Early Start Calendar
Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussions for the proposed Early Start calendar. At the Board meeting, on February 11, 2019, the Mattawan School Board approved the Early Start calendar for the 2020-2021 school year, with school beginning one week before Labor Day. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness and feedback in this important decision for the Mattawan students and staff.
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 an “early start” calendar. So far, over 52 school districts in Michigan have adopted a balanced or early start calendar.
Although there are many versions of an early start 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, a 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, pros and cons, and a proposed early start calendar. We will continue to collect data and seek input.