Wake Ed

Zora Felton fought for more planning time for Wake County teachers

Wake County board member Zora Felton wipes tears from her eyes after speaking about student assignments during a school board work session Tuesday, October 6, 2015 in Cary, N.C.
Wake County board member Zora Felton wipes tears from her eyes after speaking about student assignments during a school board work session Tuesday, October 6, 2015 in Cary, N.C. jhknight@newsobserver.com

Exactly one week ago, Wake County school board member Zora Felton pledged to continue spending the next two years lobbying for teachers to get more time during the school day for planning.

And now tonight, Felton’s family will greet guests from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. at Mitchell Funeral Home, 7209 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh. A celebration of Felton’s life will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, 4400 Pleasant Grove Church Rd. in Raleigh.

Felton’s colleagues say the 65-year-old retired social studies teacher will be remembered as being an advocate for educators. That commitment was highlighted at her final board meeting at the Nov. 14 student achievement committee meeting.

At the committee meeting, school administrators gave an overview of how the district is trying to help schools promote to students the 4Cs: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication.

As the discussion was wrapping up, Felton brought up how Wake had dismissed students an hour early every Wednesday in the 2009-10 school year so that teachers could meet together in professional learning teams for planning time. Supporters called it “Wake Wednesdays” due to the extra planning time for teachers while critics labeled it “Wacky Wednesdays” due to the impact it had on families.

It wasn’t a surprise for Felton to bring the issue up as she had been talking about the need for more planning time since being elected to the school board in 2013. After running unopposed on Nov. 8, she was expecting to keep on that issue during her new two-year term.

“Teachers need time,” Felton said at last week’s committee meeting. “Wacky Wednesday, you can call it what you want...”

“Wake Wednesday,” interjected school board member Christine Kushner, who was chairing the committee meeting.

“Do not put more on teachers,” Felton continued. “We have to spend – we – I still think I’m a teacher. We have to spend our weekends, our evenings doing all this stuff.

“We need time. When are we going to get some time? It’s 24 hours in the day. When are we going to get some time?”

“It takes time to be inspired,” added school board member Jim Martin.

“It takes time to be inspired and my experience, limited as it was, with the PLTs on Wednesday was the most productive time I ever spent in teaching, and then it was gone,” Felton continued. “‘Oh do it after school. Oh he’s coaching. Oh, she’s got this.’ It was the most productive time.

“How much did we pay Rick and Sandy Dufour? How much did we pay them to say you need time in your day to be effective planners and teachers?

“OK, I’ve got two more years maybe, and you’re going to hear it a lot,” Felton concluded to laughter from herself and her colleagues. “Two more years, OK, and then you can just let it rest,”

The others at the board table signaled their support on the idea of more planning time.”

“Our silence only means we agree,” said Superintendent Jim Merrill.

“I hear affirmation,” Kushner added.

One of the first acts of the new Republican school board majority in December 2009 was to end the weekly early Wednesday dismissals at the end of the school year. Teachers were told to find other ways to make up for the planning time.

Even though the school board has changed majorities, Wake has not moved to restore the weekly early dismissals.

But the board gave initial approval Tuesday to a revised lesson planning policy that says “it is the Board’s goal to provide an average of at least five hours of planning time per week.”