Dereliction of Duty By PWC School Board

“It’s just a ‘bell schedule change,’ that’s all so there’s no need to involve the school board.” That’s how PWCS central administrators charged with overseeing academic programs described the leap into universal Block Scheduling throughout PWCS Middle Schools.

Just a “bell schedule change?” Hardly.

As we found out last Wednesday night at the PWCS Board meeting, yet another sweeping change in our school system is underway… and the PWCS Board is once again asleep at the wheel. The Superintendent’s staff is busily implementing yet another innovative program – without a written formal plan to outline goals and objectives, strategies for attaining objectives, procedures for evaluating effectiveness, and costs – that affects tens of thousands of students and their families. Yet the PWCS Board didn’t even know this was going on. So they scrambled to put the topic on the agenda ostensibly to find out just what major changes are afoot in PWCS middle schools…only to find that there is no coherent formal plan behind the major shift in academic instruction in our schools.

Block Scheduling entails increasing classroom time for certain core subjects up from the normal daily ~45 minute classroom period to ~90 minutes for some subjects. Hence students do not receive instruction in all core middle school academic courses each school day. Instead the increased time allotted for some courses results in a staggered approach where children in middle school don’t have all courses each and every school day – the delivery of the middle school curriculum is “staggered” on alternating days much as is the case in high schools and major universities and colleges. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Who knows – certainly not PWCS.

You see, the PWCS Board has issued formal Policy addressing such sweeping academic program changes and complementary Regulations governing the implementation of innovative programs like “Block Scheduling.”1. Yet once again, the PWCS central administration has simply decided not to comply with the regulation…and the PWCS Board has been asleep at the wheel while it’s been quietly infused in our schools. It’s a great arrangement – Dr. Walts’ staff can do what they please with the tens of thousands of children in Virginia’s 2nd largest public schools divisions knowing full well that the PWCS Board won’t provide the oversight or demand any measure of accountability whatsoever for the success or failure of the innovations/experimentation undertaken by staff.

Is Block Scheduling a good or a bad thing? Who knows – for PWCS has NO formal plan – just good (perhaps) intentions. And therein lies the problem. The hourlong discussion at the 2 June Board meeting was certainly revealing. Yes Block Scheduling is a major philosophical and programmatic change to PWCS middle schools… a major change without any formal plan. For those who are interested in the presentation, a transcript of the discussion is attached at the end of this article. Some of the dialogue is extremely revealing.

That aside, the “idea” is that PWCS will increase mathematics and language arts instructional time to 90 minutes each day the classes are taught. Science and social studies will be affected yet it was not possible for the staff to answer Board member questions when asked what the affect would be on other subject areas in terms of decreases in academic instructional time. Thankfully (for staff) the Board members weren’t interested enough in pursuing such answers. So what exactly is the rationale behind moving to Block Scheduling in PWCS Middle Schools? As best as anyone could tell from the rambling discourse Wednesday night, the elements might entail:

  • Increasing Middle School math and reading SOL scores
  • Embracing “21st Century Skills” – a trendy phrase these days with no definition of what “21st Century Skills” actually are
  • Increased student participation in Algebra and Geometry in middle school
  • “Deeper learning” – another trendy phrase in PWCS
  • Reduced discipline issues by minimizing student movement in the schools

Truthfully, who knows what the real goals and objective are, for again there is no plan…just good intentions and feelings. And that’s where the Board is derelict in its duties. The board asked some very direct questions of the staff regards Block Scheduling…and got no concrete answers in return. What are the specific goals of this change and how are they to be measured? Blank out. Is this program succeeding and what are the measures of success? Blank out. What data is being collected and what does it reveal regards the success or failure of this institutional change? Blank out. What is the specific change to the number of instructional hours for ALL middle school core academic subjects under Block Scheduling versus traditional scheduling? Blank out. Is there any sort of formal written implementation plan for this innovative program? Blank out!

PWCS apparently has a growing aversion for accountability in academic programs, and what better way to avoid accountability than to simply choose not to follow the Innovative Program Policy and Regulations put in place by the PWCS Board. That’s certainly the case with Block Scheduling. Whether it’s a good or bad program and succeeds or fails just doesn’t seem to matter to the PWCS Board. If it did they’d actually do their J-O-B and ensure compliance with the policies and regulations they’ve approved. Yet for whatever reasons this group of eight elected officials just can’t be bothered with academic programs that impact tens of thousands of children in Prince William County. So what we saw Wednesday night was the act of “going through the motion” of looking concerned and asking questions knowing that whatever was said in response would be “ok.” Notably, not one of the board members followed up with additional questions once their original queries went unanswered.

