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Alexandria City Public Schools responds to criticism over specialist teacher decision

Last week, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was blasted by parents and teachers at a School Board meeting over a decision to spread specialist teachers across multiple schools.

Music, art and physical education teachers are classified as encore teachers in ACPS. Currently, those teachers are assigned to individual schools, but under the new system some of those teachers could be made to float between different schools.

ACPS Executive Director of School Leadership Pierrette Finney and Executive Director of Instructional Support Carmen Sanders told ALXnow in an email the decision was based on declining enrollment at schools.

“The changes were made due to current enrollment numbers for this school year and the actual school enrollment numbers for next year,” the email said. “Currently, during this school year, some encore teachers across the division are not teaching full teaching assignments in their area of certification, while others are doing so. To ensure that all schools equally receive the benefit of encore instruction, some, but not all, encore staff will be shared with one other school.”

Enrollment has stagnated at ACPS over the last few years since the Covid pandemic and projections indicate that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Finney and Sanders said in the email that this is a “typical practice to ensure full-time employment” when teachers do not have a full teaching assignment. The email said teachers affected by the change will share their time between two schools and more than half of ACPS’ encore teachers will work in one school for the whole school day.

Teachers that travel between schools will be financially reimbursed, ACPS leadership said. The email said a review of enrollment led to a conclusion that some less populated schools were overstaffed while more populated schools were understaffed.

At the meeting last week, teachers said the change would mean many teachers who lead after-school activities for students would have to cut those programs under the new schedule. Others noted that, even when the teachers aren’t leading classes, they are assisting in other classrooms to help fill in the gaps, but ACPS said those roles are secondary considerations.

“The non-instructional duties of encore staff do not supersede their instructional obligations,” the email said, “and it was important to ensure that all ACPS students across all schools within our division have access to high quality encore instruction during the school day.”

Another issue with the change that came under fire from the community was the timing. The change was announced just days before teachers were supposed to receive new contracts for the upcoming year and the decision occurred with no public meetings or School Board discussion.

According to the email:

The timing of staff notification was contingent upon when principals conveyed the information and shared the one additional teaching location to their encore staff. Principals are in the best position to support staff questions and any potential concerns that can be expected when a change is made in schools. In keeping with our current practice of notifying staff of any changes prior to sharing with families, principals shared adjustments with affected staff. Typically, staff adjustments are confirmed over the summer and this year we took a proactive approach to inform teachers prior to contract distribution and the end of the school year.

The full response from ACPS is posted below the jump:

The changes were made due to current enrollment numbers for this school year and the actual school enrollment numbers for next year. Currently, during this school year, some Encore teachers across the division are not teaching full teaching assignments in their area of certification, while others are doing so. To ensure that all schools equally receive the benefit of Encore instruction, some, but not all, Encore staff will be shared with one other school. This is a typical practice that takes place across school divisions in order to ensure full-time employment when a teacher does not have a full teaching assignment.

Teachers affected by this change will share their time only between two schools and, in most cases, teachers will work in one school for the whole school day. If a teacher would need to travel between two schools, they will be financially reimbursed by the division.

The decision was made because some Encore teachers in the division have not been given full instructional schedules that equate to the hours of a full-time employee. Therefore, an examination of schools’ current enrollment for this year and next year was conducted. Based upon those numbers, we discovered that our less populated schools were overstaffed, while our more populated schools were understaffed, thus not meeting the instructional and programmatic needs of the schools. Additionally, we had to ensure that Encore staff were teaching in their proper area of certification, as required by the Virginia Department of Education. The non-instructional duties of Encore staff do not supersede their instructional obligations, and it was important to ensure that all ACPS students across all schools within our division have access to high quality Encore instruction during the school day.

Reviewing school allocations is a yearly practice in ACPS, as it is in every school division. This task is done with a student focus and to ensure that personnel are used appropriately. Once we completed our audit and identified teachers who did not have a full teaching assignment, it was also critical that we found a solution to retain full time teachers and avoid reducing staff to part-time positions.

The timing of staff notification was contingent upon when principals conveyed the information and shared the one additional teaching location to their encore staff. Principals are in the best position to support staff questions and any potential concerns that can be expected when a change is made in schools. In keeping with our current practice of notifying staff of any changes prior to sharing with families, principals shared adjustments with affected staff. Typically, staff adjustments are confirmed over the summer and this year we took a proactive approach to inform teachers prior to contract distribution and the end of the school year.

The ACPS Department of Human Resources is scheduled to issue contracts on a rolling basis, beginning the week of June 5, 2023.

The number of teachers that are required to share time with one additional school is based on their allocation. Less than half of encore staff has been impacted in the additional staffing allocations. In one scenario, impact could mean that an Encore teacher who currently teaches a 0.5 schedule at their current school would then receive a 0.5 schedule at another school that has more students, giving that employee a full instructional schedule. In another scenario, an Encore employee who teaches a 0.8 schedule at their current school would teach 0.2 at one additional school, giving that employee a full instructional schedule.

This process usually takes place during the summer. We will not have definitive numbers until that master schedule process is complete.

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