Moffat County schools consider alternative school calendars
October 16, 2015
Craig — The next lineup of the Moffat County School District Board of Education will have some tough issues to tackle in the coming years, one of which could be whether to institute changes to the school calendar.
Two alternatives developed by a school calendar committee are a four-day extended calendar and a five-day extended calendar, both of which would entail a start date in early August rather than late August.
School district administrators said the extended calendars could improve student achievement and teacher development. However, some parents worry it will cut into kids' summer activities, especially for those from agricultural families, and would break up learning time.
"It's a really creative and innovative way to increase our student achievement … but on the other side, we have a community that does a lot of activities in summer … and we don't want to get in the way of the farm and ranch community," said outgoing school board member Joel Browning.
If a four-day calendar were to be implemented in the 2016-17 school year, for example, school would start Aug. 10 — a Wednesday — and end June 15. A five-day extended calendar would start Aug. 8 and end May 25, consistent with the end date of the current calendar.
The committee — made up of MCSD administrators, teachers and a few parents and community members — was formed in the 2013-14 school year with the goal of creating a calendar that could help improve student achievement, as well as provide more teacher planning time. Another key criteria was for the calendar to remain budget-neutral.
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Both versions of the extended school year would shorten the duration of summer break, which is currently a little less than three months. MCSD administrators said that research shows the long break causes academic backsliding.
"It's about making sure we put students as the focus and their achievement … (and addressing) loss in beginning of the school year, so we're not reteaching things lost over summer break," said Craig Middle School Principal Dave Grabowski, who co-chairs the committee with MCSD Executive Director of School Supports and Personnel, Renae Dove.
Overall hours in the classroom would decrease under the alternative plans, but would still meet state minimum requirements.
The calendar alternatives would also provide more opportunity for professional development — at least ten days compared to zero dedicated days on the current calendar — something Moffat County teachers want and need, according to Grabowski.
"Out of all the districts I've ever worked for, there's just not a lot of time for professional development here," said MCSD Director of Curriculum and Assessments Amy Ward. "There's a lot of planning that has to take place and if we don't have time to do that, then everything else suffers."
But MCSD parents Alicia Baker and Gayle Zimmerman are concerned, conversely, that more breaks scattered throughout a longer overall school year could disrupt student learning. They're also concerned kids involved in agricultural activities during the summer — such as 4-H, the Moffat County Fair or helping out on the ranch — would either miss more school or have to miss out on their activities.
"Both of my kids (a fifth- and a ninth-grader) are very involved with 4-H, showing pigs, among other things," Baker said in an email. "Should the calendar change and either start early (August) and/or go late (June), this would hinder their ability to participate in 4-H to the best of their abilities."
Zimmerman said in an email she and her family would consider alternatives to MCSD if an extended calendar went into effect.
Before the board or administrators consider moving forward with either of the calendar alternatives, however, the committee plans to engage the public in the matter, both to educate community members and seek input.
"The staff has really put a lot of work into it, but now's the time to let the community have a voice in it," Browning said. "Ultimately, it comes down to parents and kids and what's gonna work for them."