It appears there’s a good reason Superintendent Walts sits at the head of the School Board meeting dais – he is apparently the de facto Chairman of the PWCS Board and his staff is unaccountable for compliance with Board Policy and Regulation. And as Mr. Milt Johns – actually elected Board Chair – said at the end of the rambling presentation on middle school block scheduling Wednesday night, “Moving on then…” Yes Mr. Johns, if you and your colleagues are too disengaged to insist that major changes and innovations in academic programs in PWCS be undertaken in accordance with those Policies and Regulations you approved and were elected to uphold, then perhaps it is indeed time you were “moving on.” Our children, all children, deserve better stewardship of our public schools in Prince William County.

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10 Responses to “Dereliction of Duty By PWC School Board”

  1. fed up teacher Says:

    At this point they might as well just eliminate the school board altogether. What good are they? Walts and his regime could care less about what we have to say. In fact if we do voice our concerns we know they’ll make our lives miserable. Many of my colleagues learned that the hard way. So we keep our mouths shut and let them do what they do. They don’t care about our students and our parents. Even our principal doesn’t support block scheduling but she needs her job too. I hope parents continue to stick their necks out for us. We do appreciate this website and though you may not receive many comments from teachers, please know we’re all visiting often.

    • pwceducationreform Says:

      I totally agree, and we’re behind you 100%. If anyone knows the effects block scheduling has on kids, it’s their teachers. The feedback we gotten is that teachers HATE this. Based on that feedback alone we shouldn’t be expanding the program, but to expand it without ANY evidence that it’s been effective is beyond unbelievable.

      Walts and his regime are running the schools and the school board is along for the ride.

  2. Michael Ragland Says:

    I was not present at the June 2nd school board meeting. From what I’ve read on this blog it seems Superintendent Walts, in an effort to increase the standards i.e. SOL, has implemented block scheduling for Middle School students. I have no idea what the success/failure of block scheduling has been but it seems likely Superintendent Walts wouldn’t have implemented it unless it has a record of improving educational standards such as in mathematics and language arts. I agree this change should have been presented to parents of Middle School children as more than a “bell change schedule”.
    The writer stated, “You see, the PWCS Board has issued formal Policy addressing such sweeping academic program changes and complementary Regulations governing the implementation of innovative programs like “Block Scheduling.”1. Yet once again, the PWCS central administration has simply decided not to comply with the regulation.” If that is indeed the case then file a grievance.
    The one thing which has come across on this blog is the lack of communication between parents and Superintendent Walts and his staff and the school board. While the parents of this blog may come across to school board members as “anal” being overly concerned with every minute detail of their child’s education, a child’s education is a serious matter and Block Scheduling obviously has an effect upon students otherwise Superintendent Walts wouldn’t have implemented it. Even if the effects have been proven to be beneficial in a child’s education the school board should have a formal plan for Block Scheduling but that would require paper work and money the Superintendent doesn’t want to spend.

    • pwceducationreform Says:

      Actually Michael, one of our “problems” with expanding the block scheduling program to more Middle Schools is the profound lack of evidence that it has improved student learning or test scores in this county. The only justification PWCS has provided for why they want to expand block scheduling to more schools is because the MS team thinks it’ll be great and Loudoun does it. That, in my opinion, is not an acceptable answer.

      During the Q & A on the 2nd Gil Trenum asked PWCS officials which schools had followed block scheduling and for how long. That question should be an easy one to answer, yet Dr Puttree was not capable of articulating a clear, concise response. First she said one – Woodbridge. Then we learned that it was 2 – Woodbridge and Porter. Then we learned that a 3rd school had been following block scheduling for math for several years. How could the head of Middle Schools, who was specifically called before the school board to answer questions about block scheduling, not know how many schools followed a block schedule and how long they’d followed it? Counting Porter and Pennington, we have 17 Middle Schools. Isn’t that something she should have known?

