* The video of the Balanced Calendar Community Presentation on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 only captured the first hour of Dr. Hornak’s presentation. This video and his power point are available upon request but will not be posted on the Mattawan website as it is not as relevant to our Mattawan community. A summary, a pros and cons document, and a Q&A are posted below for your review and information.
Taking a Look at an Early Start Calendar
Dr. Buchler, March 8, 2017
The traditional school calendar has been around for over 300 years, dating back to the 18th century England when most of the country relied on agriculture as its primary means of support and sustenance. Over the next 300 years, we have seen much change in our world from careers and vocations, to the skill sets needed to meet those changes. What has not changed is the school calendar. Maybe it is time to take a look at the benefits of adjusting our typical schedule to see if it might have a positive impact on student achievement. It is, after all, the responsibilities of our school leaders and our legislators to remain vigilant in how we best provide for our citizens, our families, and our future.
Whether things change or not should not be determined by the phrase, “That is how we have always done things.” Our students and families deserve more and we sometimes have to step out of the comfort of doing what we know and check to see if there is a better way. The Superintendents of Van Buren County have been doing just that. A little over a year ago, we began to ask, “What if we changed the traditional school calendar to better meet the needs of our students and families? Could making slight adjustments to the traditional school calendar positively impact student achievement?” We started researching and collecting data on our districts to see how we could adjust the calendar to get better results from our students and staff. We began to study the concept of a “balanced” calendar. So far, over 52 school districts in Michigan have adopted a balanced calendar.
Although there are many versions of a balanced calendar all over the world, we were looking at balancing some of the long summer break and putting breaks throughout the school year. For example, school might start mid-August when so many of our students are already on campus for sporting tryouts and practice, band, cheerleading, etc. This early start would allow for a week off in October and a week off in February, two of the months we found to have lower student achievement, higher attendance issues, higher discipline reports, and higher student/staff fatigue. The winter break and spring break would remain virtually unchanged, although Spring Break could move to a full two weeks depending on community input. We would still get out of school around the same time (early to mid-June) and the days in school for students would remain at 180.
With such a rigorous curriculum and high expectations, the balance of scheduled breaks would allow for a breather and a chance to process the learning and revise the teaching to then provide a rich learning experience throughout the school year. Are there some disadvantageous? Yes, change is never easy. We looked at athletic schedules, child care, family travel, and summer employment. We consulted with coaches, daycare providers, teachers, support staff, and even travel agencies (looking for the best times for our families to travel). We will keep seeking feedback from all stakeholders.
On Tuesday, March 7, 2017, we held a community meeting to share these conversations and get more feedback. It was largely attended and full of great ideas, suggestions, and concerns. We still have work to do to see if revising the calendar is a good fit for our students, staff, and community. In the meantime, on the mattawanschools.org website, you will find a Q & A from the many thoughtful questions received on Tuesday evening, a proposed early start calendar for three years starting with the fall of 2018, and the brochure developed by the leadership at the VBISD. We will continue to collect data and seek input.
In a couple of weeks, we will send out a survey to all of our stakeholders to get another feel for their thoughts on an early start. We will also collect approval percentages from each building and department on campus to share with our community. Stay tuned to invitations for community forums, surveys, and other forms of input.