Some Lafayette teachers balk at in-service days

Some Lafayette Parish teachers are opposing the school district’s proposed 2014-15 school calendar, saying it reduces their time in the classroom with students by three days to account for more professional development for teachers.

Teachers aren’t opposed to professional development, but given the option, they would choose face time with students over training, said Rodolfo Espinoza, a Lafayette High teacher and president of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators.

The proposed calendar calls for 171 instructional days — about 3.5 days more than the state’s required instructional minutes for a school year — and a total of eight mandatory in-service, or professional development, days: three before the start of the school year and five during the school year.

This year’s calendar has 174 instructional days and six professional development days: two before the start of the school year and four throughout the school year.

Teachers who are new to the profession or new to the school district are required to attend an additional three-day training.

The professional development time is needed to ensure the district’s teachers continue to deliver effective instruction throughout the school year, said Karen Williams, the district’s academic director.

The school board was briefed on the proposed calendar changes at its Feb. 19 meeting. Some board members questioned the changes and sided with teachers like Espinoza and Jonathan Cole, a member of the Lafayette Parish Association of Educators who spoke in favor of more face time with students.

“I really don’t understand as a district why we continue to diminish or shrink class time, and I’d like to see us change that,” board member Rae Trahan said during the Feb. 19 meeting.

The debate is a rerun of objections made by teachers and even bus drivers last year over the loss of instructional days for professional development time. Last year, the district proposed a calendar that would have reduced instructional days in favor of adding extra minutes to each day of instruction to free up 10 days for teacher training. The board rejected that proposal but tweaked the calendar to offer 174 instructional days and six professional development days.

Williams said the 2014-15 calendar was developed with input from teachers and parents, though Espinoza said his organization was not included in a calendar committee meeting as it had been in the past.

The calendar also maintains parent-teacher conference days in which students do not report to school, based on positive feedback from both parents and teachers, Williams said.

Williams said Espinoza’s comments will be considered as staff reviews other feedback on the proposed calendar. She said Monday that principals have been asked to alert teachers of the proposed calendar and invite feedback from them.

“We want to make sure we have the full opinion of our teachers,” Williams said.

Williams said she’ll present any updates based on that feedback to the board as an informational item at the board’s March 5 meeting.

Espinoza is calling for the board to revert the majority of in-service days to instructional days.

“Teachers’ main complaint is that they’re overwhelmed with bureaucracy,” Espinoza said. “Two of the (in-service) days are set up as just data analysis. The bottom line is that teachers assess their students every day. They know who is struggling. We have all the data we need in the classroom.”

At the Feb. 19 meeting, Espinoza told board members that teachers would prefer summer training, but Williams said it’s more effective to provide ongoing training throughout the school year.

The district offers optional in-service days in the summer, but they have lower turnout because the district doesn’t have the funding to pay teachers to attend, said Sandra Billeaudeau, assistant superintendent.

“Teachers don’t show up because they are not paid to be there,” she told board members. “If we want to offer in-services, which we’d gladly do to give more face time with students, it’s going to require a cost in order to mandate that teachers show up so they can receive the tools necessary to deliver appropriate instruction in the classroom.”