School board, teacher’s union pass agreement to give teachers more planning time
In a challenging year, the district is looking to squeeze in more time for teachers
Even though Eagle County Schools is back to five days of in-person learning this year, it has been anything but a return to normal. With staffing challenges and substitute shortages making it difficult to staff classrooms, teachers and staff have been stepping up to fill any gaps, ensuring that students remain in the classroom, often at the expense of their own planning time.
Last week, the school board and teacher’s union passed a change to the district’s collective bargaining agreement to give more planning time back to teachers.
“This year, in some ways, feels more challenging than last year, and I think it’s because there were things that were off plates last year, but now we still are dealing with the pandemic and COVID and trying to do a normal year on top of that,” said Amy Vanwel, the principal of Berry Creek Middle School.
Vanwel made this statement at a negotiations meeting on Sept. 15, where members of Eagle County Schools leadership as well as members of the Eagle County Education Association met to seek solutions to its staffing challenges and the burden those shortages are placing on schools.
At the end of that meeting, the negotiations team reached an agreement in which it proposed making a change to the district’s collective bargaining agreement. This change gave principals the latitude to redistribute the agreement’s mandated 75 minutes a week of professional learning community time, giving time back to teachers for planning.
With the current substitute situation — where only 30% of teachers are able to get subs to cover their classrooms — many teachers have been giving up their planning time to fill in for their colleagues.
“We’ve already moved all of our essential professional development time to times that don’t conflict with instruction. In other words, to evenings or weekends, before school or after school in order to limit the time the teachers are out of the classroom,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman at the Sept. 22 Board of Education meeting. “We’re running out of time.”
The change to the collective bargaining agreement states that schools, “in collaboration with Eagle County Education Association representation, will create a plan to increase individual plan time for educators to complete their job duties,” highlighting specifically that this time may come out of the 75 minutes of weekly professional learning time.
“We all want to protect PLC time, but we also want to protect teachers,” said Doug Little, a teacher at Eagle Valley Elementary and a member of the negotiations team for the Eagle County Education Association, at the time of negotiations.
For this reason, the change will be only temporary, lasting through the end of the year. However, Qualman noted that in the event that the substitute shortage lessens, the change could be re-evaluated by the negotiations team.
The agreement also stipulates that the district will keep a “running report” of how this professional learning community time is being amended “so that some schools aren’t significant outliers in this amendment.” Qualman said.
This addressed concerns from the teacher’s union that the amendment had no “guard rails” to ensure principals were giving this time back to teachers.
The school board unanimously voted to pass the change at its Sept. 22 meeting, following in the shoes of the teacher’s union, which voted to ratify that change the day before.
At the board meeting, several Board of Education directors spoke to the high stress and challenges teachers were facing and noted how this change could help.
“We’re just hearing more and more feedback from our staff teams on the compounding responsibilities; How they’re really having to pick up the slack for their colleagues. I know everyone feels guilty to take personal time, which they have available,” said Michelle Stecher, school board director. “I think this seems like a solution to squeeze a little bit more time for them. I think it does honor a lot of the feedback that we’re hearing.”
Amid the staffing and substitute shortages, the district is also seeking creative solutions to recruit and retain teachers and staff.
While the district has had previous discussions with the teacher’s union and the school board, the Board of Education is hosting a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, to discuss “creative measures” that could be taken, according to the meeting agenda. This meeting will take place starting at 5 p.m. at the Edwards Early Learning Center.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.