Heeding complaints from board members, parents and teachers, superintendent David Lewis' administration revised the 2015-16 proposed school year calendar he presented last week, and the Muscogee County School Board rewarded his effort with unanimous approval during Monday night's meeting.
Here are the major differences between the approved calendar and the proposal board members balked at during last week's work session:
Students' summer vacation will last one week longer. Instead of returning to classes Aug. 3, next school year will start Aug. 10.
Teachers won't have to return to work in July, and they will have five days of pre-planning instead of three. They will report Aug. 3 instead.
The waiver Lewis requested from the state official in charge of standardized testing will allow the Muscogee County School District flexibility to extend the six-week testing period, which starts the first week of April. That means the district's spring break can be March 21-25, corresponding to the same week as this year, instead of the proposed March 14-18 -- which board member Naomi Buckner of District 4 noted is in winter.
The number of post-planning days for teachers in May was reduced from five to two, and the professional development sessions during those days were eliminated.
Those revisions came with a cost, however. The district won't have a fall break, which was proposed for Oct. 9-12, and the first and second semesters won't have the same amount of class days. The first will have 88 and the second 92. Lewis said the week off during Thanksgiving is essentially a fall break and, without a block schedule anymore, the semester lengths don't need to be even.
"We feel like this is a good compromise that accommodates everyone's needs and requests to the best extent possible," Lewis told the board.
Board member Mark Cantrell of District 6 praised Lewis for doing a "great job" revising his proposal. Cantrell said his Facebook page received more than 400 comments about the issue.
Cantrell said he understood that the reason the district's school year started in early August was because of the block schedule. Now that the district doesn't use a block schedule, he asked, why can't the school year start later than Aug. 10?
Lewis explained that the later the school year starts, the fewer days of instruction students have before taking the state's standardized tests in the spring.
"To start our school year later, much later, would put our students and teachers at a disadvantage," Lewis said. "These are very high-stakes test in terms of accountability, and with human capital decisions now being based on or soon to be based on the performance of students in their classes, you're not going to find many teachers who want to lose that instructional time. Likewise, these same tests will be used in terms of promotion and retention down the line for our students, as many of them have in the past."
Cantrell: "Even a week? That would make a major difference right there?"
Lewis: "Well, I'm just going to tell you this. I haven't seen many teachers who, the day before testing, wish they didn't have at least one more day, much less five more days."
Buckner thanked Lewis, as well, for "actually listening to people. It was good."
The administration thought it had listened enough. Last week's proposal was based on an advisory committee comprising various parts of the school district, Lewis said, and a survey of approximately 3,000 school-based personnel. But during last Monday's work sessions, after some board members criticized the two options in the survey having the same March 14-18 spring break, the administration surveyed the school-based personnel again, this time asking to choose between March 14-18 and March 21-25 for spring break. The survey results weren't presented during Monday night's meeting, but Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer that more than 90 percent favored the March 21-25 spring break, which is included in the approved calendar.
2015-16 MCSD CALENDAR HIGHLIGHTS
Aug. 3-7: Teacher planning
Aug. 5: Student verification day
Aug. 10: First day of classes
Sept. 7: Labor Day (district closed)
Sept. 15: Elementary school early release
Oct. 6: Elementary school early release
Nov. 3: Elementary school early release
Nov. 11: Veterans Day (district closed)
Nov. 23-27: Thanksgiving break (district closed)
Dec. 8: Elementary school early release
Dec. 21-Jan. 1: Winter break (district closed)
Jan. 4: Teacher planning day; no school for students
Jan. 5: Students return to classes
Jan. 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (district closed)
Feb. 9: Elementary school early release
Feb. 15: Presidents Day (no school for students and teachers)
March 8: Elementary school early release
March 21-25: Spring break (district closed)
April 5: Elementary school early release
May 19-21: High school graduations
May 20: Last day of classes
May 23-24: Teacher planning