A proposal to make changes to the school calendar drew more than 200 parents and teachers to Bellows Free Academy last Thursday night.
Most of the input received last night was against making changes as proposed by the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association (CVSA), including reducing summer vacation by 2.5 weeks and adding more vacation time during the school year.
Calendar 2.0 would be shared Franklin, Addison, Chittenden and Grand Isle county schools. The group, however, has backed off implementing it next year.
Under state law, school districts with technical centers must have 175 education days and five days for professional development.
The proposed calendar responded to research showing students lose skills over the summer months, especially those from low-income families who likely can’t afford summer enrichment activities.
A 1996 analysis of the existing studies found that all students lost a month of math skills over summer vacation, or three months for those from low-income families, a subsequent study said.
Calendar 2.0 shortens summer break to eight weeks, with students getting out of school on June 19, 10 days later than the current calendar. Students would return to school on August 20, eight days earlier.
Thus, summer break would be shortened by less than three weeks. Because some schools have negotiated more instruction days than others, they may already have shorter summer breaks.
The calendar adds longer vacations during the school year, called intersessions [see box for more.]
With this change, supporters of Calendar 2.0 argue families will have more time for vacations and medical appointments during the school year, meaning kids miss less school.
However, forum attendees raised multiple objections. The additional breaks will pose challenges for students who struggle with transitions, argued parents and special educators.
“I’d rather see kids in school more often with fewer breaks,” said a Fairfield parent who offered only her first name, Candace. She described the additional breaks as “an absolute nightmare.”
A school employee, who works with students with behavioral problems, said those issues escalate the weeks before breaks and make it harder to return to school.
More vacations and shorter summers would also be a challenge for non-contract employees, many paid by the hour. A two-week break means two weeks without a paycheck, and a shortened summer would make it harder for them to find summer employment.
Parents of students needing remedial education questioned the effectiveness of the proposed intersessions. More than one parent suggested a child who already struggles in school would resent attending more school while siblings and other students get time off.
“What remediation is going to happen in five days?” a parent asked.
Franklin Northwest Superintendent Jack McCarthy said he’s concerned some schools are more able to afford intersession activities than others: “Kids will be discriminated against on the basis of geography,” he said.
Franklin Northeast Superintendent Jay Nichols said his schools would pay for remedial education but parents would have to chip in for enrichment activities during intersessions.
Aware of the need for childcare during breaks, CVSA reached out to community organizations that provide activities for children. However, Franklin Central Superintendent Julie Regimbal said only one responded.
Arranging alternative activities is likely to be more challenging in rural communities than in Chittenden County or even St. Albans City, where the city’s recreation department operates day camps during all extended school breaks, Regimbal acknowledged.
Two teachers from the St. Albans Town Education Center were concerned with having students in school during warmer weather. Teacher Taylor Goodland said students learn better in cooler temperatures and that his classroom has been extremely warm this fall.
Nichols said school districts have to ensure spaces are habitable: “If a classroom is too hot for students right now… it needs to be fixed,” he said.
One parent said poorer students are “bringing test scores down,” and their families can’t pay a nominal fee for additional instruction during the intersessions, when not all kids will be required to get instruction.
“That’s not a good fix. That’s trying to stretch these kids more than they already are,” she said.
Milton Superintendent John Barone challenged this notion: “Shame on anyone who [blames kids from low-income families],” he said. “Demographics are not destiny.”
Barone told the audience he was once a poor student receiving free school lunches.
“I grew up in poverty, and I had a teacher who told me I would never amount to anything,” Barone said. “We have to stop thinking that way.”
Another parent, John Casavant, said the difference in school performance is a reflection that many parents aren’t engaged in their kids’ schooling.
Since Calendar 2.0 won’t be implemented next year, CVSA will gather more information and make any changes.
Under Vermont law, superintendents set the school calendar.
The proposed calendar can be viewed online at schoolcalendar2.blogspot.com.
Give me a break
The proposed Calendar 2.0 would seriously change vacation times. Here’s how school breaks could look under the new system.
• Existing partial week breaks (November) would be extended to full weeks. Existing breaks (December, February) are extended to two weeks. April would also see a two-week vacation.
• Individual school districts could keep students and teachers in school for all or part of those breaks. E.g., a school with a 180-day teacher contract might shorten the April-May break by one-week.
• Districts could also do away with additional breaks for professional development, allowing them avoid hiring substitutes.
• Calendar 2.0 eliminates half days for professional development.