hayer said.  “And the teacher morale is already at a point where we don’t need to do anything that’s going to bring it down anymore.”

The school board is also working to make sure before and after school programs are in place for elementary students before schedule changes are made.