School calendars always make for interesting discussion. It has a certain “cringe” factor for superintendents. Mostly because it’s impossible to design a calendar that suits everyone. While it may not seem like it to some, we do try to find a balance between statutory requirements, educational needs and family needs.
By statute, Wyoming schools must be in operation for 185 days. How the days are arranged is up to the district. Of those days, a minimum of 175 must be student attendance days. The other days are devoted to professional development for teachers and parent-teacher conferences. Our school district calendar has 176 student attendance days and devotes seven days to professional development and two days to parent teacher conferences. The two parent teacher conference days are actually four half days, but you get the idea.
It’s how you arrange the student attendance days around breaks and holidays that seems to get people’s attention. Start and end dates, for instance, really are a function of local factors. In my previous district in Illinois, we typically started in mid-August and ended in mid-May. August days can be brutally hot and humid there. May tends to be a beautiful month. Most schools now have air conditioning so many districts began to shift their start dates to earlier in August. When I arrived in Wyoming I couldn’t believe we started in September and ended in June. Having now experienced both months, I completely understand. August in Wyoming is filled with bluebird days and June is…well it’s just June.
Christmas break has become standardized in most places. Two weeks, give or take a few days appears to be the norm. Spring break on the other hand is a component that tends to vary widely. Many districts, like ours, schedule a week for spring break, although there are some that prefer a three-day weekend associated with Easter. Those who align their break to Easter invariably have the timing of the break move with the holiday. Some districts like the break to occur in March and some choose April. After my first winter in Wyoming, I think I understand the need for a week-long break.
Regardless of when we start, end, or schedule breaks, the comment that I get the most regarding school calendars is BE CONSISTENT. Finding family time together seems to become more difficult each year and our families plan vacations and trips well in advance. It is not uncommon for our office to receive calls requesting the dates for our spring break more than a year in advance. To that end, our calendar hasn’t changed much in the last few years. However, that may be changing in the future.
While we will continue our efforts to stay consistent with the scheduling of our start/end times and our breaks, one of the significant challenges that Wyoming school districts face is the loss of instructional time by our students in extra-curricular activities due to lengthy travel times to events. Many school districts in Western Wyoming have implemented an alternative calendar in an effort to alleviate this problem. One variation of this calendar identifies the travel dates on which the greatest number of students are gone to extra-curricular events and schedules these dates as non-attendance days. These days are almost exclusively Fridays and tend to be around ten per year. Another variation is the straight four-day school week. There are several school districts in Wyoming that have adopted this model as well. Our district is currently in the process of evaluating this type of calendar in an effort to provide our student with more instructional time and less stress resulting from the long travel times.
What are our thoughts regarding an alternative calendar? Is it something we should explore? Take the poll below.