Visalia Unified teachers still taking ‘roll’ for a better schedule

Visalia Unified Teachers Association hosted a second rolling protest along with a food drive for local food banks

VISALIA – Visalia teachers are not backing down in their quest for a better distance learning schedule. On Aug. 27, the Visalia Unified Teachers Association (VUTA) hosted their second car rally in as many weeks while also donating food and funds to the Visalia Emergency Aid Council (VEAC).

The rally began in the parking lot of Redwood High School where teachers convened to donate nonperishable goods to the Visalia Emergency Aid Food Bank. They also presented the food bank with a $2,500 check.

“We want to bring attention that there’s still people hungry in the valley,” VUTA president Greg Price said. “Second thing is we want to tell the district that we’re still waiting to have a schedule that works for kids and teachers.”

After the teachers gave their donations to the VEAC, they hopped in their cars and began a car parade down Main Street. Their long line of vehicles was decorated with signs urging the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) to negotiate a better distance learning schedule for students and teachers. According to Price, there hasn’t been much progress regarding negotiations with the district.

VUSD began classes on Aug. 13 and it is taking some time for teachers and students to get used to the new way of schooling.

“At the beginning it was a lot more challenging, moving on it’s been getting a little easier,” Pinkham Elementary School teacher Linna Hunt said.

Hunt says it is hard for her third graders to maintain their focus and getting them to complete assignments has been difficult. Since there is not much time for synchronous learning with her students, she has to give them a lot of asynchronous work. However, she deems around 80% of her class isn’t getting the work done. When asked what would help her better serve her students the answer was simple: more time with the kids and more time to plan.

“We don’t really have any time to fully plan during work hours. We spend a lot of time outside of our contractual hours. We have always done that, it’s just more so now,” she said.

Hunt has stayed up as late as 10 p.m. in order to prepare for the next day of school, and is back up working around 6:30 a.m. A few other teachers at the rally said that their days range from 11 to 13 hours long.

Casey Richert is a fifth grade teacher at Houston Elementary who echoed similar concerns. Since she spends the morning teaching one group of students and the afternoon teaching another group, her students have no time to contact her for help during the school day.

“I would like to have office hours where I can actually assist students one-on-one and assist with anything that they have. That would make everything better,” Richert said.

VUSD superintendent Tamara Ravalin says that they will continue to work with teachers to carve out additional planning time, however teachers won’t need as much time as they get more comfortable with the technology used for teaching. VUTA has introduced alternative schedules that they want to negotiate with the district. The proposed schedules have teachers hosting classes with more students for longer periods of time in the mornings, which will allow for a deeper dive into the material. It also allows teachers to use their afternoons for office hours, planning, contacting parents, and other prep work.

Ravalin says that the district continues to meet weekly with VUTA leadership. If a schedule change is negotiated, they must consider all of the needs and it will be with input from students, families, and staff.

“We are aware that students and parents have built their home and work schedules around the current schedule. Many parents have worked with their employers and child-care providers to adapt to the distance learning schedule,” Ravalin said. “Other families who run small businesses are depending on their older children for support. The current schedule allows some flexibility for families as their students can complete their asynchronous learning when it is convenient for them.”

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