School Board Moving Slowly On Calendar Modification

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The Payson School Board will discuss changing Payson's school calendar Monday, but it won't vote on the issue at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday, Jan. 8.

The board is considering a proposal from the Superintendent's Advisory Council to shorten the summer recess by two weeks and adjust some holiday breaks so two-week recesses can be added after each nine-week quarter.

The modified calendar under consideration by the board maintains an extended summer recess, "but redistributes a few of the summer weeks to give students and teachers two-week breaks in the fall, at Christmas and in the spring," said Rim Country Middle School Principal Frank Larby, who also is one of 18 PUSD staffers on the advisory council.

This type of calendar differs from a year-round calendar which eliminates the extended summer recess in favor of a series of equally-spaced shorter breaks, usually two-weeks in length. While a year-round schedule has its advantages, PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said, it is primarily utilized by school districts that have overcrowding problems.

"In that sense," Weissenfels said, "it is a problem-solver and not an answer."

The primary rationale for the development and recommendation of the modified calendar by the advisory council is research showing that such a schedule leads to better achievement and less burnout, Weissenfels said.

"From an administrative standpoint, we see the opportunity for better achievement, better behavior and higher morale," added Larby. "According to the districts that have already implemented a modified calendar, the result is that kids approach school better, and teachers approach their jobs better."

Research also shows that learning loss is minimized by shortening the summer vacation, reducing the four to six weeks of re-teaching that most teachers have to do when students return to school in the fall. A study by the New York Board of Regents found that students lose up to 27 percent of their learned skills over the traditional three-month summer period.

Other documented advantages include decreased absenteeism, truancy, vandalism and behavior problems.

The Payson Center for Success, a job-training program for students at risk of dropping out of school, has successfully used the modified schedule for three years.

"It reduces stress on staff, students and parents alike," reported an anonymous Payson Center for Success teacher in an information sheet provided to the school district's staff. "We never want to go back to the old schedule."

During the two-week vacation periods, PUSD would also be able to offer intersessions a period of time when students can participate in remedial or enrichment classes.

"There may be a charge to parents for their students to attend intersession classes," according to the information sheet.

Weissenfels also noted that the proposed schedule "actually provides parents with more, not fewer, vacation options."

One disadvantage to the modified calendar plan is that many teachers rely on summer jobs to supplement their teaching salaries.

"The fact that teachers would have less time to work in the summer seems to be the biggest downside," Larby said. "Another disadvantage we considered was that sports teams would still have to practice during some of the two-week breaks.

"But our research showed that some coaches actually prefer the modified calendar once they try it because it allows them to focus their activities better."

While the modified calendar will not be an action item on the Jan. 8 agenda, the public can address the board at the meeting, according to School Board President Christy Ford. "We never, ever intended to exclude public input on the proposed calendar," she said.

"If the board gives its OK, the council will send out materials and hold forums for parents, including our feeder schools," Weissenfels said. "Depending on the outcome, the board will adopt some kind of calendar in February."

If the modified calendar is ultimately chosen, school would begin Aug. 6, 2001, with two-week fall recesses from Oct. 8 to Oct. 19, Dec. 24 to Jan. 4 and March 18 to March 30. The last day of school would be May 31, 2002.

While the modified calendar maintains the same number of school days as previous years, one extra day will be added to the calendar in each of the next five school years. The additional days were mandated by Proposition 301, the educational spending measure approved by voters in the November general election.

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