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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."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  April 24, 2009; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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"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"

Mr. Turque - please ask Ms. Krehbiel what she knows via "best practices" about holding teacher training in the middle of the week. I don't feel like doing a web huge search to find out myself, but I'm sure this is exactly the type of info the Ms. Krehbiel would have at her fingertips. When she provides it, please ask her for the source, including the link.

As for kids being out of school while their parents work - nothing new there - but it will be interesting to how the parks and rec program works out those days.

Posted by: efavorite | April 24, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

As a DCPS teacher, it seems to me that staff development in the middle of the week is just plain stupid. DCPS doesn't want to hold staff development for teachers on a Monday or Friday because they think teachers will call in sick those days to have a three day weekend. But having a long weekend would make the most sense for families and ALSO FOR INSTRUCTION. That would make a lot more sense than breaking up school in the middle of the week with a Wednesday off.

Posted by: chelita | April 24, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm a DCPS educator, too, and I see no problem with having professional development in the middle of the week. One commenter to the article posted on the main page even said Rhee would need to vigorously work to get the message out, as this would mean a "culture change." Really? Give me a break. Calendars are distributed/made available before each school year. Parents can obtain copies and plan their schedules accordingly. Monday, Wednesday or Friday . . . who cares?! As long as teachers are getting training, there's no need to whine about the day of the week.

Posted by: RU_4Real | April 24, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"DCPS doesn't want to hold staff development for teachers on a Monday or Friday because they think teachers will call in sick those days to have a three day weekend."

If the chancellor expects teachers to raise kid's achievement level despite negative outside forces, certainly she can expect them to come to work on a Friday. If not, she's a terrible manager. I haven't heard anyone officially say that was the reason. Nor have I heard anyone give a reason why wednesday was chosen. Let's hear the reasons - surely there must be good ones.

Posted by: efavorite | April 24, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm just guessing that's why Wednesday will be chosen for the staff development days. We already have parent-teacher conference days, not a school day for children, on Fridays. That makes a lot of sense. But on Wednesdays? I have no idea why DCPS would choose to hold these sessions in the middle of the week.

Posted by: chelita | April 24, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Chelita - why don't you send the chancellor an email and ask her. I hear she's very good about getting back to people.

Posted by: efavorite | April 24, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Good point efavorite, I wonder what research is outhere about days of the week and adult learning. BTW: Who is Khrebiel?!
Never heard of her before.

As for the kids being out of school, the idea of having them on SAT prep is great. They should offer some AP Exam preparation courses too but they will have trouble finding teachers (everyone in PD day!)
I don't know Ms. Hartstock but my principal said she was one of a few supportive central office staff. Good luck to her!

Posted by: anahlramos21 | April 25, 2009 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Krehbiel came from a similar position in Montgomery County. She was on PBS in April of '08, saying this:

CHERYL KREHBIEL, District of Columbia Public Schools: We have a number of teachers who I don't believe will ever believe that kids can learn at high levels. And those are the teachers we need to move out quickly, rapidly, at whatever cost.

JOHN MERROW: Can you quantify -- I mean, what percentage of your roughly 4,000 teachers feel this way, have this problem?

CHERYL KREHBIEL: Fifty percent don't have the right mindset. And there's the possibility that more of them don't have the content knowledge to do the job.

She seems to have some stats on proper "mindset" (I'd like to see that research, too!), so let's see the data-driven reasoning behind midweek teacher training. Why aren't Rhee's supporters asking for this? Why isn't the reporter asking?

Posted by: efavorite | April 25, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

I think if anyone thought this through, really thought this through, they would have rejected this idea. In the middle of the week?!!! This just kills that week in terms of teaching. I know I'll be sitting there doing the PD and thinking about my classroom and my kids. This better be good.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | April 25, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

two-dozen or so parents and teachers who showed up last night ......

So much for communications..... and, Parks and Recreation???

Come-on get real.

How many DCPS parents got this memo?

Posted by: eglobegus | April 28, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

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