News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 12, 2013

Clay board tables balanced calendar

BRAZIL — A decision regarding a balanced calendar in Clay County schools has been postponed as board members seek more public input.

The Clay Community School Board voted to table the topic until its Feb. 10 meeting, after an earlier motion to postpone consideration for one year failed to achieve a majority. Trustee Rob Miller was absent from the meeting, resulting in a 3-3 tie for the 1-year postponement idea. Trustee Tom Reberger issued a motion to table the discussion until the next meeting, at which time the administration is requested to bring two proposed calendars, one “balanced” approach, and another more traditional.

Superintendent Kim Tucker said making the decision in February wouldn’t be disruptive, but any delays beyond that would be problematic for employees, students and their parents. The process can’t wind up with “100 flavors” of the calendar, and allowing too many people to “tinker” with specific dates would be counterproductive, she said.

The calendar proposed for the 2013-14 school year featured a shorter summer but longer breaks throughout the school year, particularly after the end of grading periods. There would still be 180 days of school. According to the proposal as read by assistant superintendent Tim Rayle, students’ first school day would be Aug. 5, and their last would be May 29, 2014. A week-long fall break would coincide with the Covered Bridge Festival, and the Christmas vacation would be two weeks, with another two weeks given for spring break.

Several school districts throughout Indiana either use a balanced calendar or are discussing it, he said, reading from the results of a recent local survey showing strong support for it. The survey had 2,073 respondents and featured online participation.

Cathy Smith and Lisa Lands, parents and 4-H Council representatives, offered the primary opposition from the public in the board’s pre-meeting informational session which ran from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m.

Both said they’re not opposed to the concept of a balanced calendar, and Smith herself is a Putnam County educator where schools already use this system. Their concerns hinged on the proximity in dates between the proposed opening school day and the Indiana State Fair, but also included potential loss of learning around the extended breaks, particularly in the spring when ISTEP is administered.

Rayle and Tucker argued that learning loss is in fact reduced as students and teachers are given more breaks throughout the year, and that the breaks also reduce absenteeism and increase overall morale.

Smith and members of the board questioned those survey results. As an educator herself, Smith said she’d be afraid to oppose an administrative idea for fear of RISE Evaluations and the potential of retribution and reduced pay as a result.

But Smith reiterated that it was the interference of the new schedule with 4-H programs that was her chief concern, as participants might have to miss their first day of school. If that issue were adjusted, she indicated she might change her mind.

“We are very blessed in this agricultural community to have this FFA (Future Farmers of America) and 4-H program,” she said, pointing out 539 individuals participate annually, plus their families.

Tucker said potential absence related to the 4-H programs would be handled as with any other education-related activity.

Reberger said that when he was a student, he didn’t forget everything over spring break, and pointed out that Christmas break often winds up being two weeks anyway. 4-H activities would be handled much as they are now, he said.

“They’re like approved field trips. Educational trips, just like the state fair,” he said. “My position is, give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work we’ll go back.”

Board members Amy Burke Adams and Ron Scherb said not enough information had been provided yet and they wanted to hear from more teachers and parents.

“I’d like to hear some more voices, not just statistics,” Adams said, noting she’s not necessarily against the idea, but wants more input than results from an anonymous survey.

Board member Kevin Kumpf said his talks with teachers led him to feel most were “indifferent” to the idea due to lack of information, but he and others expressed concern about the long breaks around ISTEP.

“My question is, is the current calendar broken? If not, why change it?” he said.

Tucker expressed her own surprise at opposition to the idea, and even some shock at insinuation that teachers were afraid to oppose the balanced calendar for fear of retribution. The whole idea, she said, is to give teachers and students more breaks throughout the year.

“We test our kids to death,” she said, reiterating her stance that more breaks around test time would in fact boost scores.

But the new calendar was the only one presented, meaning if it was rejected, the schools would revert back to one mimicking last year’s.

Scherb issued a motion to delay the discussion and implementation of the balanced calendar concept one year, meaning it could potentially be used for 2014-15 after more discussion with the public. Kumpf, Adams and Scherb voted for that delay, with board president Jennifer Kaelber, Reberger and Fred Froderman in opposition. The tie led Reberger to move to table the discussion until the February meeting, at which point the administration is to offer a choice between two proposed calendars.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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