STARKE — “A balanced calendar is not the same as a year-round calendar” is the statement repeated throughout the presentations on the balanced school calendar during the recent public meetings at Knox and North Judson-San Pierre schools. It simply more evenly distributes the existing 180-day school year.
NJ-SP Superintendent Lynn Johnson presented information at two public meetings, with a total attendance of approximately 80 students, family members and others from the community.
“Things are changing. We have to lead, follow or get out of the way. This winter’s especially been stressful. The balanced calendar would provide time for both students and teachers to stop, regroup, refocus and remediate,” Johnson said.
Knox Superintendent A.J. Gappa repeated the statement on change.
“Times have changed —and we have to look at different ways to change the schools. The (balanced calendar) breaks are balanced, and the couple weeks off rejuvenates students and teachers. The remediation periods help us stay on top and keep up as it goes along,” Gappa said.
The public meeting in Knox was attended by 50-60 people. Gappa explained some of the background for considering a balanced calendar for the eight schools that provide cooperative vocational and special education throughout the area.
“Locally, the push originally came from Culver and Plymouth, who had kids going back and forth with Rochester (which has been on a balanced calendar for four years). About a year ago, we started seriously discussing the possibility. Plymouth and Knox are the biggest schools in the co-op, and host vocational education programs. Culver has a shared building trades program,” he said.
In addition to Knox, NJ-SP and Oregon Davis in Starke County, Culver, Plymouth, Argos, John Glenn and Triton are other schools in the co-op considering the balanced calendar. At a minimum, all schools in the County would need to be on the same calendar. Coordination of vocational and special education would be difficult if not all schools are on the same basic calendar.
The existing calendar goes back to when formal schooling was established 150 years ago, when 85 percent of the families and students were involved in agriculture. Today, only about three percent of Americans are engaged in agriculture, and schools have air conditioning, making it possible for students to start in the hotter months.
The proposed calendar, which would not be effective until the 2015-2016 school year, would still allow two months off during the summer. School would start in August and end in early June. The school year would include three two-week breaks between nine-week grading periods – one in the fall, one at Christmas and one in the spring.
The longer breaks in the fall and spring would allow time for remediation as needed, while still allowing more family time. Schools that already have changed to a balanced calendar have seen improvement in a number of ways. Rochester and Maconaquah schools, as well as several schools around Indianapolis have documented results.
Studies show improved retention over the summer, requiring less review at the beginning of the next year. Also noted were increases in attendance and decreases in discipline referrals
No significant issues or concerns have been expressed in the public meetings held so far. Questions and public comments centered on four areas: How the remediation periods would work, summer jobs, the effects on sports schedules and attendance at the State Fair or other major events. Remediation, if needed, would only be scheduled during one of the two weeks in the fall and spring, leaving one full week for vacation.
Sports schedules are not considered an issue. In fact, one student at NJ-SP commented that students involved in athletics need a break during the year. The State Fair issue is being addressed. It was noted that adjustments may be needed for summer jobs and daycare coverage.
Public input is encouraged. Questionnaires were given to all participants to complete and return to the appropriate school. The results of the questionnaires are not yet available. Additional questions about the proposed calendar should be directed to the appropriate school district.