New Rail Bridge Design Revealed — “The new rail bridge will be built with many of the features in the existing span, including its structure, material and form, with steel girders and similar pier spacing, according to preliminary site plans approved this month by the National Capital Planning Commission. The plans also call for the use of Ashlar stone cladding for the bridge piers, and abutments and walls near the George Washington Memorial Parkway.” [Washington Post]
County Board Approves ‘Heights’ Parking — From School Board member Barbara Kanninen: “‘APS did us a solid.’ Thx @kcristol for that comment regarding our hosting the County’s temp fire station for several years! Glad to see the use permit for Phase 2 [of The Heights building in Rosslyn] approved this morning, providing important universal access improvements for all students, esp @APS_Shriver.” [Twitter]
APS Hiring Hundreds of Teachers — “Officials in Arlington Public Schools will also spend the summer working to fill an atypically large number of empty positions. Arlington, which enrolls 27,045 students, according to state data, saw 284 teachers resign between August 2021 and mid-May 2022. The district usually employs about 3,000 teachers, per spokesman Frank Bellavia. That is 96 percent higher than the average number of resignations between 2018-2019 and 2020-2021: 145.” [Washington Post]
Free Chicken Today — “July 18th is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. His birthday is recognized and celebrated world wide as Mandela day; a day for us all to inspire change and make a difference in our communities. At Nando’s we are proud of our South African heritage. We will join in celebrating his birthday on July 18th by following his example and giving back to our communities.” [Nando’s Peri Peri]
Cyclist Struck on Busy Ramp — “Police, fire on scene of cyclist struck by driver on the WB Route 50 / Washington Blvd ramp. Cyclist was thrown from bike and is being treated by medics, per scanner.” [Twitter]
Treasurer Honored, Again — “Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava received the President’s Award for her service and leadership to the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia (TAV). The award was presented during the association’s annual conference in June. It is the second time de la Pava has be recognized with the President’s Award.” [Arlington County]
More Bad Driving on I-395 — From Dave Statter: “You’ll want to see this one. Driver goes bowling with the barrels & almost takes one along for the ride. @VaDOTNOVA time for clean-up again on aisle 8C.” [Twitter]
It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy, with rain and possible storms in the evening. High of 88 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:59 am and sunset at 8:33 pm. [Weather.gov]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
The Arlington School Board has unanimously passed a resolution allowing teachers and staff to collectively bargain, becoming among the first school districts in Virginia to do so.
Arlington is following on the heels of Richmond in letting employees at public schools unionize, after the General Assembly in 2020 repealed a ban on school employees bargaining collectively.
“I believe we are the second school division to do this,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesperson Frank Bellavia. Richmond was the first school district in the state to grant employees such a right in December last year.
“This particular resolution is not the final conversation, this is not the collective bargaining agreement, this is just setting the rules of the game,” said School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres during the board meeting Thursday.
The School Board made a few updates to its original draft resolution, published in April, after discussions with the Arlington Education Association and Virginia Education Association, two local unions representing public school employees.
The main changes concerned the way the union would be elected and the functions of the designated neutral third party. Under the adopted resolution, a union needs to obtain signatures from 30% of public school employees to trigger an election, a significant decrease from the 50% needed in the draft resolution.
Moreover, the costs of elections would be split between the School Board and the union under the finalized agreement. The original proposal would have given the union sole responsibility of cost.
Under the final resolution, the elected union will become the exclusive representative to negotiate directly with the School Board for wages and benefits. The union will be representing all public school employees whether they are in the union or not.
“I am particularly glad to see that some of the more significant concessions that were requested by AEA and VEA have been implemented,” said School Board member Mary Kadera, “and I appreciate VEA and AEA flagging that issue and advocating for that.”
She added that she would be committed to “leaning in and listening and working in good faith” with the employee associations in the future.
Not all suggestions from the employee associations were adopted. AEA pointed out several issues it had with the final resolution, chief among them being the School Board’s power to automatically decertify the union if members of the latter were to join any union strikes, according to AEA’s president-elect June Prakash. She further stated that those issues “must be resolved before sitting down at a bargaining table.”
AEA’s UniServ Director Sean Genson, who acts as a liaison with state and national associations, said the power to decertify “should be held with a neutral third party.” He added that this resolution was like “writing the rules to a new game” and should be “difficult to change over time.”
“APS’s resolution does that very well, but not perfectly,” he said.
