Encore! Encore!: ACPS teachers and parents push back following staffing decision

Encore! Encore!: ACPS teachers and parents push back following staffing decision
Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt (Courtesy photo)

Corrected Version.

By Amy Will | awill@alextimes.com 

Educators and parents are passionately questioning a decision made by the Alexandria City School Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership in collaboration with school principals. 

A change in school programming came down that would reallocate staff in the city’s elementary Encore program. The restructuring has come as a surprise to many, creating a wave of support for teachers who may be forced to shuttle between several schools next year.

At a Parent Teacher Association meeting held Monday night at Naomi L. Brooks Elementary, Alexandria City Public School Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., along with other members of the ACPS administrative staff, briefed those in attendance on the changes. They described the reasoning behind the staffing modifications, which they said were driven primarily by inconsistent enrollment numbers between different elementary schools.

In a copy of the brief obtained by the Times, the determining factors were as follows:

Some Encore teachers were not given full instructional schedules in their area of certification during the 2022-23 school year.

• Music instruction was not offered during the school day at all ACPS elementary schools.

• Some schools were not meeting required Physical Education PE instructional minutes according to School Board Policy.

• Some Encore staff were teaching in areas in which they were not certified to teach (i.e. math/ reading intervention) and serving non-instructional purposes within the building, to give them a full instructional schedule and in place of teaching courses in which they are certified.

• Some schools were overstaffed with Encore teaching staff positions while some schools were understaffed.

Administrators assured community members both in the brief and at the meeting that “assigning encore staff across schools is an efficient scheduling framework and proper use of personnel. Reviewing school allocations is a practice that takes place yearly and has impacted other contracted staff within ACPS over the years.”

Administrative staff explained the goal of the shift in schedules would be to ensure that all Encore educators are teaching the subjects they are certified in, as well as making sure music classes and the required PE minutes were being offered at all elementary schools.

The backlash from the decision began almost immediately following an email sent by ACPS Fine Arts Instructional Specialist Meagan Carrick to all art, music and physical education teachers on May 30. The email has since been posted on various social media outlets and addressed staffing changes for the 2023-2024 school year.

The email read in part:

“A few weeks ago, Finance and Human Resources made us aware of necessary staffing changes for the 23-24 school year. Unfortunately, ACPS must reallocate Encore positions across the district due to projected student enrollment. We were able to save the positions of our current teachers at their current FTE allocation by strategically pairing schools with historically low or high enrollments. Therefore, there will be some shifting of school assignments or position-splitting between schools in order to maintain full-time positions.”

The correspondence discussed the timing of the announcement.

“We wanted to be transparent about this shift as contracts are coming out June 1. Your principals are aware of these changes and will be speaking to you about Encore scheduling and staffing for next year,” the email stated.

Despite Carrick’s email that emphasized ACPS efforts to be transparent, concerns about a lack of transparency were at the center of resistance to the Encore changes.

Laura Torchia, an instrumental music teacher at Naomi L. Brooks and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology expressed her disapproval to the Board.

“I come to you tonight with feelings of disgust, disappointment and shame for this school district regarding the Encore Allocation notice that we received only 48 hours ago stating that art, PE and music teachers on the elementary level at lower enrollment schools will have to be split to larger schools next year,” Torchia said. “This is a major career shift for many of my colleagues and the way that this decision was handled defines unprofessionalism Pierrette Finney, ACPS executive director of School Leadership, and Carmen Sanders, executive director of Instructional Support, wrote:

“An examination of schools’ current enrollment for this year and next year was conducted. Based upon those numbers, we discovered that our less populated schools were overstaffed, while our more populated schools were understaffed, thus not meeting the instructional and programmatic needs of the schools.”

Wainwright said participants at the Monday meeting were told by administrators that the most accurate enrollment information was received in May, but those administrators said they could not share those numbers.

Naomi L. Brooks parent Bridget Shea Westfall said high enrollment is not a new problem. She said that overcrowding at her child’s school had been discussed at a School Board meeting in the fall and although some changes were made, the dialogue stopped there. Westfall added she was hoping Monday night’s meeting would give her and others more clarity.

“It’s unclear to me still what the full scope of the problem is,” Westfall said.

Some teachers fear that shuffling between campuses will diminish their role in their current schools – and could compromise the quality of their instruction.

ACPS administrators tried to reassure teachers in their brief.

“School leaders will work collaboratively to ensure that Encore staff are scheduled at one school for a full instructional day to avoid traveling between schools when possible.

Naomi L. Brooks art teacher Luisa Tio said the changes would disrupt the connection that teachers have with their current schools.

“We are part of the very running of our school and taking us away to go to other schools is going to dramatically change the situation,” Tio said.

Parents like Meg Ziemann, a member of the Cora Kelly PTA Executive Board, expressed similar feelings in an emotional plea at the School Board meeting.

“The Encore team at Cora Kelly not only provide engaging instruction that enriches the ways our students see and interact with the world and promote positive development in body, mind and spirit but, they also offer vital social and emotional support to students and families,” Ziemann said. “… The impact of this administrative decision cannot be understated.”

Two teachers who wished not to be identified reached out to the Times to express their disappointment with the timing of the decision. Contracts for ACPS teachers went out just days ago, leaving Encore teachers a short window of time to finalize a decision for next year.

Although ACPS issued a statement regarding the rationale behind the decision, requests for enrollment data and a list of those schools lacking specific Encore programs and PE minutes received no response.

Teachers and parents who are opposed to both the substance of and process behind the Encore changes said they will continue trying to create momentum, in the hope that their voices will spark change before the final Board meeting of the 2022-23 school year on June 15.

Correction: In the June 8 Alexandria Times, the story “Encore! Encore!” incorrectly attributed a change in school programming to the School Board, when in fact the change was made by the ACPS Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership in collaboration with school principals.The above article has been amended. The Times regrets the error.