Tentative agreement reached between Edmonds School District, teachers amid concerns about time constraints in proposed class schedules

The Edmonds School Board and staff, at its Aug. 25 business meeting via Zoom, discussed some of the 450 public comments from teachers concerned that draft class schedules won’t leave enough time for lesson planning. 

After weeks of negotiating, the Edmonds Education Association announced it has reached a tentative agreement with the Edmonds School District amid concerns that proposed schedules did not allow teachers enough time to plan online lessons during the 2020-21 school year.

How much time it will take to prepare online lessons and proposed class schedules were major points of contention in teacher contract negotiations with the district as it prepared for remote learning this fall. The contract still has to be ratified by a vote of the teachers union membership.

Roughly 900 people logged in to the Edmonds School Board’s Tuesday business meeting while district leaders discussed plans for Continuous Learning 2.0. The plan is a modified version of the learning model issued by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) earlier this year, when school districts statewide closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Prior to the meeting, more than 400 people — many of them teachers — submitted written public comments, a portion of which were read during the meeting. Board members took turns reading a handful of comments from faculty and staff, reflecting concerns that the draft class schedules released earlier this month don’t allow teachers enough time to plan, film, edit and post online lessons for students.

Board President Deborah Kilgore kicked off the reading with a comment from Riley Gallagher, a Martha Lake Elementary School teacher, who said it took him hours to plan and implement lessons for students last spring when schools switched to remote learning.

“Communicating with each of my students’ families regularly, arranging times to meet, supporting them in their general education work, planning individualized lessons and finally implementing the lessons took an immense amount of time and effort,” Gallagher wrote. “In order to build upon and improve the program I implemented last year, I know even more time and effort will be required of me this fall.”

According to some, creating one 15-minute online lesson takes hours of preparation to ensure students get the most from the material. Reading a comment from Edmonds eLearning Academy teacher Rebecca Burgesser, Board Director Carin Chase said last spring some teachers would spend their entire day preparing lessons online.

“K-12 teachers are tasked with teaching many different subjects and classes (and) there’s no way we could effectively teach without enough planning time,” Burgesser said.

In her comments, Burgesser also wrote that teachers need additional time to provide effective feedback to students and to support students with critical needs, like those experiencing trauma or homelessness.

Other teachers were concerned about the impacts that the hours preparing lessons had on their home and personal lives. In her submitted comment, Brier Elementary School teacher Jenica Valdivia said spending countless hours in the spring adapting to remote teaching left little time for her to spend with her family.

“As we head into this new school year, I cannot do that again,” she wrote. “We must be given time to connect with students and colleagues in order to be successful in our jobs.”

In addition to extended working hours, teachers are having to cover the cost of creating lessons to post online. Brier Elementary School teacher Shannon Gonsalves — in her statement read by Director Gary Noble — said she spent $400 on materials to create a workspace to film her lessons and is worried this new school year will have more complications.

Teacher contracts are negotiated by a bargaining team representing the district and the Edmonds Education Association, which represents the educators. Following the comments, Kilgore said it is the school board’s job to ratify, not negotiate, contracts.

“It is inappropriate for us as the board to comment on ongoing negotiations,” she said. “However, we do have some clarifying questions we’d like to ask at this time.”

Speaking on behalf of the board to maintain a fair bargaining process, Kilgore asked district staff several questions regarding the proposed draft schedules. First, she asked who was involved in creating the draft schedules.

The draft class schedules can be viewed in the gallery below:

Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner said the reopening process began in the spring with the district’s continuous learning task force, which included teachers across all grade levels, principal and union leadership. Participants then joined job-alike work groups with others who taught similar subjects to determine what approach for remote learning would work best.

“Those teams made recommendations back to the continuous learning task force and from those our goal was to get a time schedule proposal ready to pass off to bargaining,” Baumgartner said.

When Kilgore asked if those involved in the planning process represented the district’s diverse student body, Baumgartner said the job-alike work groups included more than 150 individuals representing a variety of schools, backgrounds and specialties.

“I think it represented the diversity among our staff very well,” he said.

Kilgore then asked how much non-student contact time was included in the draft schedules compared to the teachers’ pre-COVID-19 contract. According to Human Resources Executive Director Debby Carter, the time would vary from teacher to teacher and student to student. In pre-pandemic contracts, Carter said there was an average of 700 minutes per week for elementary educators to plan lessons. Now, she said they would have 860 minutes per week to plan lessons for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays without student contact as well as an additional 350 minutes on Wednesdays while students study independently.

At the secondary level, Carter said teachers typically had 650 minutes per week to plan lessons and staff are now proposing 720 minutes for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with an added 350 minutes on Wednesdays.

“Again, those are draft schedules but those do represent a fairly accurate average,” she said. 

Before deciding to teach remotely this fall, the board approved a hybrid learning model that would divide students’ time between in-person and remote learning. Under the model, on Wednesdays school buildings would be closed for additional cleaning and to allow teachers extra planning time, to provide feedback to students and offer support to families. During her questioning, Kilgore asked what a Wednesday would be like for a teacher using the proposed schedules.

For both elementary and secondary educators, Baumgartner said mornings would be designated for time for teacher planning and professional development. Afternoons would be designated for office hours and small group meetings.

Next, Kilgore asked how the proposed schedule compared to surrounding school districts. In response, Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said some districts — like the Everett School District — are requiring more face-to-face instruction from teachers. For example, Schwab said the district is asking elementary teachers to spend three hours and 45 minutes teaching students live. In Everett, teachers have been asked to spend an additional hour for live teaching, he said. With the additional non-contact time on Wednesdays, Schwab said the Edmonds School District is allocating more time before school for teachers.

“I think on average it’s safe to say that we’re providing probably a little bit more planning time to our teachers than our surrounding districts,” he said.

Flexibility was also a concern for teachers, as was meeting the needs of working parents who might need to help their students with school work. In response to Kilgore’s question about how much flexibility the proposed schedules have, Baumgartner said the drafts would be flexible but also be more structured than remote learning was in the spring.

“There is flexibility in how that is administered, but there is a fair amount of structure,” he said. “When it comes to how our students would engage, there’s flexibility but, again we also have to have some level of expectation.”

–By Cody Sexton

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