To: Board of Supervisors and School Board members, Hanover County; Dr. Jamelle Wilson
I am a Spanish teacher (level 4, level 4 pre IB, and IB-B) at Atlee High School, an REB Award winner and former Teacher of the Year for Atlee High. I have taught 29 years, and this is my 19th in Hanover Schools. I am also a citizen in the Chickahominy district. I am writing to express my concerns on the proposed 2013-14 budget.
I am privileged to work with incredible teachers that spend long hours before and after school, during summers and other holidays, to make sure their students receive the best possible education. The schools are the reason that I chose to move to Hanover and raise my children here (both recently graduated from Atlee High). We as a system and as individuals have been efficient and taken on more each year to meet unfunded mandates and changing standards, challenges and objectives. I know you are all aware of the many statistics that demonstrate our efficiency. Our motto has been “Do more with less”, and we as educators have done all we can. However my concerns are that we have reached a tipping point, and this proposed budget pushes us over the edge.
School Board member Earl J. Hunter Jr. said the class schedule change in Hanover (6 of 8) would leave high school teachers with a workload that’s similar to that of middle school teachers. However he is not taking into consideration many factors in this assumption. The high school teacher is often teaching 3 preparations (some up to 5 or 6 with combined levels). And the high school teacher is often teaching AP, IB and other advanced classes which require a great deal more time in preparation, on par with university courses. We are also working long hours after class with more coaching and club responsibilities. At this level, we are working very hard to make sure all students pass their SOL exams and can graduate. My colleagues who teach at both middle and high feel we already are equitable.
Presently I am at school at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 5:30 at the earliest. Even with that, I cannot complete my duties and I bring home work for the night. I work weekends and holidays, and I go in during the summer on my own time to prepare for the next year or to take classes. I average 60+ hours per week in order to meet the needs of my students. From an outsider’s view, asking a teacher to take on one more class sounds like a good way to balance a budget or decrease student class size. The reality is one more class for me means every written or speaking assignment I give will average a minimum of 4 hours more of grading (24 students average x 10 minutes per assignment). Many of us will have to take on another preparation, which also adds to our need for time. Unfortunately, going to 6 of 8 will also cut my planning time.
How will this affect our students? Perhaps teachers will give less written/speaking assignments and go to multiple choice formats. Perhaps they will give less extra help to our students. Perhaps they will choose to participate in less extra-curricular activities. I have heard many speak of leaving this county, or even of leaving the profession. This truly disturbs me, for I know it is not what is best for our students. Yet increased work load and decreased planning will make it more difficult to meet their needs. More and more of my colleagues have found the need to take on jobs after school to make ends meet, and they simply cannot manage an increased work load. I do not think I am being melodramatic when I say our teachers are at the breaking point.
As to the argument that we’ll have smaller class sizes, all you need to do is look at the class sizes of my colleagues at Chickahominy. They teach 6 classes and their classes are often packed with 30+ in a room. Please do not look at just “average” sizes. If you look deeper, you will see how many teachers across the county struggle to inspire, teach, and manage very large classes. Why would we want to model our high school system on a system that is not working at the middle school level?
I understand the benefit in the student having the ability to take 8 classes, especially with state mandates and new graduation requirements. However over the last several years, many electives have been cut from the course offerings and I have heard many special education students in particular lament that their students find it difficult to find classes that are actually offered and that suit their needs.
It seems to me that a possible compromise could be to allow students to take 8 classes, with teachers teaching five classes, one duty, one planning, and one resource/study time where we can work with our students on remediation. Students could take 8 if they want, while teachers maintain the time they desperately need to help their students.
Our physical facilities are also in disrepair: leaky roofs created to a mold problem, clocks that aren’t fixed, holes in the wall from water fountains that have been removed and not repaired are some of the issues. Are you aware that our teachers paint their own classrooms?
Our textbooks are dated, or non-existent. Staff is not able to attend needed trainings for AP and IB due to lack of funding. Technology is antiquated. My husband, who is in the technology business, often claims that we are asked to teach 21st century skills with 20th century technology.
I strongly believe this budget is leading us further from our goals of excellence. Since I have been in Hanover I have heard my leaders brag about our low cost per pupil ratio. Frankly, I think this is sad. For one of the wealthiest counties in the state, surely we can do better. Our schools need a bigger piece of the pie, and/or the pie needs to be bigger. I will support tax increases to fund our schools.
I am passionate about my job—I love my students and want what is best for them, and my colleagues feel the same. As insiders, we recognize the dangerous position our county schools are in. I ask you to support our schools and our children. We need more than a band-aid approach. We need to look to the future and decide that education will remain a priority in this county.
I am available to discuss this with you further if you would like. Thank you for your consideration.