Tweaking the Calendar for 2013-2014

By Aurora Blanchard

Two-Year Calendar

It’s been a little over a year since the elementary, middle, and high school calendars merged to save money on bus transportation. The current calendar consists of a 10-day fall break, 10-day winter break, and two-week spring break.

A calendar committee will propose a new academic calendar for the next two years to the Board of Education on Oct. 14. There is talk of shortening spring break next year so teachers will have more time to prepare students for semester, EOC and AP exams. The committee will send out a version of the calendar with a survey to parents and teachers to get the feedback before setting the calendar in stone.

There are certain scheduling parameters the District needs to meet. They can’t make teachers come back to school before Aug. 1. They need students to graduate by the first week of June and schedule Professional Development days for teachers, which are those No-School Fridays this year for students.

Spring Break

Math teacher Patty Bartell who is on the committee with 19 others, believes the District should keep spring break but shorten it to a week. According to her, a general consensus is being reached among members of the calendar committee, but the length of spring break is still up in the air.

“The placement of it is good,” Bartell said. “It’s just that the length is probably too long. Rather than a break, it becomes a vacation, and it’s tough getting the students refocused.”

Fellow math teacher Debra Finkes also believes one week for spring break is sufficient. She had to move part of second semester’s curriculum into first semester to finish teaching in time for EOCs.

“It makes it much harder to get everything covered having two weeks for spring break,” Finkes said. “Luckily, last year we only had one snow day.”

English teacher Lindsey Scheller also had to plan around the breaks but was able to because she knew about the calendar changes before the year started. “I don’t really know that it benefited us,” Scheller said. “But it hasn’t hurt us either. I think it’s always nice to have something to look forward to, like a significant break. It just keeps us fresher.”

Students who are self-driven in school report that the longer fall and spring break did not affect their studying for the AP exam. Senior Sam Scopel, who is taking four AP classes this year, is one of those students.

“[I felt] well-prepared just because I had more time to do independent study which is the way I learn,” Scopel said.

Sometimes more time off only increases the amount of work students have to do outside of school.

“That’s awful long for a spring break,” Chemistry teacher Donna Malkmus said. “It needs to be shorter. What would happen for me, if I want my AP kids to do well, which I do, is I’d have to give them work to do over spring break.”

According to a school-wide survey, only 5.2 percent of students said they did not the two-week long spring break. That leaves 94.8 percent of students who are happy with the length of spring break.

The Cost

Whether or not the school loves or loathes this year’s calendar, it is saving the District $735,000 on bus transportation from merging all the grade levels’ schedules, according to Purchased Services Director Dr. Mike Sloan. It costs less to run the same buses for elementary, middle and high school on the same days rather than running buses on a year round schedule plus a more traditional high school schedule. The new calendar got rid of extra days the buses had to run, which is the main reason the District came up with this solution.

“It’s successful from the cost standpoint,” Sloan said.

Is it working?

There are discrepancies between teachers and administrators on whether or not the new school calendar has benefited students. One of the small benefits, according to Superintendent Dr. Pam Sloan, is that families can take vacations at the same time with all the levels synced to the same schedule. She describes the problem with the old system, when elementary students were on a different calendar than the middle and high school students.

“Once you start having kids at various levels it became harder for families to take vacations and do things at the same time,” Sloan said.

According to Chief Human Resources Office Dr. Steve Griggs, there was no decrease in student success last year from with the new calendar based on data from test scores. Because the District does not make conclusions from one year’s worth of data, they will continue to look at test score trends for the next few years with the merged elementary, middle and high school schedule.

“Change is hard,” Griggs said. “I think getting used to something new wasn’t easy but there wasn’t a large number of people who said it didn’t work.”