In the same School Board meeting, the board also appointed Stephanie Maltz as the new director of labor relations. She will be responsible for establishing the guidelines to elect an exclusive representative and handling complaints from public school employees.
Maltz has been an attorney adviser at the D.C. Government Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining and had managed similar job duties at D.C. Public Schools for the past five years, according to an APS news release announcing her appointment.
Before this resolution, the Arlington Education Association could not enter into binding contracts with the School Board. The association could only “meet and confer” with the board on issues regarding wage and benefits.
Under the new resolution, the elected union will be able to put their demands into a legally binding contract with the School Board, according to an infographic from the group.
Arlington’s teachers union will be temporarily led by its national association after the local organization’s executive board was ousted.
The move marks the culmination of a tumultuous year for the Arlington Education Association (AEA). A group of delegates to the AEA from every school site in the county voted last Wednesday to have the National Education Association — which represents educators and staff from public school through higher education — take the helm temporarily.
The interim trusteeship is in charge until the AEA holds an election later this month to select new executive board members. The board was previously led by President Ingrid Gant and had a vice-president, treasurer, representatives from the elementary, middle and high schools, and an executive assistant.
Some members tell ARLnow that frustrations had mounted recently as they were preparing for the upcoming election and for the introduction of collective bargaining. The Arlington School Board is gearing up to consider allowing salary negotiations later this spring.
The organization, sources said, effectively had stopped operating. Screenshots indicate the AEA’s website was down for most of February and March. (It now redirects to the Virginia Education Association website). They couldn’t reach anyone by phone or leave a message — a problem ARLnow has also run into — as the mailbox for the phone line was full. The meeting during which members were supposed to launch their executive board campaigns was canceled, raising doubts among members about the fairness of the election.
That these frustrations occurred as the possibility of collective bargaining drew nearer led the delegates to place their organization under a “protective trusteeship” on an emergency basis. In an email provided to ARLnow, the interim trustee from the NEA reassured union members that little would change with the new administration.
“We want to assure you that as members of the Arlington Education Association this trusteeship will not have an impact on your member benefits such as legal representation, liability coverage, or affect our ability to advocate for our students as part of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association,” interim trustee Mark Simons wrote.
Problems plaguing the AEA go back even further, according to internal documents shared with ARLnow, which some AEA members said they also received. These documents reveal a battle between the AEA and the state union — the Virginia Education Association — over local control. The AEA and the VEA did not return a request for comment.
The Virginia union’s president, James Fedderman, told Arlington local members that he had concerns about governance and finances and was “committed to rectifying this situation with integrity and transparency.”
Former president Ingrid Gant had outlasted her tenure of two two-year terms and several executive board seats were appointed without a vote by delegates, he said, citing opinions he solicited from the NEA and someone certified to interpret parliamentary procedures.
He added that the union’s finances were in disarray and not communicated to members. Local leaders admitted the budget was disorganized in a memo to members, saying AEA began the 2021-22 fiscal year without a budget and owed $732,000 in dues to the state and national unions. Amid this, the treasurer resigned and a new treasurer was installed.
(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) The first Arlington School Board candidate has stepped up — and he is a current teacher in Arlington Public Schools.
Gunston Middle School world geography teacher Brandon Clark says he is running to provide a point of view he says is missing on the School Board. Most of the five members are current and former parents, while some have past experience as educators.
“What we don’t have is someone who is a current APS employee,” he tells ARLnow. “We don’t have someone who understands how these decisions impact our students, families and community.”
He will vie for the seat that opens up when School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen steps down in December. So far, he is the only candidate on the ballot for the November general election. If elected, he would resign as a teacher.
Clark has been an APS teacher for five years. He and his wife both teach at Gunston, where she is a math coach. They have young twins who will one day go to APS, says Clark, a graduate of Wakefield High School.
Since joining the school system, he has taken on leadership positions at Gunston and on the Teachers’ Council on Instruction, which advises the superintendent. In these roles he says he saw systemic problems in how APS communicates and allocates resources.
“I’m running because I believe we have to do better — and do better now,” he said. “We can’t wait until we have to do damage control. We have serious systemic issues that need to be fixed and we need strategic ways to deploy our resources to fix them.”
Clark had mulled running for three years, but a communications mishap two months ago tipped the scales for him.
In January, APS notified him some of his students had tested positive for Covid. He received two communications from APS, each telling him to quarantine for two different lengths of time.
