When students reported to school Aug. 6, 2001, the Payson Unified School District officially began operating on what educators called a modified school calendar.
"It's been very well received by everybody," said PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels after the new calendar had been in effect for seven months. "The teachers like it, the kids seem to like it. It does push the start of school a little early, which makes it tougher to develop a calendar. And that's complicated by the fact that we have to add one more day of school each year. But those are not real big issues.
"Otherwise," Weissenfels said, "it's been working well, creating good grades and good times."
Researched and recommended to the PUSD Board of Education by the Superintendent's Advisory Council, the new calendar shortens the summer recess by about two weeks and adjusts some holiday breaks so there are two-week recesses in the fall, at Christmas and in the spring. The result is a schedule that divides the school year into nine-week quarters, with each school session followed by a recess.
Students still attend the same number of school days as under the old, traditional calendar, and one school day has been added to the calendar each of the next five years as mandated by Proposition 301, the education funding measure approved by the voters in the November 2000 general election.
According to the advisory council, which comprises 18 teachers and other PUSD staff members, the impetus for the change was the large number of academic and other benefits that an increasing number of Arizona school districts realized upon adopting a similar calendar.
Among the benefits cited by the council:
A positive impact on student achievement.
A better pace, resulting in a more continuous flow of instruction. Learning loss is reduced by shortening the traditional three-month summer vacation.
Children do not become as restless and bored as during a three-month summer break. Juvenile authorities report that juvenile delinquency is also reduced.
More frequent breaks result in increased morale and decreased absenteeism, truancy, vandalism and other behavioral problems.
Intersessions which provide after-school tutoring and special help for students who need it can be used for both remediation and enrichment.
Teachers and staff can attend in-service training or work together in mentor programs during intersessions.
Educationally disadvantaged students and students with limited English skills show improvement even without increased instructional time during intersessions.
Noted disadvantages include:
Changing childcare to fit a modified year depends upon the flexibility of the provider.
Teachers may encounter scheduling difficulties in taking summer classes at colleges and universities.
Intersessions may have to be funded by charging parents.
Summer job opportunities for teachers and older students may be reduced.
Summer cultural, religious and vacation activities for families and students may be affected.
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 four years.
Prior to the implementation of the modified calendar, a survey of PUSD staff members conducted by the council showed 165 in favor of it and 30 opposed.