But the question of whether some or all teachers at Affton High School will continue to be expected to teach for six out of the seven periods of their workday emerged unanswered from the May 1 meeting at Rogers Middle School.
About 20 parents were in attendance at the discussion, which took three hours and included input from more than a dozen participants.
“This meeting is part of our last collective bargaining agreement, it’s why we’re here. It’s time to move forward on this issue,” said Board President Ron Becher, who moderated the discussion.
A “6/7” workday is in force at both Rogers Middle School and Affton High School, but the focus was on the high school, where the administration in 2008 gradually began requiring a handful of teachers who had been teaching only five of their seven periods to pick up an additional class.
Rogers Middle School Principal Jeff Remelius gave a brief presentation, essentially saying Rogers teachers were amenable to the “6/7” set up. No Rogers teachers chose to attend the meeting.
The high school staff, however, contended that the loss of a period for one-on-one discussion shortchanges students.
Affton High School Principal Susan Jackson explained that students falling short of the required 24 graduation credits has become a problem.
A total of 52 students in the 2010 graduating class have had to complete on-line courses, called PLATO, to bring their credits up to requirement.
“How did we end up with that many students being short of graduation credits?” asked Board Member Michael McNeil.
“The problem is we waited until they were seniors. We did not have sufficient early intervention,” said social studies teacher Tony Muyco, one of five teachers on the panel.
Jackson said some teachers have complained that it is unfair for some to be required to teach six classes while others — typically in more intense disciplines such as math, science and English — only teach five classes.
The district has attempted to keep class sizes in the non-elective areas to the 20-24 range, while some classes have 28 to 30 students.
John Pessina, another social studies teacher, disputed the standard notion that larger class sizes are a negative factor in education. He said larger classes encourage diversity and debate.
The teachers produced at their own expense a thick binder of information that outlined their grievances under the headings “Different Perspectives,” “One Department’s View on How 6/7 Climate Affects Student Performances,” “The Elective Classes’ Perspective,” “Alternatives for the 6th Period — Solutions” and “Assorted Supplementary Information and Summary.”
The compendium, available for review by contacting Muyco, includes budget figures, industry studies on student achievement, comparison of other district outcomes and most of the district’s recently adopted comprehensive school achievement plan.
It also included copies of memos and at least one confidential e-mail the teachers suggest show the administration’s unwillingness to discuss the 6/7 issue.
The memos detail the teachers’ apparent discussion of labor issues with students. In 2008, prior to adoption of the current labor contract, District Superintendent Don Francis directed teachers to tell students “(They’re) not supposed to talk about it” if the then-planned schedule changes came up in discussion.
“The morale at the high school is really low,” said Barbara Hegger, mother of a sophomore at the high school.
“I understand most of us have a job and the expectation to work eight hours. But from a parent’s standpoint, I can see a lot of the time for one-on-one work with students isn’t there anymore. It’s a hot-button issue,” Hegger said.
The board did not announce any action during the meeting and no further meetings were scheduled, though it did encourage Jackson to consider staggering future annual schedules so that teachers who teach six classes one year or semester will be slated for five classes the next.
Afterward, Muyco said the meeting was productive because, for the first time, teachers’ concerns of how the 6/7 schedule has affected students were officially heard by the school board, parents and community.
“I was encouraged to hear feedback from the board and the public that the high school teachers are the experts in their curricular area and that they will be included with the scheduling decision process,” Muyco said. “The building is in charge of its own scheduling process without a directive or policy from above. Now, it’s time to collaboratively work with an open mind and to think outside the box,” Muyco said.”
Printed in the South County Times on May 7, 2010
Article by Joe Leicht