“The more I communicated with people, the more I learned it was happening all over APS,” he said. “I figured they had it all figured out, but they didn’t. I realized how bad things were. It was a symptom of a greater systemic problem — a mismanagement of policies, communications and resources.”
If elected, he said, Clark intends to direct Superintendent Francisco Durán to review how APS sends information to staff and families and find more efficient, centralized alternatives.
To the extent that is legally possible, he said, people “should be able to see what was sent to teachers and parents on a single landing page that is convenient and easy to access. There are too many avenues of communication. When you get that, you breed confusion.”
The number of siloed committees for parents and teachers makes it harder to be heard by APS administrators, he asserted.
“Parents and teachers need to realize they have power together and they can actualize that by meeting,” he said. “If you really want feedback, you have to streamline all these committees — parents and teachers should be in the same room.”
Beyond communications, APS can be more strategic is in its budget, selecting just one or two priorities per year and showing how every expenditure aligns with them, Clark said.
Police Holding St. Paddy’s Event — “On Friday, March 18 from 8-10 p.m., join officers on N. Hudson Street at Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon for the Don’t Press Your Luck anti-drunk driving event. This event is free and open to the public and is designed to highlight the effect alcohol has on motor skills.” [ACPD]
Sub Suspended for Russia Rant — “Arlington Public Schools has suspended a substitute teacher who, during a Spanish class, expressed approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and urged students to read Russian-run propaganda outlets. The substitute, John Stanton, 65, made the comments during an eighth-grade Spanish lesson on Friday at Swanson Middle School.” [Washington Post]
How to Help Ukraine — “Arlington and Ivano-Frankivsk were formally declared sister cities on March 4, 2011… The Arlington Sister City Association has identified the following trusted organizations as providing a variety of services to the Ukrainian people. Please consider helping our friends during this difficult time.” [Arlington County]
Local Foster Dog Delivers — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “If you order through UberEats, keep an eye out – Orlando might be your delivery-dog! Orlando loves joining his foster mom on delivery runs, and always sings along to the songs on the radio. We give him a 5-star rating!” [Twitter]
‘Freedom Convoy’ May Be Coming — “The U.S. protesters inspired by the self-styled ‘Freedom Convoy’ that occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks headed out from Southern California last week for a cross-country trip to the D.C. region. They plan to arrive this weekend, and Virginia State Police describes the convoy as a “still-fluid situation.” [Washington Post]
It’s Friday — Clear throughout the day. High of 46 and low of 26. Sunrise at 6:37 am and sunset at 6:06 pm. [Weather.gov]
A pair of bills proposed by an Arlington lawmaker in the General Assembly could help bolster the ranks of health care workers and teachers stretched thin during the pandemic.
The bills introduced by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) expedite the licensure process in both industries, allowing workers with licenses in other states to begin work upon being hired. The bills passed the Virginia Senate uncontested and will be considered in the House after the crossover deadline on Feb. 15.
If Senate Bill 317 becomes law, hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis facilities would be able to hire workers who have licenses in other states as they await a Virginia license.
“Our facilities right now are having a very hard time staffing up, it is a quality of care issue when you don’t have enough nurses on your floor, our patients are not getting the attention they need,” Favola said to the Education and Health Subcommittee on Health Professions.
Similarly, Senate Bill 68 would allow teachers who are licensed to teach outside the United States to begin working under a provisional license for up to three years. The Department of Education would review the application and the individual could then start in classrooms, Favola told the Education and Health Subcommittee on Education.
“This is an effort to enable those who really have the ability and the interest and the talent to teach in an area that we right now are suffering incredible shortages,” she said. “Our school systems are struggling to keep teachers.”
Several educational associations spoke in favor of the bill, as well as someone who worked with refugee resettlement.
“We did have some concerns in the beginning but [Favola] addressed all those concerns, specifically with verifying those credentials… so we are in support of it,” said Shane Riddle, with the Virginia Education Association.
Favola confirmed there would be confirmation of licensure before they would be hired.
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, chair of the subcommittee, said she hopes SB 68 will be a step toward addressing the shortage but also “be able to take professionals who come in with the skills and the knowledge, the credentials and be able to participate readily within our own school system.”
These bills solve some serious problems & will improve the lives of Virginians. Let’s applaud teachers & healthcare workers! https://t.co/tpaKthw4lx
— Barbara Favola (@BarbaraFavola) January 26, 2022
The health care licensure bill would put into state law what existed under emergency orders former Gov. Ralph Northam put in place last year. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has since also issued an emergency order, set to expire Feb. 21, that also allows a health care practitioner with a license and in good standing in another state to practice in Virginia.