      Later in the meeting Lisa Bell asked Dr Puttree to provide empirical data about the program. None were provided.

      Lisa then asked what plans the district had to monitor the program to gauge its effectiveness. Dr Puttree’s answer was we’ll see how we feel and adapt as necessary.

      There is no evidence indicating that block scheduling has or had not improved student learning in this county. There is no plan to monitor the program as it’s expanded to other schools in the district. Block scheduling has been a bust at many other districts in the country. Yet we’re jumping on the bandwagon with no evidence whether it does or does not work and no plan to monitor it anyway.

      I expect more of our district. I expect district officials to actually evaluate test scores and teacher opinions before they expand programs. I expect district officials to have concrete plans with specific, measurable targets before they expand any programs. I expect school board representative to demand that data and those plans before they authorize any major change like this.

      That’s not happening here in PWC. Our school board and school district are not doing their jobs. If holding them accountable for their stupidity make me “anal” then I’m darn proud to be so “anal”. And if any administrators have a problem with this “anal” parent holding them accountable when they do a lousy job, then they can find another job.

    • TeachMathRightToo Says:

      Michael,
      You stated:
      “… it seems likely Superintendent Walts wouldn’t have implemented it unless it has a record of improving educational standards …”

      If this were the case, the record of success should have been presented clearly at the board meeting. It was not. Block scheduling is just another fad in the education world, destined to go the way of open classrooms, whole language, fuzzy math, etc.

      I remember the challenge of staying focused for 75 minute class in college. This plan subjects 11-14 year olds to 90 minute classes. There is no way all of that time will be used effectively.

      The biggest problem with our school district is what “fed up teacher” alludes to, namely the stiffling of critical communication within the administration. There is no allowance for open, honest debate on issues, especially potentially controversial ones. Changing that culture should be one of the foremost concerns of the school board. Until such debate can take place without fear of retribution, this school system will continue to make poor decisions and adopt worthless (or worse yet, detrimental), programs like block scheduling.

  3. Ed Says:

    It is not being anal and these are not minor differences. If you have not listened to the board meeting then you have no idea how bad it has become.
    I asked Carol Knight, Dr Puttre and my board member what they were changing in middle school math because we have all heard about Connected Math being snuck in under the table.
    Their responses:
    Carol Knigh, math supervisort: I don’t know what you may have heard but nothing is changing.
    Dr Puttre, middle school associate: The teachers have been in mandated training for 2-3 years on new methods. At the board meeting she said they were bringing in discovery based math to middle school.
    Mr Richardson, Board member? No response at all.

    So you see, it is not being anal; it is being a parent and trying to get the admin and school board to do an acceptable job of educating our children. Because they are failing in that task and trying to hide that from the parents.

  4. rgb Says:

    What we’re seeing in PwCS is simply a lack of accountability on part of both staff and the Board for the programs that affect other people’s children. I agree with the author – what right does the staff have to do what they please outside of the law (division Policy & Regulations)? If block scheduling is a good thing for 11-14 year old students then why couldn’t the staff give clear answers to the board? The staff couldn’t say with certainty how many schools were involved already and it was obvious that the board didn’t even know that this was beinf forced into all PW middle schools. So it’s just a whim without a plan and without defined goals or measurable results. Yet the Board all smiled at the “sucess of the program”. How would they know one way or another?

    I think this is why the public education gets such poor reviews – there’s simply no accountability.

    On june 3d PWCS posted a press release that listed 7 middle schools “already doing” block scheduling. So how are they doing? 4 out of 7 of those schools’ Math SOL pass & pass advanced rates have been BELOW county average and above county failure rates since the 2005-200f school year through the present. Is this how PwCS defines “success?”

    • Ed Says:

      Very interesting. Why do they all follow fads like sheep (or lemmings more like).
      It makes no sense. Where do they get the idea that it works?
      Or are we back to “this is the only way to get enough math and reading to pass no child left behind”?

  5. Shawn Says:

    I taught in PWCPS for seven years as a high school English teacher. I taught both a traditional schedule, and the block scheduling (the majority of my time was spent teaching block, since the change happened shortly after I started at Woodbridge Sr. High). If anyone has any questions from someone who’s actually taught the type of schedule being discussed, please feel free to ask. Your points are valid – if there’s no plan…what’s the point? Glad the blog is back up and running.


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