Changing the District Calendar: A Disciplined Approach to Improvement

It seems that almost every year I end up writing a post about our district calendar.    Creating an effective calendar is a balancing act between the needs of the district and the needs of our parents and community.   The district utilizes a calendar committee to gather input from our employees and the community for the purpose of providing the Board of Trustees with recommendations on future calendars.    Identifying the needs of the district is pretty straightforward.  Identifying the needs of our parents and the community can be a little more difficult.

Dr. Steve Miller was the chair of calendar committee.  At the December board meeting, he presented the calendar committee recommendations to our board of trustees.  Many of the committee’s recommendations reinforced components of the calendar that have been in place for many years, including the start and end dates, and the timing of our Christmas and spring breaks.

A couple of the recommendations however, would bring change to our calendar.  One of the recommendations was to stagger the dates of our parent-teacher conferences on different nights for each of our schools.  This would allow parents with students in multiple schools greater flexibility in meeting with teachers.  I think our parents will see the immediate value in this.

The recommendation that will have the greatest impact on parents, addresses the need for our district to deal with student and teacher absentee rates related to activities, and the need for collaborative work time for our teachers.  As many of our 6-12 parents know, activity travel in Wyoming is a unique animal.  It’s not uncommon for our students to miss significant amounts of instructional time as a result of long bus rides to contests.  In an effort to address this issue, the calendar committee recommended that we identify high-absence Fridays (based on activities at the high school) and other logical dates (end of quarter) to schedule half-days for students, while teachers work a full day.

While I support this action to reduce absenteeism and increase instructional time, I prefer a more consistent format that includes an early release every Friday during the school year.  The proposed release time would be 1:30 PM for the high school and middle school and 1:55 PM for the elementary school.  It is important to note that this change would reduce our total instructional time, however we increased the length of our school day this year, and as a result we would still have more total instructional time than we have had in the past.  This calendar would also provide our teachers with much needed collaborative work time and allow our parents to plan for this time on a regular basis.   It’s a calendar variation that’s being regularly used throughout Wyoming by other districts with success.

It’s certainly an added responsibility for our parents in terms of child care; an area of concern that was discussed by our Board of Trustees.  However our teachers are facing an unprecedented work load beyond their regular teaching duties.  The State of Wyoming has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a new accountability system is poised to tie teacher evaluation to student achievement.  While we don’t yet know what the state assessment system will look like, we do know that the new assessments will be testing students on the CCSS.  And as a result, every district in Wyoming is working furiously to implement the new standards so that our teachers and students can be well prepared to take the new accountability assessments.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound that difficult to adopt new standards.  In reality it’s a herculean task given our current timelines.   Add to that the work the district is doing on instructional strategies, 21st century skills, and implementing technology, and it’s not hard to understand why our teachers need  some dedicated time for curriculum work, collaboration, and professional development.

Until now, we’ve schedule work time for these types of activities on a few half days throughout the year.  The fact is that we just can’t accomplish all of the work our teachers and administrators need to do outside the classroom during a few half days throughout the year.  Much like fitness, the most effective means for improvement is a dedicated approach, and we will need to work out every week in order to get things in shape for the new accountability system.  Add to this the benefits of reduced teacher and student absenteeism from activity travel, and we think the proposed calendar will help us continue to improve the quality of the education our students receive at SCSD 1.

 

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About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
This entry was posted in Accountability, District Calendar and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Changing the District Calendar: A Disciplined Approach to Improvement

  1. Barbara Wise says:

    Hi, Jay,
    Having been on the faculty and worked with developing a calendar, I know it can be a nightmare.
    I think the consistency of releasing students early every Friday is excellent, even though there will
    still be some conflicts, depending on travel, etc. I looked at some research years ago that dealt
    with 4-day weeks in a few school districts in the country; outcomes matched or exceeded those of
    a full 5-day week. I hope teachers will be receptive of the CCSS standards. I hear only good things about your administration and care for the district.
    Barb Wise

  2. Greg Anderson says:

    Jay – I can’t agree more. We looked at this several years ago, but lacked the leadership to make the case for it. You continue to impress me with your innovation. I know for a fact that Crook County School Dist#1 uses this schedule and it works very well!

  3. Joe Fatheree says:

    Jay,

    I really appreciate your perspective on this issue. Teachers in Illinois are currently faced with the same problem. Everyone is pressed for time. Collaboration is absolutely critical. However, the current system provides little opportunity for teachers and administrators to work together to develop a comprehensive plan. The workload is daunting. However, with the right approach, doable. The Common Core has a huge upside. However, it is going to require that administrators, teachers, board members, and community leaders think differently about how they approach things. It sounds like you are well on your way to making great strides in a very positive way. Congratulations. I look forward to following your progress.

    Best,
    Joe Fatheree
    NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence (09)
    Illinois Teacher of the Year (07)

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