LEE COUNTY: School day gets longer

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 05:03 AM

Lee County Schools leaders met Tuesday night to determine how to make up for instructional time lost to recent snow days, and they ended up giving students yet another day off.

The counterintuitive measure will work out, however, because the district also decided to make every school day 15 minutes longer, starting March 4.

Those longer days will give students enough hours in class that the Lee County Board of Education was able to turn May 6 into a teacher workday due to safety concerns. They wanted to keep students off campus when people go to local polling places — which include several public schools — to vote in the primary elections.

School will not be canceled for Lee Early College, since May 6 is near the end of the year for students there and the school isn’t a polling place.

Supt. Andy Bryan said extending the length of the school day for most of the rest of the year was done after hearing from teachers, staff and parents that cutting into spring break or using Saturdays was not desirable. It was also done “to make things simplest for everybody,” Bryan said.

He said principals at each school will decide how to divvy out the extra 15 minutes, whether they want to split it up or lump it all into one subject or period.

Nearly anything is possible, but students and staff shouldn’t expect longer lunches — Bryan said the additional time has to be used for instructional purposes.

The board also used Tuesday’s meeting to hear from human resources director Glenda Jones, who gave an update on the new legislative mandate that 25 percent of experienced teachers must be offered four-year contracts — in exchange for a small raise and the loss of tenure, a way of gradually ending the tenure system opposed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Any teacher or instructional staff member (speech therapists and librarians, for example) with tenure who has been with the district since at least the 2010-11 school year, has no documented performance concerns and was been rated “proficient” or better last school year is eligible for the four-year contract, which also comes with a $500 raise every year for at least those first four years.

Jones estimated that 370 teachers and 54 other employees would qualify. Each school would be able to offer one in four qualifying employees the deal; Jones said that tiebreakers would be determined without the principal’s input in order to avoid possible bias. Scores from reviews and evaluations would be used instead.

“That’s just the least arbitrary way to do that,” she said.

The board agreed, but that doesn’t mean they all like the law. Several expressed concerns, but the most vocal was Tamara Brogan.

“I resent being put in this position, where we have to make this choice, because it feels like pitting teachers against teachers,” Brogan said. “It’s not good for the teachers.”

Jones agreed, saying that not much good is coming out of Raleigh these days on the education front.

“The days are gone when teachers were running up to HR directors saying, ‘Hire me, hire me,’” Jones said, adding that it’s worse than just a lack of interest: “We have just had many of our quality teachers leaving for other professions.”

She said one teacher is quitting in March, before the school year is even over, to become a landscaper. Others have left to become personal trainers or take up yet other careers which pay better than teaching.

“With everything that has happened in the past year in regards to education, I can understand why teachers are leaving for other professions,” said Jones, who is president of a statewide group of public school HR directors. “... We’re on the wrong path for education in this state, and we need to get back on track.”

Whatever happens in Lee County, though, Jones won’t be around to see it.

She will resign at the end of this week to take a similar job with Cabarrus County Schools. On Tuesday, the board approved the hiring of her successor: John Conway, who has been the head of human resources for Beaufort County Schools for the past five years. He has also worked as a teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal.