WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) School Board voted to approve changes to the 2021-2022 school calendar that would change the additional virtual learning days to teacher work collaboration days/student holidays.
Jan. 27 and March 4 will now be student holidays rather than virtual learning days, giving teachers collaborative planning time.
WJCC’s Chief Operating Officer Daniel Keever told the board at the previous meeting that when the recommended school calendar for ’21-22 was approved, there was the inclusion of three virtual learning days added throughout the calendar on Oct. 1, Jan. 27 and March 4.
After receiving feedback from the school community following the first virtual learning day on Oct. 1, administration recommended changing the remaining virtual learning days to teacher work/collaboration days and student holidays to address teachers’ concerns regarding the need for additional planning time.
Before voting on the action at the Tuesday, Nov. 16 meeting, the board members discussed the growing concerns from teachers regarding teacher burnout and struggles to meet expectations.
The board heard from several WJCC teachers earlier during the public comments portion who voiced their concerns over not having enough planning time and requested additional planning hours to the school calendar.
“Our teachers and students need your support,” Rachael Rudis, a middle school teacher for WJCC, said. “The amount of planning time that we received in our contractual hours is not enough to complete all of our job responsibilities adequately. We love our jobs, and we love our students more than life. But we are drowning.”
“This year, we hardly have time to keep up with daily grading, let alone create innovative lessons and check in our students in the ways that they need,” she added.
Another WJCC teacher, Gillian Sheldon, noted that Fridays were remote learning days last year, allowing teachers to have more planning time, but that this year, there has been little time to balance collaborating, grading students’ work, communicating with parents and other essential duties.
“Every single teacher that I speak to is exhausted and feeling burnout,” she said. “This year has shown that the current schedule with our teaching requirements are not sustainable. I fear we are only going to lose more quality, talented teachers to the surrounding districts.”
Deborah Ogburn, a middle school teacher, also expressed her concerns about the schedule.
“There is no time to do the things we are being required to do,” she said. “I don’t think you realize how much time it takes to publish on Canvas daily, plus be ready for our kids. It’s tough and teachers are more than burned out – teachers are miserable.”
Board member Julie Hummel acknowledged the stress that teachers are under and said that the division needs to provide some relief within the school calendar during the teachers’ contractual hours.
“I do sense the extreme level of frustration that our teachers are experiencing and I don’t know how we can finagle or move things around in such a way that we could help out some of our extremely stressed employees,” she said.
Board member Kyra Cook suggested taking action on the superintendent’s current recommendation of the school calendar revisions in the interim, with a request for the superintendent to come back with an additional proposal of changes to the school calendar that would give teachers more planning time.
Superintendent Dr. Olwen Herron said that administration will come back to the board with next year’s calendar to look at the seven-week period where there are no breaks between spring break and May to potentially adjust the calendar to support the teachers.
The board unanimously voted to approve the calendar revisions for the 2021-2022 school year.