Charlottesville and Albemarle school divisions are planning to offer more teacher work days in the second semester of this school year because of concerns about employees’ mental well-being.
The additional work days would give teachers time to plan and meet with their coworkers or provide a break, if needed, administrators said. Several other school systems throughout Virginia are taking similar steps out of concern for staff members’ mental health.
“Everyone is concerned about the health of our employees and how we are meeting their needs,” Charlottesville schools superintendent Royal Gurley Jr. said at last week’s board meeting.
The Charlottesville School Board unanimously approved adding three more off days for students at that meeting, and on Thursday, the Albemarle County School Board approved the addition of five teacher work days and other changes to the calendar. Those work days would provide teachers with unencumbered time for planning and work-life balance for employees.
“This also supports them taking care of themselves,” Gurley said.
Before Thursday’s approval of the modified calendar, Albemarle schools superintendent Matt Haas said that teachers have had to give up planning time during the day because of “workforce instability” that has left many unfilled positions in the school system. Additionally, the division has identified a need for school support employees to receive more professional development, which would be provided on the work days.
For Charlottesville, Gurley proposed making March 18 and April 1 teacher work days and holidays for students. President’s Day, or Feb. 21, would become a day off for everyone, under the proposed plan. To add time back into the calendar, Jan. 21, a Friday, would switch from an early dismissal day to a full day.
On teacher work days, Gurley said employees can work in-person or remotely.
“From my time being a classroom teacher and administrator, I will tell you that the longest stretch mentally is the time from the Martin Luther King holiday to spring break,” Gurley said. “Typically, there are no planned days off and teachers are just counting down and looking for snow days. What I wanted to do is address the fatigue that happens with employees during that time.”
Following those changes, the school division’s calendar would include 177 days and an average of 1,031 hours. The state requires at least 180 days or 990 instructional hours. The previous calendar had 10 extra days built in, based on the hours.
Gurley said the modifications will still give the division flexibility if inclement weather disrupts class time this winter.
Following Thursday’s vote, Jan. 25, Feb. 18, March 18, April 22 and May 20 in Albemarle County will be teacher work days as well as eliminate the half day for students on Feb. 16 and April 20.
“It’s not time off; it’s time to work,” Albemarle board member David Oberg said.
Haas said that he wanted to make the changes now for the second semester in order to give parents time to plan.
Haas shared his plans with the board at a meeting late last month.
“We’ve all heard about the stress level or morale of our educators and support staff,” he said. At the board’s Oct. 28 meeting. “While I would say that this has been an excellent opening of school for the first quarter, which ended today, it has taken a toll on our educators and all of our employees.”
He said the work days could be professional learning days for support staff, so those employees don’t lose income.
Albemarle’s calendar previously included five half-days for students, which were intended to give teachers more dedicated planning time. Haas said that those days haven’t been as well-received and that attendance on those was days was an anomaly, though he didn’t provide specific data.
“We weren’t anticipating the delta variant and the long lines of cars that were coming and going from schools now because of transportation issues,” he said.
Similar to Charlottesville, the county school division has more intrustrional hours than required. Haas said that if the area experiences a “snowpocalypse” this winter, the board can switch some of the work days back.