Triton discusses balanced school calendar

BOURBON — Parents and community members spoke out freely as they questioned Triton Superintendent Donna Burroughs on the “balanced calendar” concept at last Monday’s school board meeting. The community had been invited to the meeting as one of several info-sessions being held in Marshall and surrounding counties on the proposed model. Burroughs, a leading expert on this concept, had prepared a hypothetical balanced calendar for Triton next school year which was duplicated and disseminated at all regional info-sessions. The document, for information only, will not be used at Triton because the school board has not decided to adopt a balanced calendar and next year’s traditional calendar has already been approved.
“A balanced calendar is not year around school,” she pointed out. The concept still allows for a summer break as usual. The basic concept is that there are longer breaks in the fall and spring, and only eight weeks in the summer instead of 10. This rearranging of the school year has been proven statistically to improve the rates of student achievement, student and staff attendance, and graduation. In addition, families would have more flexibility in scheduling vacations, which would not necessarily have to be taken in the summer. Offering intervention and/or enrichment classes over the breaks is also an option. The balanced calendar is a concept which is currently being explored by Triton and surrounding school corporations, and no final decision has been made for or against the model.
Patrons in attendance asked several questions:
• “What happens if students lose progress over the longer breaks?” Answer — the staff would help students keep up.
• “Has the “senior break” — the time from high school graduation until entering college — been addressed?” Answer — No.
• “What about the rumor that Triton will have to follow suit with surrounding school districts?” Answer — Not true. Triton has the flexibility to make its own decision. However, varying calendars might cause problems with shared services such as vocational and special education classes. These problems would have to be worked out.
• “Is the balanced calendar specific to Indiana?” Answer — No. More and more states are using it.
• “How realistic is this model for the 2014-15 school year (this fall)?” Answer — It is not realistic. If Triton adopts a balanced calendar, it would not be in effect until 2015-16.
• “What about homework over the breaks? If there are assignments, is it really a break?” Answer — “I don’t see busy work being assigned over the breaks. For one thing, teachers would not want to come back after break and grade assignments.”
• “If this calendar might affect late summer events such as the Indiana State Fair, how many students are currently involved in State Fair exhibiting?” Answer — “I don’t know, but exhibitors are excused from school anyway.”
• “If we have a difficult year weather-wise as we have had this year, is there an option for cutting into the breaks for make-up days? Answer — Yes.
• “What challenges come with switching to the new calendaring model?” Answer — Years of habit with the current calendar, possible disruption of athletic schedules, decisions as to whether or not to offer intervention or enrichment during the breaks, whether to transport students if such offerings are chosen, whether students in intervention (remediation) will feel cheated that other students have time off, possible interference with summer jobs of staff or students, etc. Burroughs said, in reference to the last point, that many students have year around part-time jobs now, and do not just work in the summer anyway.
When asked about conflicts with area vocational classes, she admitted that two or three area school corporations have elected not to move to a balanced calendar. Any scheduling difficulties would have to be worked out, she said, since students from several school corporations generally attend these combined programs.
Athletics presents another scheduling issue, since balanced calendar schools would not be available for two or three additional weeks during the school year to schedule with each other and with non-balanced calendar schools. This would be a challenge for Athletic Director Mason McIntyre, she indicated.
As far as whether students in intervention during the breaks would feel cheated out of time off, she said that the policy during current summer intervention classes is to schedule some interesting or exciting optional experiences such field trips, etc. This same procedure could be used during school breaks. Also, programming might not be just intervention, but might also include optional enrichment classes.
She also pointed out that the current summer break gives a long time (10 weeks) to forget what had been learned at the end of the previous school year. It is often said, though not substantiated, that the first grading period of the new year is spent reviewing the previous year’s learnings because of the long summer break, which some people feel is a waste of student/teacher time. She did not address the fact that eight weeks would still be a long time in which to forget learnings. Note also the first patron question above, which asks if even a two-week break is too long.
Burroughs summarized the tradition of beginning school after Labor Day and having all summer off by saying that students were needed decades ago to help with farm labor over the summer. This need has declined as fewer students work on farms, and those who do might work part time year around anyway. She pointed out that current jobs may or may not give parents adequate time off in the summer to take a family vacation. The balanced calendar, she said, gives families more flexibility to take a vacation either in the fall, the winter (Christmas), the spring, or the summer, as schedules permit.
Although the Triton school board is still investigating and evaluating the balanced calendar concept, it is clear that there is no single model or system which will fit all needs. There is an almost infinite variety of variations within the generic term “balanced calendar.” The board will continue to consider its options, and thanked those patrons present for their input.