If push came to shove, Jane Lipp would give her right kidney to keep an instructional coach at her school.
The principal of South County High School, which has a 49 percent minority population, said that's the kind of sacrifice she'd make, drama aside, to keep a position that's been 'instrumental" in helping her teachers push the school's diverse student body to succeed.
More than a dozen of the 40 speakers who addressed the school board Tuesday night in a public hearing about Fairfax County Public Schools' budget spoke about the role coaches play in the day to day lives of teachers and students, including their help toward narrowing student achievement gaps.
The public hearing comes as the school board prepares to adopt a $2.5 billion final budget next week. The board received $61.7 million less than it had hoped in annual transfer from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which passed a budget of its own in late April.
While staff has found some additional revenue from the state and savings in a FY 2013 third quarter budget review, school board members still need to find another $30.5 million in reductions before their final budget vote.
A new proposal suggests holding off on teacher raises until January 2014, when employees would get a mid-year market scale adjustment of 2 percent, and curbing the expansion of some foreign language programs to cut costs.
Funding for instructional coaches isn't threatened on the list of such potential reductions. But as teachers plead with the school board to address teacher workload, and parents lobby board members and state politicians to lower class sizes, some have wondered whether instructional coaches are best used guiding individual teachers and collaborative learning teams as roving leaders, or, if the system's "experts on teaching" should return to the classroom to instruct students themselves.
Speakers, including Lipp, who serves as the president of the High School Principals' Association, argued the former.
The system has about 78 instructional coaches in 72 schools, Camelot Elementary School instructional coach Emelie Parker McElroy said.
Instructional coaches, who focus on reading, math and achievement gap issues, help teachers unpack new state and federal standards, analyze data to develop strategies for individual and groups of students and assess whether what teachers are doing in the classroom works.
Lippa said her own instructional coach helped initiate additional intensive intervention in math, acting as a liaison between teachers, counselors, students and their families. Jordan Moore, a former teacher who just this year became an instructional coach, said working with a coach allowed her to ensure every student in her classroom — some of whom had repeatedly failed the exams in classrooms where a coach was not available — to pass the Virginia's Standards of Learning tests in reading.
Teacher Pay, Language Expansion
The discussion came as other employees spoke of low morale and lagging pay for a large number of the school system's work force — both teachers and other support staff like custodians and bus drivers.
Though board members had hoped to give teachers a one percent market scale adjustment starting this July, the proposal on the table would instead give a two percent adjustment starting in January 2014, using some of roughly $6 million in one-time money available from the state.
Any money that adds to a teacher's base salary is a welcome help to teachers that are "running on fumes," said Michael Hairston, who represents thousands of employees under the Fairfax Education Association.
Hairston and Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg urged school board members to set their own priorities instead of being guided by a suggestion from county supervisors that teachers not receive raises because county employees weren't, either.
A number of county employees — including those from SEIU and police and fire associations — stood with teachers to support fair pay for teachers.
Parents and some school administrators also asked the board to reconsider a $0.7 million and nine position reduction in world languages expansion.
Fox Elementary School PTA President Amanda Owens said other countries have seen greater success than the U.S. academically largely because of their focus on learning more than one language.
"To compete in a global market place, [our students] need the same basic education as their competitors," she said.
The board will discuss the budget at a work session at 7 p.m. Thursday at Luther Jackson Middle School.