Teachers voice frustrations over planning periods, lack of school board presence in local schools

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By HEATHER RUPPE and VICKI BROWN

A recent Colleton County School Board meeting held on October 19th brought out frustrations from a few local teachers who spoke during the public comment time, voicing their frustrations about what they say are changing in their weekly planning sessions.

“The fire that you are claiming to ignite is being suffocated,” said Meaghan McMillan, a teacher who was referring to the new policies she says were implemented by recently-hired Superintendent Dr. Vallerie Cave.

“We have only 50 minutes each week to plan lessons, grade, document, analyze data to guide instruction and the rest of the list of requirements that we have been tasked with,” said McMillan. According to her, the other four hours of planning during the week are “taken up by meetings.”

McMillan says that Colleton teachers formally had three out of the five days in the week to plan lessons and work on student assignments. Now, however, she says that local teachers at elementary schools have one hour out of the whole week to plan for the following five days for all five subject areas. Teachers at the high school level get a total of 90 minutes, due to block scheduling, to plan and grade. The rest of the planning has to be done on the teacher’s own time, she said.

That means that teachers have to take home a lot of work.

According to one angry teacher, during that one hour of plan time, “…teachers are expected to plan for the following week (lesson plans; activities; PowerPoints; tear, fold, and staple books for ELA for ALL students, etc.), grade papers, put grades in the system, make copies for the following week, call at least five parents and document every call, answer any parent concerns, check/respond to emails, complete any extra assignments that may be given by admin, run to the bathroom, get any other plans ready for that week that they didn’t get to from the week before, and so much more. One hour a week is not enough time to plan and complete all the responsibilities that are required of us.”

According to Colleton County School District Superintendent Dr. Vallerie Cave, teacher planning periods “continue to remain the same.” She said teachers have a planning period every day of the week.

“During these planning periods, teachers are planning for instruction based on student needs, data analysis, professional learning and collaborative planning,” she said.

“The focus and work done during planning periods has changed to focus on school improvement. Colleton County School District is faced with a significant number of academic challenges. The majority of our schools are rated below average or unsatisfactory on our state report cards.

“Teachers need to focus on school improvement models and strategies for success, and this is done during these planning periods,” said Cave.

According to one source, two teachers in the second grade at Bells Elementary are leaving in December. When asked to confirm this information, Colleton County School District Sean Gruber said he cannot legally discuss personnel issues.

Teachers also express frustration over new curriculum

In addition to concerns over planning periods, McMillan said she and other teachers are also concerned over a new ELA curriculum they are being told to teach.

This new curriculum is called Open Court, an educational program that was first implemented in the early 1990s by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The program was ultimately discounted and removed.

However, local teachers are asking why such an old program is now being implemented in Colleton County. “There are so many inconsistencies with this curriculum that you don’t see because you are not in the classroom,” said McMillan, speaking to the school board in a recent meeting. “There are gaps in this program that do not address the educational areas that children lost due to one year of Covid,” she said.

According to McMillan, several assessments or tests are involved in this curriculum and each one contains only five questions. If the child gets two answer wrong, he or she fails. Parents are now becoming concerned as they see their children who are proficient readers failing school.

“We were told in a meeting that the district was aware that student grades would drop,” McMillan asked board members. “Are you truly igniting a fire for learning or are you breaking their spirits?”

McMillan finished speaking to the school board by stating that the board members do not come to the schools and visit. They do not come in to see the situation and children for themselves. “We have never seen a board member there, and we have only seen Dr. Cave once, which led to more rules and regulations,” she said. “If you are making decisions for our schools, you should come and see what is happening. You are putting out the flames of excitement for learning in the children and in the educators. We are amazing educators that love our students. In the last year, we have kept this district afloat with our abilities to modify and adjust everything we have known, and we did this with fidelity. We are good at what we do. We don’t need anyone to micromanage us or give us scripted lessons.

“Let our creativity shine,” she said. “This school district is losing teachers and if they don’t re-evaluate the situation, they are going to be losing a lot more.”

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