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October 03, 2013

Forums Begin to Discuss Proposed New School Calendar

PhotoParents and students from all over Chittenden County packed the Essex High School cafeteria last night to respond to a proposal that would permanently change the school calendar. Members of the Champlain Valley Superintendent's Association were surrounded, literally. When their efforts to keep the meeting orderly — by getting attendees to write down their reactions on pieces of paper — failed, facilitators passed around mics instead.

The first in a series of four forums this month stayed mostly civil, but the parents who spoke up were largely against the idea of shortening the traditional summer vacation by two weeks to create three "intercessions" during the academic year. One of the goals of Calendar 2.0, which has been proposed for schools in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, is to increase the number of opportunities to identify and help struggling students. 

The idea is that the intercessions would allow students who fall behind in classes to catch up, while giving other students a chance to pursue internships and enrichment opportunities. 

As the calendar is currently configured, "we have to wait for students to fail, or allow students the entire academic year to struggle before we put interventions in place,” said John Barone, superintendent of the Milton town school district. 

Several parents pointed to the lack of concrete data to support the proposal, which the superintendents created after studying different calendars used by schools around the country.

“There is no research showing how this calendar has any effect,” said Clifford Peterson, whose stepdaughter goes to a high school in the Chittenden East Supervisory Union. “The research shows that longer school days, in concert with a few other things, does work, and there are a lot of longitudinal studies on it. I wondered why the group of superintendents didn’t pursue that avenue rather an overall calendar change.”

While a few high school students chimed in with their support for Calendar 2.0, which would help them juggle their workloads with extracurricular opportunities, other parents in the room emphasized difficulties the new calendar would create around child-care arrangements and getting students back on task after so many frequent breaks.

Throughout the meeting, Barone and other superintendents kept repeating: “This is not a done deal. This is just a proposal.”

“What we’ve heard and what we’re hearing tonight is that the process didn’t work for all people. I think we own that as superintendents,” said Mark Andrews, superintendent for the Essex town school district, conceding the scale of what they have proposed to the community. “Did we miss some steps? Probably, but hold tight, because I think we’re going to figure that out as we go along,” he concluded to applause.

Answering one parent’s question about next steps, Burlington school district superintendent Jeanne Collins explained that the group of administrators would spend the next month typing up, discussing and sharing with the public (on the blog they created about Calendar 2.0) all the views expressed in the public forums.

“I can tell you we’ll get back to you on that, but I can’t tell you exactly when, because this is the first of four and there’s many, many people across the region who will want to talk, and it will take us a while to sift through it,” Collins said. “But that also means we’re not going to rush.”

The Champlain Valley Superintendents Association will host three more community forums to discuss the calendar proposed for the 2014-2015 school year: Thursday, October 3, 6:30 p.m. at Bellows Free Academy, St. Albans; Wednesday, October 9, 6:30 p.m. at Burlington High School; Thursday, October 10, 6:30 p.m. at Champlain Valley Union High School, Hinesburg.

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