The Commissioner of Education Noreen Michael made a decision this school year that made me very proud of her. She decided to extend the school day by 30 minutes. She explained quite simply that tacking on an extra half hour each day would result in an additional 90 hours of instructional time for students each school year. Although I felt that Commissioner Michael was in over her head from the time she took the job, this time she was right and it was a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, the teachers and their union didn't think so.
A series of well orchestrated sickouts has led the Commissioner to undo the changes to the school schedule. Teachers who get the entire Summer off and who are usually home by three o' clock in the afternoon, felt that being asked to teach for an additional half hour each day was unreasonable. They failed to see why this gesture was a step towards making a true commitment to education in our community. And before I go any further, let me point out that I personally thought three algebra classes last school year for a small private school, so I have an idea of how difficult the profession can be. (I have promised myself that I will never do that again.)
But the fact remains, the Virgin Islands Code Title 17, Section 61 mandates that students receive at least 1080 hours of instructional time each school year.
The school year shall begin no earlier than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August and end no later than the second Friday in June, provided that the school calendar includes no less than 1080 hours of pupil instruction.
This is a requirement that has become less and less practical each year. Primarily because teachers continue to negotiation all types of interruptions during the school year as part of their collective bargaining agreements. My main pet peeve is the Teacher Quest Professional Development conferences that are held in the middle of the school year. Students are given the day off and schools are closed even though only a fraction of the teachers actually attend these conferences. Most show their faces in the morning and disappear after the lunch break. I just can't understand why these conferences can't be held during the Summer.
Also, nowadays, with the advent of the block schedule, teachers get several days off to transition from the first to the second semester. That was never the case when I was in school. (Central High School Senior Class '92) Then there is mother nature. While students in the northern United States are going to school in two feet of snow, our schools are closed if it rains too hard. It seems like we find any reason to close the schools and deprive our children of meaningful instructional time.
Of course the administrators always plan to make up these missed days at the conclusion of the school year. But, in all practicality, that never happens. The end of the school year in the Virgin Islands usually sees parents intentionally keeping their children home from school. Sometimes to start Summer vacation trips early, other times to keep them out of end-of-school violence. Other children simply refuse to go to school once their private school friends are home for the Summer. Then there are the end-of-year parties and and senior skip days and all the other distractions. So needless to say, the deeper into the Summer you go, the less meaningful the classroom experience becomes.
That is why I totally understood the Commissioner's strategy. It made perfect sense to me. It was a chance to ensure that we provide our students with the minimum amount of classroom instruction that we have guaranteed them by law. I am thoroughly disappointed by the Union's failure to put the needs of our students first and to save their qualms for contract negotiations with the administration. We can not move forward as a community if we keep shortchanging the education of our youngsters. The teachers have the union to advocate for their needs, who is advocating for the needs of our children.