By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009
D.C. public schools would be closed on six Wednesdays between September and March for teacher training under the 2009-10 academic calendar proposed yesterday by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
School officials said they are working with the Department of Parks and Recreation to develop alternative programs for students for those days. This week, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) named a top Rhee deputy, Ximena Hartsock, to head the department. Hartsock was responsible for summer, after-school and Saturday school programs.
District children would have the same number of classroom days -- 180 -- under the plan. But the calendar would shuffle and expand "professional development" time for teachers, addressing a longtime complaint by District educators that the school system is not committed to helping them improve their skills.
The schedule would move spring break from the week of March 23 to the week of March 29, aligning it more closely with vacations in the region's other school districts. It also would eliminate Emancipation Day as a school holiday, a move proposed in Fenty's 2010 budget and awaiting D.C. Council action.
Rhee said in a statement yesterday that the changes are the product of input from parents and teachers. School officials will have a community forum at 6:30 p.m. today at Noyes Elementary School, 2725 10th St. NE, to discuss the plan, and Rhee said she will consider feedback before making a final decision.
The six midweek closures are likely to be the greatest source of contention in the proposal. Some months would be significantly fragmented. In October, Wednesday the 7th would be a parent conference day, Monday the 12th is Columbus Day, and Wednesday the 21st would be a teacher development day.
Under the current calendar, the eight days set aside for teacher development fall in periods when schools are closed in August, December and June. Teachers have long sought "job-embedded" training, with development days more closely linked to classroom time.
The change addresses an issue in contract talks with the Washington Teachers' Union. The teachers have asked the school system to increase the resources it invests in professional development to expand their repertoire of classroom skills.
In a poll of 400 WTU members this month for the American Federation of Teachers, 80 percent listed better professional development, training and mentoring as the initiatives that could best improve the quality of teaching in the District.