Franklin City Public Schools discusses new schedule, gets support

Published 7:22 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Franklin City Public Schools is finding significant support for a four-day school week from staff and from parents who have attended town hall meetings on the subject.

Tamara Sterling

FCPS Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling delivered this report during the Franklin City School Board’s Thursday, May 19, meeting.

It was during the school board’s May 5 work session that it voted 4-1 to adopt a schedule for the 2022-23 school year that will alternate between four-day and four-and-a-half-day weeks for students.

Ward 1 Board Member Robert Holt was the lone dissenting vote because he wanted to wait to hear from parents and teachers, and Ward 4 Board Member Marchelle F. Williams and Ward 6 Board Member Jerry McCreary were absent.

The proposed and adopted schedule for the upcoming Franklin City Public Schools school year features the following:

  • Monday-Thursday: normal bell schedule from 2021-22 but with slightly longer days
  • Friday: every other one is an off day for students and staff
  • Friday: every other one in between the off days is a half day for students and work/professional development day for teachers

The student arrival and dismissal times Monday-Thursday will be 7:40 a.m.-3:40 p.m. for S.P. Morton Elementary School, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. for J.P. King Jr. Middle School and 7:20 a.m.-3:30 p.m. for Franklin High School.

Speaking for board members in favor of the new schedule, Ward 2 Board Member and Board Chair Amy L. Phillips said, “Just because we see the good in it and we support this, we were very clear at the last meeting that if the overwhelming response from the staff or from the parents was that they didn’t think this would work, then we don’t implement — it’s that simple.”

FCPS has been working diligently to survey its staff and parents with regard to the new schedule.

“We’ve had staff meetings held at all schools with principals starting Monday, May 9,” Sterling said. “Division and staff members met Thursday, May 12, and we held a webinar that had approximately 30 participants.”

A parent town hall meeting was held May 9 at S.P. Morton, May 10 at J.P. King Jr. and May 11 at Franklin High School.

Among the other efforts to communicate about the new schedule, Sterling said, “We did robocalls to make certain that our parents knew. We have letters that have gone out, and parents are receiving the information in print, mailed directly to their homes in case they weren’t able to come in, to the town hall meetings.”

As the superintendent’s report to the board continued, Sterling delved into the staff survey results, as of May 19. There had been 111 participants, including 69 teachers and teacher assistants, 23 school staff members and 19 administrators/central services staff.

Among those in favor of the new schedule were 88, equaling about 80.2%, while 23, or about 20.7%, wanted to keep the old schedule.

Twenty-eight people attended the various town hall meetings, and the school division received 13 responses to its survey at those gatherings, with 10 people in favor of the new schedule, two preferring the old schedule and one person skipping the survey.

“We’re not just going to stop with the survey results,” Sterling said. “We want to make certain that we are communicating to our parents and our community.”

She said that among the next steps for the division was sending a mailing to all 640 FCPS households that includes information on the new schedule and a request to participate in the survey. The division will also have a webinar, presentation and survey posted to its website under the “News & Announcements” section.

The survey closed May 31.

Once the final results are calculated, FCPS will be meeting with child care providers.

“The meetings are currently being scheduled with child care providers so we can make certain that our parents have that resource as well,” Sterling said.

At-Large Board Member Carrie Johnson addressed the importance of the new schedule as a means of retaining and attracting teachers to the division. She mentioned learning at the Virginia School Boards Association Convention in November that the teacher shortage was a statewide issue.

“Everybody is having the issue, and I just wanted to say that I’m really thankful that you all got creative to try to honor the teachers that we have and attract new teachers so that we can have more stability in the classrooms, because I know that it’s super tough to try to get people who are interested in the profession,” she said. “So I just want to say, ‘Thanks. Appreciate it.’”

“Thank you,” Sterling said. “It’s a lot of work.”

Phillips said, “A few of us have actually attended some of the town halls that were had, which had some great discussion amongst the parents that were in attendance. One thing that when we look at the teachers that we hear is a recurring theme is the burnout, because it’s not just about what you have going on in the classroom. You’re having to use your planning periods to take care of those other things, so you’re not getting your planning period. You’re there late after school.”

She noted that some staff members serve as tutors, mentors and sponsors for other activities, and they may be at school until 9:30 p.m. and have to be back the next day at 7 a.m.

“Those are long, long days, and we might not be able to compensate you with what you should be compensated for all you do, but sometimes that gift of time makes a big difference,” she said.

Phillips added that she sees the new schedule benefiting students and parents as well, with the off days giving them a natural slot to schedule a student’s doctor appointment that would have otherwise taken the student out of the classroom.

Teachers could also use part of the new Friday schedule to spend one-on-one time with students who are struggling.

Jerry McCreary

McCreary asked, “Are there other divisions doing this (new schedule) that you can look to and see how it affects the students, their grades, their retention of the information? If they’re going from Thursday to Monday, does that affect their retention of what they’re learning?”

“I work in a division — although it’s with adults — who are on a four-day cycle,” Johnson said, “and we wondered how it was going to be because it does extend their time in class, but it’s been overwhelmingly positive, and they’re more willing to take something with them on a Thursday afternoon to work on over the weekend because they actually have a chance to rest and reset as opposed to doing whatever else that they used to have only Saturday and Sunday to do. Now they have Friday and Saturday to do (work), and then Sunday they can kind of recharge. So speaking from personal experience in education, I’ve seen it to be positive.”

Ward 5 Board Member Dr. Andrea Shelton said, “And although I don’t teach publicly, I homeschool, I’m on a four-day schedule, and my students have done well.”

“Alright,” McCreary said. “That’s good to know.”

In noting another benefit to the new schedule, Phillips pointed out that colleges are not just looking for students with excellent grades, but they are looking for leadership, involvement, community service and extracurriculars.

“This will give those kids that Friday where they can go out in the community (to serve),” she said. “A lot of that community service, the organizations that they would partner with to do that are kind of on a regular-day schedule.”

Johnson said the Fridays could also allow students time to work more so they can save for the future or help out their households.

McCreary said, “Some tutoring programs have been started recently, and my first impression was that this would be undermining that purpose when we were actually providing more instructional time, and this seems to be reducing that instructional time somewhat.”

Sterling said, “Once you start looking at the schedule, you’ll start to see, ‘Wow, these minutes have actually increased and not decreased for the children.’ We made certain of that.”