Under the bill, the health care worker would work on a provisional license and within 90 days the Bureau of Health Professions would issue a Virginia license, Favola said. If the license is not issued within 90 days, there can be an extension of 60 days.
It would also allow for professionals practicing in states surrounding Virginia to get expedited requests for state licensure if their state enters a reciprocal agreement. The bill would take effect as soon as it becomes law.
Hospitals are in a staffing crisis and it isn’t going away anytime soon, said R. Brent Rawlings, Senior Vice President of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, in testimony before the subcommittee.
“We’ve had people leave the workforce and we need to have every tool in our toolbox to try to get folks at the bedside as quickly as possible and this would allow that to happen,” he said.
(Updated at noon) Arlington Public Schools is bringing athletics back early and reducing quarantine periods, despite more than a thousand Covid cases reported among students and staff this past week.
Starting next week, the school system will adopt revised CDC guidance, Superintendent Francisco Durán wrote in an email to the school community Wednesday. The isolation period for staff members who test positive will be halved to five days. The new guidelines also reduced the quarantine period to five days for a student or staff member who is considered a close contact to someone who tested positive.
“Students who are exempt from quarantine (e.g., those with up-to-date vaccinations, are asymptomatic and are able to wear a mask) will be excluded and verified by Contact Tracers before being able to return to school,” Durán noted.
APS will still require a 10-day isolation period for students who test positive for COVID-19, despite the CDC’s recent change to guidelines allowing a five-day isolation for positive cases under certain conditions. That’s because APS is unable to ensure that “consistent physical distancing and mask protocols [are] in place at all times, including during meals.”
“Maintaining safe, consistent in-person learning is our priority,” Durán wrote. “APS will maintain in-person learning except in limited instances to address high transmission in a classroom or school. Switching any class or school to virtual learning–even for a short period of time–will be a last resort.”
There are 864 students and 183 employees who have tested positive for Covid over the past week, according to the APS Covid dashboard as of publication time. That compares to 56 positive student cases over a seven-day period just over a month ago, in early December.
Arlington is currently seeing its highest Covid hospitalization rate since January 2021. Nine people were hospitalized on Wednesday alone, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The seven-day moving average of daily hospitalizations is now just above four.
As teachers and community members expressed concerns about the surge in Covid cases over winter break, driven by the new Omicron variant, Durán committed to return in person. Last week’s snowstorms ended up cancelling school for the entire week, but students returned to classrooms on Monday.
While some in the community have urged more caution amid the Covid wave, others have advocated for schools and activities to remain open.
In a statement Monday, prior to Wednesday’s announcement, the pro-school-reopening group Arlington Parents for Education said that “APS should follow the CDC-recommended five days for isolations and quarantines instead of ten in order to significantly increase APS’ ability to staff schools and to reduce students’ days out of school.”
Arlington Parents for Education and more than 1,500 petition signers have also called for APS to resume athletic activities, which were “paused” for two weeks to start the new year, a move not mirrored by other local school systems.
In his email, Durán said that in-person athletics and extracurriculars returned early, on Wednesday, “following our current testing, vaccination and mask requirements.”
Only family members can watch events, Durán wrote in his email. Other limitations for spectators could apply based on facility.
The full message from Superintendent Durán is below.
A tweet correcting the grammar and style of a press release from the Arlington teachers union has gotten some national media attention.
A local homeschooling mom tweeted pictures of the corrections she says she and her children made to a press release sent by the Arlington Education Association, which represents educators and staff in Arlington Public Schools.
— Ellen Gallery (@ellenfgallery) December 30, 2021
The New York Post, Fox News and the Daily Mail have since picked up Ellen Gallery’s edits, and her tweet has gone viral, garnering nearly 2,000 likes and 740 retweets as of Monday morning. AEA President Ingrid Gant has since released a statement taking ownership of the errors and explaining that the release was actually a draft that had not been edited before publication.
Gant sent the initial release after APS announced Wednesday evening that in the new year, amid record levels of reported COVID-19 cases, it would continue in-person instruction and halt sports and activities for up to two weeks. School was set to resume today (Monday) but the snow storm has delayed the start of school until at least Wednesday.
Gant’s letter to Superintendent Francisco Durán, sent early Thursday morning, called on APS to require negative COVID-19 tests of every returning student and staff member, something being done by D.C. public schools. Gant also drew attention to the possibility of increased COVID-19 transmission with lunch indoors, calling for stronger mitigation measures.
