Out-of-School Wednesdays: Some Work, Mostly Play
Ximena Hartsock, the District's new Parks and Recreation director, filled in a few details last night about plans for public school kids on the six Wednesdays that DCPS wants to devote to teacher training during the 2009-2010 academic year.
The free-of-cost programs, to be based in the city's rec centers and selected schools, will be heavy on sports and culture with a smattering of pursuits like chess and SAT preparation. Those students who count on free and reduced price meals during the school week will be fed, Hartsock said. Parents will be able to enroll their kids in the activities, which Hartsock said will also try to take advantage of attractions like the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center.
She acknowledged that this was not exactly the greatest news for working parents.
"We have to be candid. This is not going to be easy for families," Hartsock told a sparsely attended meeting at Noyes Elementary about the decision to embed professional development days for educators in the middle of school weeks from September to March. (About 60 people offered comments to school officials on-line.)
But she said that with the help of parks and rec staff and the non-profit providers who currently run much of the DCPS after-school program, it was all doable. She said she would present a detailed blueprint in 45 to 60 days.
"I cannot promise you that this will be perfect, but parents will have a choice," said Hartsock. The plan, which school officials said will be finalized at the end of May, will not cut the number of days District children spend in the classroom.
Until this week, Hartsock was a top deputy for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, with a title that sprawled enough for its own zip code: "Deputy Chief of Differentiated Instruction and Director of the Office of Out-of-School Time." That meant she oversaw after-school, Saturday and summer programs along with bilingual education and other language curricula. On Monday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) abruptly dismissed incumbent parks and rec director Clark Ray in favor of the former Ross Elementary School principal.
Two days later, Rhee announced the six Wednesday closures as part of a proposed overhaul of the school calendar. Peggy O'Brien, the school system's communications chief, described Hartsock's appointment as "a coincidence."
Hartsock and other school officials said the importance of upgrading teacher training and collaboration-- now relegated primarily to school vacation time in August, December and June -- justified whatever disruptions the new calendar imposed on parents.
"We know from best practices across the country that when teachers have time to share their knowledge, student achievement increases," said Cheryl Krehbiel, DCPS' head of professional development. Those sessions have more resonance, officials say, when teachers can immediately take what they've learned back to the classroom.
The two-dozen or so parents and teachers who showed up last night had little argument with the idea of more training. But they said blocking out Wednesday was a momentum-killer for the school week that effectively creates "two Mondays."
Mark Jones, state board of education member from Ward 5, cautioned that Hartsock needed a vigorous outreach program to get the word out to parents.
"This is a huge undertaking," Jones said. "You're talking about a culture change."
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