Fairfax Co. adding 7 early release Mondays for elementary schoolers so teachers can finish required trainings

Fairfax County Public Schools is adding seven early release days to its elementary school calendar for the 2024-25 school year so teachers have enough time to finish required Virginia trainings.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Michelle Reid unveiled the plan to add the three-hour early release days on seven Mondays. There will be about one early release day per month, starting in mid-September.

Fairfax is the latest Northern Virginia district to take steps to ensure teachers have enough time to complete trainings tied to the Virginia Literacy Act, and new math and English language arts state standards.

This week, the school board in neighboring Loudoun County approved a plan to close schools on four days next year to make sure educators have sufficient professional development time.

“It’s good professional development, we’re not fussing about it,” Reid told the school board. “It’s appropriate and a good and right thing to do, to think about how we improve our literacy performance for our young learners.”

Some educators said these demands include the rare implementation of both materials and standards around the same time, which leaves school divisions scrambling to make sure teachers are given time to get familiar. Reid told the school board that a statue with a timeline already set passed, and it’s “asking for a bit more training than you would normally do in this short time span.”

Virginia Department of Education leaders told Reid that while they understand the challenge, it’s “the law at the moment.”

For students who can’t be released early because their families are working and don’t have access to childcare, the school district will offer activities and supervision, Reid said.

The county will use licensed educators working in the central office to supervise those students. Transportation home from school will be made available both for the students who leave at the early release time, and for those who stay and are released at the later time.

“I don’t think we can make the progress we need to make if we don’t give our elementary educators adequate planning time,” Reid said.

In crafting a plan, the school system — which is the state’s largest — considered using substitute teachers in class while educators finished the trainings. However, Reid said there’s a substitute teacher shortage, “and we really want to use that as a last resort for professional development.”

For kindergarten through sixth grade teachers, the trainings require about 27 hours to finish, according to school board documents. There’s already an inequity in planning time between elementary and secondary school staff members, Reid said.

The plan won’t impact the number of instructional hours required by the state, but will “reduce the amount of built-in snow days,” Reid wrote in a memo to families Friday.

School board members largely supported Reid’s proposed plan, which she said was created after consulting principals and other parent groups.

“Let’s be bold,” board member Melanie Meren said. “Let’s make change. …There’s nothing more important than literacy academically.”

Board member Marcia St. John-Cunning, meanwhile, called the plan “doable.”

“I know that parents adjust,” she said.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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