But the errors in grammar and style drew more attention than the release’s substance, Gallery told Fox News via Twitter.
“Being able to write a clear, persuasive letter is a fundamental skill all students should master before high school,” she said. “The quality of this writing was so glaringly terrible that it distracts from the writer’s message.”
On Saturday, Gant released a follow-up statement in response to the viral Tweet and the national news coverage.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has persisted far longer than any of us in the Arlington community had anticipated. A draft letter was sent in place of a fully edited one in a rush to address the latest challenge. While I personally take full responsibility for this mistake, errors in my letter should in no way distract from its message: Arlington’s students and educators are returning to school Monday without sufficient testing supplies and with a lunch plan that fails to address the increased risks associated with the Omicron variant. Arlington’s students and educators deserve a safe return to in-person instruction.”
“It is clear that a layered mitigation strategy is the key to safe and effective teaching and learning in our county’s classrooms. As a community, we must focus on acquiring a sufficient supply of tests for every student and staff member prior to our first in-person day in January and on enhancing our meal service mitigations. The children of Arlington deserve no less.”
This week, Smart Restart APS — a group that advocates for improved COVID-19 protocols in schools — is outfitting APS staff with the higher-grade masks reportedly needed to lower the transmission of the highly contagious, but less deadly, Omicron variant. It called on Durán to provide better masks, promote the booster shot and upgrade air filters in school buildings.
Facing a shortage of substitute teachers, Arlington Public Schools has raised its pay rates to attract more candidates.
Teachers have been struggling to find substitutes, leading them to come in on days they wanted to take off or to rely on co-workers willing to cover for them, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán and the Arlington Education Association.
“I personally know staff who’ve chosen to come to work instead of calling out because they knew substitute teachers were so scarce,” said teacher Josh Folb, representing AEA, during a School Board meeting on Thursday. “Unlike the Virtual Learning Program, where some found it acceptable for weeks to let kids sit with absolutely no teacher of any kind, the in-person burden falls on coworkers to double up or split classes, where less learning can occur.”
This is the third reported staffing shortage APS has faced this summer and fall.
Ahead of summer school, the school system had to dial back the number of eligible kids because there weren’t enough teachers willing to teach over the summer, a nationwide phenomenon attributed to pandemic-era burnout. For the first month of school, many students enrolled in the Virtual Learning Program did not have teachers — which APS also attributed to staff shortages — and were placed in waiting rooms with substitutes.
In response to substitute shortage, which is also playing out nationwide, APS increased rates of pay for substitute work, which is typically considered low-paying and inconsistent, and launched a bonus program encouraging substitutes to take on more sub jobs. The plan was presented last Thursday (Oct. 28) during a School Board meeting and went into effect on Monday.
“We will now be the highest-paying in Northern Virginia for substitutes — the front runner — we were fourth or fifth,” Durán said on Thursday. “So we’re moving forward to do that to support our teachers ultimately and also our subs, who are coming in on a daily basis to provide that support when it’s needed. “
School divisions in the U.S. are facing similar shortages and also offering perks and higher wages. Closer to home, D.C. is spending $40 million to hire contact tracers, substitute teachers and workers to handle COVID-19 logistics in the city’s public school system.
