Teachers in Little Elm ISD are struggling to keep up with the extra demands caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday the LEISD Board of Trustees helped relieve the pressure by giving teachers three more professional learning days, which means three unexpected holidays for students, and adding six more full-time teachers.
The board approved a revised calendar for the 2020-21 school year. The change gives the district three professional work days for teachers that had been originally scheduled as regular school days.
Those days will be Dec. 18, Feb. 12 and April 12.
Cyndy Mika, assistant superintendent for curriculum and learning, said the change is being made to give teachers more time to plan, something that has been a struggle since teachers are balancing in-person and virtual learning formats during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In addition to feeling overwhelmed and stressed as a result of COVID, they also feel like they need more time. Time to plan,” Mika said. “Anything right now is taking them longer. They’re having to plan for both virtual and in-school. Many of our teachers are having multiple preps because of how we’re having to schedule for our at-home learners.”
Earlier in the summer the School Board granted approval for the district to apply for a professional learning waiver. Mika said the waiver was for five days, but at the time the district only used two of those days.
“After the feedback from the teachers and wanting to do what we can for them we are coming back to ask you to allow us to use those three additional days,” Mika said.
Dec. 18 is the Friday before the winter break.
“That would allow teachers to finalize close-out, meet their PLCs and get some planning underway for the second semester,” Mika said.
Mika said having Feb. 12 as a professional learning day would give students a four-day weekend.
April 12 follows the first round of STAAR tests.
“We would consider these as professional learning community days where they’re meeting in their professional learning communities and planning together,” Mika said.
The board also approved the creation of six full-time teacher positions – a social studies and a science teacher at Walker Middle School, and math, science, social studies and Spanish teachers at Little Elm High School.
Asheley Brown, executive director of human resources, said those campuses experienced a larger enrollment than expected. At Walker, the projected enrollment was 868, but the actual enrollment is 954. She said six teachers have a student load of more than 180 students.
“That is what we in human resources would classify as an extreme load of kids,” Brown said.
She said when looking at that number it’s important to understand that grading, parent conferences and accommodations are part of the job for each one.
At LEHS, the projected enrollment was 2,377, but the actual enrollment is 2,423. Brown said 32 teachers, or 30 percent of the teaching staff, have a student load of greater than 180 students, and 23 of those teachers have a load of more than 200 students.
“We want to look at providing some relief in those areas,” Brown said.
Brown said the large class sizes lead to safety concerns, such as in science labs. She said they also impact teacher morale, recruitment and retention.
“When we have these overcrowded classes it makes the job of retaining these teachers that much more difficult,” Brown said.
Brown said LEISD expects to participate in a UNT and TWU job fair in December, which could bring in quality hires. She said a long-term substitute will be used until those candidates are available.
Brown said the average class size at Walker is 25.9 students in science and 27.5 for social studies. She said with the new hires, it would bring the average class size down to 22.4 at the middle school level. She said it’s unclear how the hires would impact the class size at the high school level.
“There are a lot of things that are making this an unusual year that are outside of our control,” Brown said. “So the things that are within our control we want to try to address.”