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Austin ISD is considering adding more days off for teachers next school year

A door is slightly ajar at Josephine Houston Elementary
Michael Minasi

As teachers report more burnout and the substitute pool remains small, the Austin Independent School District will decide whether to add two new holidays and give teachers at least one day off a month next school year.

The district will vote next week on the calendar changes, including whether to make Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Day a holiday March 31, and Juneteenth a holiday June 19.

It also wants to move Professional Learning Exchange Days to the two Fridays of the Austin City Limits festival in October. It said a lot of teachers request substitutes so they can attend ACL, so the district would save money and not have to worry if it can't find subs.

    In a newsletter to staff last week, the district also said it wants to change the day-to-day schedule, including getting rid of block schedules at the high school level and having seven periods instead of eight. With a block schedule, students attends only half of their enrolled classes on any given day, but they are twice as long. The new change would mean students would attend seven shorter classes each day.

    Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said she wants to give elementary school teachers planning periods, but to do that, the high school schedule would have to change.

    The district has also proposed a one-hour early release every Wednesday, so teachers have more time to meet as a team or plan.

    The proposed changes to the daily schedule will not be voted on at next week’s meeting. Leslie Stephens, AISD’s head of human resources, told the board Thursday the district is reaching out to families to get feedback first.

    “We are so far from a final [decision] on that,” Stephens said. “We will be working with our secondary principals to look at various models and what does that look like and how does that play out.”

    School board members Noelita Lugo and Lynn Boswell said at the meeting that they do not feel comfortable voting on the calendar changes until the public has had a chance to weigh in on the potential schedule changes, even though they are separate items.

    “I understand that these two are separate issues but they influence each other and so I would feel more comfortable being able to have the full [conversation] before being able to vote on the item,” Lugo said.

    The district estimates it could decide on the schedule changes in January.

    Corrected: December 7, 2021 at 10:59 AM CST
    A previous version of this story incorrectly said the board would decide on schedule changes in January. It's up to district administration to make these decisions.
    Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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