APS Appoints New DEI Chief — “The School Board appointed Dr. Jason Ottley as the new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at its Oct. 28 School Board meeting. Dr. Ottley has been serving as Interim Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer since Sept. 1.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Ed Center Project Taking Longer — “The firm that has been overseeing construction at the former Arlington Education Center will get another funding bump, as the project lingers longer than expected and requires more oversight. School Board members on Oct. 28 were slated to be briefed on the plan to provide another $277,083 to McDonough Bolyard Peck, which is serving as construction manager adviser on the project. Final approval of the funding is slated for November.” [Sun Gazette]
Time to Compost Your Pumpkins — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Reincarnation is real. Toss rotting pumpkins in the green curbside cart and they’ll come back to life as nutritious compost.” [Twitter]
Fewer Day Laborers at Shirlington Site — “The users, who live mostly on Columbia Pike and Alexandria, have shrunk to 10-20. ‘The outdoor site is no longer there, and it’s only a matter of time before jobs disappear from there,’ Tobar said.” [Falls Church News-Press]
ANC to Recreate 1921 Procession — “Arlington National Cemetery said Wednesday that it will host a public memorial procession and military flyover on Nov. 11 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of Unknowns. The procession, which visitors can observe, will begin at the main entrance to the cemetery on Memorial Avenue near the welcome center.” [Washington Post]
Honor for Wakefield Driving Teacher — “The Virginia Association for Driver Education and Traffic Safety has named Wakefield High School’s Tony Bentley the Behind the Wheel Teacher of the Year. The announcement was made at the state meeting, held online on Oct. 1, which featured 140 driver-education teachers and representatives from the Virginia Department of Education.” [Sun Gazette]
Staff of Rosslyn-Based Politico Unionizes — “The news staffs of Politico and E&E News went public Friday with the news that that they have formed a union. Around 80 percent of the newsrooms’ combined staffs are on board… Politico is based in Virginia, a right-to-work state, so employees will likely have the choice of whether or not to join if the union drive is successful.” [Washingtonian]
It’s Monday, Nov. 1 — The first day of November will be sunny, with a high near 60. Northwest wind 7 to 11 mph. Sunrise at 7:35 a.m. and sunset at 6:07 p.m. Tomorrow there will be a chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53.
The union representing Arlington Public Schools teachers is calling for “drastic and immediate” improvements to the school system’s new remote learning program.
This school year, when most students returned to their brick-and-mortar buildings, others continued online learning through the newly-created APS Virtual Learning Program.
Four weeks in, staff say that the program still has deep problems, in addition to the staffing shortages which ARLnow previously revealed. We’re told by teachers that the issues range from communication to teacher treatment to a lack of needed resources.
“Every day our educators are being forced to go above and beyond the call of duty,” Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant said during a press conference yesterday afternoon on the steps of the union’s headquarters along Columbia Pike. “We, the members of AEA insist the School Board members take action regarding the poor state of communications, staffing and support across APS, particularly in Virtual Learning Program.”
She outlined a variety of concerns, including missing textbooks, incomplete schedules, inadequate substitute coverage, and programming for special education students and English learners, as well as abrupt teacher transfers and long work days.
In response, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system has not yet had a conversation with AEA about these concerns.
“We welcome that dialogue and have been transparent about the challenges with the Virtual Learning Program and the steps we are taking, as well as the timeline for the distribution of summer school bonuses,” he said.
A number of teachers — some speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution — tell ARLnow that they feel abandoned. They say there are no regular faculty meetings, emails to administrators go unanswered, and new teachers do not know where to turn to for instructional support and lesson plan help.
“Everything is falling on the teachers to make it work, with no leadership whatsoever. Where is the leadership? Where is the support? There’s no community, nothing,” said one secondary teacher.
“Communication has been dreadful,” said a special education teacher. “It has gotten better, but it has a long way to go. It’s not just with administration, but with home schools as well.”
Bellavia suggested that VLP staff struggling with internal communication issues use the same paths available to other employees.
“As is the expectation for all APS staff, they should start with their administrator to seek help or express concerns,” he said. “If they continue to have concerns, teachers are welcome to reach out to Office of Academics content supervisors or directors.”
Educators also say they’ve been moved to other positions within the program but have not had instructional support or tools to develop lesson plans. Veteran teachers say they’re grateful to have years of experience and their own resources at their disposal in order to get through the myriad of problems.
In one instance, seven teachers signed up to teach English learners were reassigned to teach whatever else they had certifications in — from elementary classrooms to specific high school subjects — in order to address shortages. Teachers tell us that this hasn’t been good for morale.
“Based on teacher credentials, teachers were placed in classes for which they were certified to teach or reassigned to a brick and mortar school, as necessary,” Bellavia confirmed.
Up until this week, staff say they did not know who within or outside the VLP to consult for instructional help, absences or problems with students’ schedules. Each physical school has support staff and administrators equipped to handle these problems, but the chain of command in the VLP has not been clear, they say.
In contrast, Bellavia said VLP has support staff, including a math coach, a reading coach, a counselor and an assistant administrator. Teachers have been informed about available resources and can begin picking up items at APS headquarters.
“A counselor? What counselor? I don’t think that’s accurate,” the secondary teacher said in response.
Meanwhile, the special education teacher described her program as “a mess.” Special education teachers’ caseloads have yet to be finalized, and in some cases, students with varying needs and different education plans are placed in one classroom, with the teacher expected to deliver individualized instruction.
Still, she said, “I’m not going to give up. I’ll keep beating my head against the wall until things change.”