HANA - Unlike public school students across the state, those at Hana High and Elementary School have not lost classroom instructional time because of Furlough Fridays.
But it's not all good news.
In fact, the situation frustrates Principal Rick Paul and kindergarten teacher Faith Powell, who represents her colleagues in school matters. Because their school has a Monday through Thursday schedule, which was in place before furlough days were imposed, Hana teachers have lost classroom preparation and professional development days, and Powell said teachers in Hana believe they have grounds for a grievance, but they'd prefer to work something out rather than fight the system.
"Now we're actually working more and being paid less," she said. "We're not happy of course, but we're not going to leave the children."
The problem stems from the Sept. 22 ratification of a two-year contract negotiated by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state. The union, with its more than 13,000 teachers across the state, agreed to take 17 furlough days this school year and another 17 next school year, resulting in an approximately 8 percent cut in pay. Furlough days were set for Fridays.
The contract was negotiated as a part of a cost-cutting measure by the state, reducing classroom days from 180 to 163 in one school year, one of the lowest in the country.
Prior to Furlough Fridays, Hana school operated on a unique schedule that had students and teachers in the classrooms from 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the teachers had as many as four hours to participate in various staff meetings and professional development activities while also offering tutoring to students who need extra help.
The Hana schedule was adopted about four years ago as part of an effort by the school to raise student achievement and move toward achieving adequate yearly progress as mandated in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Meanwhile, the majority of Hawaii's public schools, prior to Furlough Fridays, maintained a 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday schedule, except for Wednesdays, when students were dismissed at 1:15 p.m. The early dismissal plus the regular school day schedule provided teachers the time to attend staff meetings and/or conduct classroom preparation and planning plus professional development activities.
With Furlough Fridays in place, most schools still operate school days from 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. except for early dismissal on Wednesdays. This schedule still allows schools - unless they ask for an exemption - to keep intact time for classroom preparation and planning and staff meetings.
With the class schedule adopted a few years ago, Hana school has had to temporarily drop staff meeting time and professional development activities to accommodate Furlough Fridays while maintaining its unique Monday-to-Thursday class schedule.
"The furloughs have really hurt us," Powell said. "It's not allowed us to work together like we used to."
Prior to Furlough Fridays, teachers worked for about four to five hours each Friday, spending hours in intensive tutoring with students in need and then brainstorming with colleagues or researching and reviewing ways to improve student achievement.
Paul said his teaching staff deserves praise for its commitment to students.
"The Hana community should thank these teachers because they're giving these kids a gift," Paul said. "They're working two extra hours a week even with Furlough Fridays."
Both Paul and Powell believe the school has been making great strides in improving student achievement and that the campus' unique class schedule contributed immensely to the increase in student performance and in teachers' response to their classroom needs.
As a school restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act, Hana school was conducting regular student assessments that allowed teachers to measure their teaching methods by evaluating student performance. The time to review such assessments is no longer available to teachers on Fridays, and they're unable to devote the time on Mondays through Thursdays because of their commitment to classroom time.
Paul said that, in the end, the students are getting instructional time amounting to 180 days, but teachers get no breaks to meet and collaborate on teaching strategies.
"The good thing is the students haven't missed instructional time. The bad is that the needy students are missing tutoring and the teachers are missing meetings they really need and want to attend," Paul said.
Paul filed last week a request to adjust Hana school's class schedule for school year 2010-2011 so that time can be allocated for staff meetings and professional development activities. The schedule has to be approved by the Board of Education.
In the meantime, Hana's teachers will finish out this academic year operating on the school's unique class schedule while not having time for staff meetings and professional development.
"I'm happy the students are getting the time, but they may not be getting as much quality because the teachers don't have time to meet or assess what they're doing in the classroom," Paul said. "Furlough Fridays has kind of jammed our system."
Officials in both the state Department of Education and the teachers union have been made aware of the situation, but they said nothing can be changed to accommodate Hana's unique class schedule.
Paul said he could call in substitute teachers to fill in during classes on Mondays to Thursdays, but he preferred to save the school the cost of paying substitutes, and more importantly, allow teachers to teach.
"We want our teachers in classrooms with our kids as much as possible," he said.
Powell said she understands the state system's need to cut costs, but she wishes a different schedule had been established other than Furlough Fridays.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.