Education leaders are proposing a new school calendar that would shorten summer vacation and add weeklong breaks nearly every month of the school year.
A group of school administrators and non-profit directors from throughout the Champlain Valley met last Tuesday to hash out the opportunities and obstacles associated with the change, set for the fall 2014.
Dubbed by the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association “Calendar 2.0,” the schedule cuts summer break by 2.5 weeks and adds weeklong “intersessions” in October, March and May.
Added to regular breaks in December, February and April, Calendar 2.0 would grant a week off from every school month except September and January.
The intersessions are envisioned as time for students to receive extra tutoring, focus on an area of interest, partner with an employer or non-profit on a work-study arrangement or accelerate learning with advanced tutoring. Students would still attend the minimum 175 school days, just rearranged.
A series of public forums are scheduled for October to give parents, students and interested citizens a chance to weigh in. The superintendents that make up CVSA plan to vote next spring on whether to implement the new schedule.
According to Milton School Superintendent John Barone, the group has reached consensus that at least part of Calendar 2.0 will happen in fall 2014, with full implementation after that.
“We have committed as a group that this is a proposal we want to move forward with,” Barone said. “A majority of us want to go forward with full implementation in 2014/2015, but a lot depends on this meeting and the public forums.”
During brainstorming last Tuesday in the Essex High School cafeteria, educators and representatives from non-profits who serve children concluded they need to have a solid and succinct explanation for parents, students and teachers as to why the change is taking place.
According to Chittenden Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Judith DeNova, the change is about continuity in instruction.
In the current schedule, for example, professional development occurs in the middle of would-be school days, creating “early release days.” Intersessions would provide dedicated opportunities for teacher education, an increasing need as schools move to new standardized tests under the Common Core and accelerate technology in classrooms.
“We don’t want to keep pulling teachers out of the classrooms to do the learning they need to do to implement the new standards and prepare for the new assessment,” DeNova said.
She also pointed out that snow makeup days tacked on in mid-June tend to be ineffective instructional days. The new calendar proposes to add these days to April’s intersession, creating a more predictable end to the school year.
As proposed, the new calendar runs through June 19 (By contrast, the current school year ended June 9 before snow days.) The school year would start August 20 as opposed to the current-year start date of August 28.
Questions arose Tuesday about the structure of the intersessions. Will teachers staff them? Who will create and pay for programming? What will be required of students during that time? Will transportation be provided? Will school district costs increase? How will teachers meet students’ needs? Will non-profits need to step up programming?
The questions will guide planning for the new schedule, organizers said.
“We don’t have the answers,” said Holly Morehouse of Vermont Afterschool Inc., a non-profit that extends learning beyond the school day. “We wanted to generate these questions to really make sure we’re thinking about all the possibilities, challenges and angles.”
Diana Ferguson, executive director of Essex CHIPS, said the organization will remain involved in determining who is going to play what role in intersession programming.
“It comes down to what’s best for the kids. If we can determine that, then we can talk later about how to make that happen,” Ferguson said. “Schools are starting out on the right foot [by] engaging the organizations.”
Barone said the proposed calendar’s more frequent, smaller breaks help maintain a learner’s momentum. DeNova acknowledged schools can’t fully staff intersessions but said the flexibility they create will better serve students, who crave customization.
“Today’s learners have very different needs than the 150-year-old calendar structure they are stuck in,” she said.