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Nevada Schools considering a major change to the traditional schedule

The following questions were submitted to Nevada School Superintendent Steve Gray, who together with the committee that has been studying the proposal of a Balanced School Calendar, provided the following answers.

What exactly is a balanced calendar?

We are looking at approaches to take the 180 student-contact days and balance them throughout the entire 365-day calendar year. The key is to limit breaks in learning to approximately six weeks in length. Research shows that after six weeks off, students begin to experience the greatest loss of retention. This is particularly true for students of low socio-economic status (SES). Thirty-five to forty percent of Nevada CSD students are currently classified as low SES, based on federal standards.

How many school districts in the country have adopted this type of calendar? Are there schools in Iowa that have?

Eighteen Iowa school districts, including Des Moines, Indianola and Urbandale, have individual schools using a balanced calendar approach. Clinton is currently also investigating a balanced calendar. We are not aware of any Iowa Districts that are using this approach districtwide.

We’re not sure exactly how many there are across the country; however, the following all have at least one year-round school: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, Nevada, California, Utah, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee.

Why is this being looked at now? What has led the district to this point?

We now have climate-controlled facilities that can accommodate a balanced calendar, and allow us to look at options regarding concerns with learning loss that occurs with a long summer break. It also allows us to address a growing achievement gap between high and low SES students.

Also, traditional school calendars were built around the demands of an agrarian society and the need for students to be directly involved in production roles. The percentage of students needed in those roles has significantly diminished in contemporary society.

Although there are no assurances that such a change will result in desired outcomes, it seems reasonable to assume that doing what we’ve always done will get us what we’ve always got. If we wish to adjust and adapt to the needs of a changing society, we’ve got to be willing to change our practices.

What are the main benefits of this type of calendar/schedule?

We would hope to see greater levels of retention/student achievement, particularly for our low SES students. The reality, however, is that the benefits may be difficult to measure. During times when school is not in session, we have a number of at-risk students that simply struggle with basic physical, social and emotional needs that the school provides (i.e. breakfast, lunch, counseling, adult role models, positive peer interaction). How do we measure these types of things?

Are there drawbacks from it?

Things like day care, student employment and student activities (music, athletics, etc.) have been cited the most as barriers. Using day care as an example, it is important to remember that a balanced calendar would not require additional day care, it would simply redistribute the days needed throughout the year. Similarly, student employment opportunities might be scheduled differently than they are currently scheduled. As for student activities, we already have activities scheduled during winter, spring and summer break, so this wouldn’t be completely unfamiliar.

We are, however, sensitive to concerns over the county and state fair time. It is likely that, even under a balanced calendar scenario, school would not conflict with the county fair. Students could be excused, if needed, for duties at the state fair. Our FFA involvement in the state fair could continue, regardless of the school calendar.

How would it affect summer recreational/sports programs?

This concept was presented to the Nevada Park and Recreation board. Park and Rec did not believe it would impact programming in a negative way. Director Tim Hansen said, “I see more opportunities than obstacles.” One such opportunity might be the potential for swimming as a part of the school’s physical education program.

You had a directive from the school board to research this. What has your research involved and how many groups, people, etc., have you presented this to?

Research involved over a year of investigation, including contacting balanced calendar schools, looking at research studies, etc. A subgroup of the committee recently presented the concept to over 10 different business, service and ministerial organizations.

What type of response have you received from the teachers in the district? From the public?

Many teachers and community members have voiced their support for the idea. The subgroup responsible for the recent presentations to staff and service groups estimates that 75 percent have been in favor of the concept. One presenter indicated that, “I didn’t meet a person in the community that is strongly against it. People in general were very interested and intrigued by the idea.” Eighty-five percent of emails received at balancedcalendar@nevada.k12.ia.us have been in favor of the balanced calendar concept.

How soon do you see this becoming a reality in Nevada?

The 2015-16 school year would likely be the earliest possible implementation. If this is the direction we go, then ideally a 2015-16 balanced school calendar could be released at the same time the 2014-15 traditional school calendar is released.

What things have to occur before it can be implemented?

It wouldn’t really be any different than items that are currently considered when establishing the school calendar (quarters, semesters, professional development, holidays, etc.).

Who are the members of the committee that is studying this?

Kedra Hamilton, Debbie Haywood, Chris Hinson, Suzanne Thacker, Meg Frideres, Mark Beauchene, Laura West, Tom Maier, Steve Gray, Kathy Goecke, Joel Fey, Chris Schmidt, Justin Gross, Dave McCaulley, Nancy Port

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