Thursday October 17, 2013
“There is not broadband community readiness for this proposal. We’ve heard that loud and clear,” said John Barone, Superintendent of the Milton Town School District, to an audience of nearly 200 in the Burlington High School auditorium on October 9. “So I stand before you tonight on behalf of my colleagues to let you know that we have decided not to implement this current calendar--this proposal--for the 2014-2015 school year.”
This was the third of four forums hosted by the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association (CVSA) regarding the revised school calendar proposal, Calendar 2.0. The proposed calendar would retain the 175 day school year, but it would subtract the first and last week of summer vacation and intersperse those 10 days into blocks of time throughout the year.
These periods of time, known as intercessions, are intended to be used for reflection, student enrichment opportunities, teacher development, student data review, family vacation or for any variety of purposes. The intercessions are intended to allow students to recharge and avoid summer regression.
However, the majority of community responses are in opposition to this calendar shift. Parents, guardians, educators and students agreed with the underlying issues that need to be addressed but did not feel that the calendar proposal was the answer.
Kerry Noonan, a professor at Champlain College, said that summer vacation contributes to decompression time--time her daughter, a student in the South Burlington School District, needs to process information.
“The school year is very hectic...and it takes several weeks just to decompress from that, much less give her dreaming time, gestating idea time, imagine time, just time to be looking and being,” she said.
Several community members in opposition have issues with the lack of data that would validate Calendar 2.0’s intent to increase student enrichment.
“What is the clearly identified need?” asked Amanda Levinson, a mother of a Champlain Elementary first grader. Levinson said she spent several hours reviewing studies on the issue. Year-round calendars are generally successful in overcrowded schools and in schools with underperforming and disadvantaged students. However, there are several schools that have quickly reverted back to the traditional calendar after not seeing improved student achievement, she said.
“The need is student learning,” responded Jeanné Collins, superintendent of the Burlington School District. “The study of how students and adults learn has changed since the current calendar came into place over a hundred years ago, and with the onset of No Child Left Behind...schools have finally entered the world of data.”
“As data is part of our world, and as superintendents, we feel that we really have an obligation to not just do the same things that we’ve always been doing when we know that we have students who are not achieving and when we know that the world is changing around us,” she added.
Susan Harrington, a professor at the University of Vermont and parent of a Burlington fifth grade student challenged that the calendar change decision should be based on specific data. Harrington urged superintendents not to use action research on students without the data to prove its effects in the Vermont community.
Burlington High School senior Henry Prine, said that Calendar 2.0 was a step in the right direction, but the process was flawed.
“Time is ultimately a school’s No. 1 resource; it’s what they can work with and play with,” Prine said. “The main group missing here is that there are very few students and teachers here...relatively little outreach has been done...and they are the people that this calendar will affect the most.”
Prine suggested to work with the time given--staff meetings, school time, etc--to talk about these issues in an open dialogue.
“Students are interested in having these conversations,” he said.
Educators are eager to have these conversations, as well.
Eve Berinati, an English teacher at Burlington High School, said she--as well as fellow educators and likely parents and students--was insulted that she couldn’t partake in the conversation before the proposal.
“Let us be part of making proposals, not just hearing them once you’ve got them, because we have lots of great things to say and we want to help,” she said.
Collins responded that this began as a regional conversation and they are ‘dipping their toes’ in with this calendar idea. Superintendents repeatedly thanked the speakers for their input.
Another educator, Keith Jackson, a high school math teacher in St. Albans, also noted that adding a week in June would not increase student learning.
“The week leading up to that week off is almost useless,” explained Jackson. “You said you want to keep teachers in the classroom. Stop pulling us out.”
Maurice Mahoney of South Burlington and teacher of 30 years suggested stripping Calendar 2.0 from the conversation entirely, not just for 2014-2015.
One voice spoke in favor of Calendar 2.0: Korinna Hillemann, a Burlington mother of two. Hillemann based her support on firsthand experience when she was a student in Germany.
“I always enjoyed those longer vacations,” Hillemann recalled. “You don’t have this big stretch like a marathon.”Hillemann said it was a chance to review work, improve learning, or just take a break.
“I just want to encourage you guys to really think about how it would feel to have two weeks maybe in February or March, or a longer vacation in the fall, “ she said. “That would be actually awesome.”
“We recognize there is a lot more to do,” Collins said. The CVSA will review the feedback, both verbal and written responses from notecards that were provided in the beginning of each forum.
“We’re going to rethink how we have this conversation, but we don’t want to lose the energy that’s in this room.”
Other forums were held at Essex High School, BFA St. Albans, and Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg. The first forum at Essex High School attracted nearly 400 people.
The CVSA consists of 14 superintendents. Along with Collins and Barone, the following superintendents were in attendance at the Burlington forum: David Young, South Burlington School District; Judy DeNova, Chittenden Central Supervisory Union; and Larry Waters, Colchester School District.
The CVSA officially dismissed Calendar 2.0 for 2014-2015 last Tuesday. A regional calendar is adopted every year in January.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent