Meetings Set To Poll Parents On New School Calendar Plan

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Parents can learn about a proposed school calendar change and tell Payson educators what they think about the plan which would add two mid-session recesses and shorten the summer vacation to nine weeks tonight (Tuesday) during the first of six public information meetings.

The Payson School District is sponsoring the 7 p.m. meeting at Payson Elementary School as part of a public information campaign on the proposed schedule change.

The district also has sent information packets home with students and expanded the Rim Country Middle School Web site to provide parents with background information on the plan and electronic forums to comment and vote on the proposed calendar.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal during its Feb. 12 meeting.

Other information meetings this week are scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 24 at Frontier Elementary School and Thursday, Jan. 25 at Julia Randall Elementary School. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m.

Next week, information meetings will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 30 and Thursday, Feb. 1 at the school district office at 514 W. Wade Lane.

Parents will have a final chance to weigh in on the issue at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12 during the school board's regular meeting at the district office.

For information about the issue, parents can log onto the middle school's Web site at rimcountrymiddleschool. com. or the district's site at www. pusd.k12.az.us/rcms/home.html. To reach the section on the modified school calendar, scroll down and click on the button on the right that says "Click Here."

The modified calendar, proposed by the Superintendent's Advisory Council, would shorten the summer recess by two weeks and adjust some holiday breaks so that two-week recesses could be added after each nine-week quarter.

While the calendar maintains an extended summer recess, "it 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 RCMS Principal Frank Larby, who is one of 18 teachers and staff members on the advisory council.

This type of calendar is different 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. According to the proposed calendar, students would have nine weeks off in the summer, while teachers would have an eight week recess, Larby said.

The advisory council proposed the calendar change because research suggests that such schedules promote higher student achievement and less student and teacher burnout.

"From an administrative standpoint, we see the opportunity for better achievement, better behavior and higher morale," Larby said. "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."

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.

But when the Concho Elementary School District near Snowflake implemented a similar calendar, teacher and student absences dropped, test scores went up, student and teacher burnout in May was virtually non-existent and the shorter summer resulted in greater student retention, he said.

District officials said other advantages include higher graduation rates, decreased truancy, vandalism and behavior problems, and fewer major building repairs because routine maintenance can be more readily performed during the two-week recesses.

Schools also would be able to offer intersessions during those two-week breaks a period of time when students can participate in remedial or enrichment classes. District administrators have not yet determined, however, whether the classes would be funded by parents or Credit for Kids tax money.

The downside to the proposal is that it restricts summer employment opportunities for students and teachers who rely on summer jobs to supplement their teaching salaries.

If the modified calendar is adopted next month, school will 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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