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New state-mandated teacher evaluation and certification requirements, training for initiatives at the local level, and changes to standardized testing have added to teacher workloads during the past year.

Fairfax County Public Schools officials are attempting to address complaints by teachers that these burdens are reducing lesson planning time and connections with students. School Board members, who met for a work session on teacher workloads July 18, said they hoped to alleviate some of the time and morale issues facing teachers beginning this fall.

“I think we’ve gotten [to this point] basically from a focus on assessment, a focus on assessment that in my view is really creating the wrong incentives,” School Board member Ted Velkoff (At-large) said. Federally mandated standardized testing and a new statewide teacher assessment system are blamed, in part, for increasing teacher workloads.

During the 2012-13 school year, teachers were required to meet with school administrators to create individual SMART goals, which would be used to track student progress as a means for evaluating teacher performance.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County Public Schools began a number of its own initiatives in an effort to promote learning and student achievement.

“Last year was the perfect storm of a number of initiatives statewide as well as in Fairfax County-wide. And some of those things we did not honestly have the bandwidth to do what we needed to do,” said Phyllis C. Pajardo, assistant superintendent of Human Resources.

Superintendent Karen Garza agreed, saying teachers could be suffering from “initiative fatigue.”

“We’ve all reflected that we did not manage the roll out of initiatives as well as we could [have],” said Garza, who took over as superintendent July 1. “We recognized that some of the angst that we experienced or heard was of our own doing… We’re very committed to making sure we are more strategic and thoughtful about this.”

School officials are looking at short- and long-term changes that could reduce teacher workloads. Garza said she would like to limit new initiatives in an effort to allow teachers and administrators to adapt to initiatives begun last school year. Additionally, administrators are ramping up communication efforts to discuss possible workload solutions with teachers and principals. Long-term, the school system could develop an FCPS-specific working condition standards to address time, support, and instructional practices.

A new survey on working conditions begins in January. Feedback will be used to update goals for addressing teacher workloads, Garza said. The workload reduction process is expected to take two years.

“We’ve been talking a lot about time tonight [July 18] … but of course the other issue is autonomy,” said School Board member Patricia Reed (Providence District). “We’ve heard teachers say things like, ‘I’ve lost the joy of teaching. People are telling me how to do things and I don’t have any independence any more to be creative.’”

Garza said, “In the last 10 years that’s an issue that teachers talk a lot about. As we’ve gone to standards-based curriculum in the state, in all states, and then high-stakes testing on top of that, teachers have lost [autonomy]. We’ve got to find better ways to empower teachers… and really engaging teachers in a meaningful way in the decisions happening in the school. If we can get better at teacher empowerment, that will go away.”

The school system worked with local teacher and educator advocacy associations in creating plans for helping reduce teacher workloads. The July 18 meeting served as an update on those efforts.

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com