BURLINGTON — Champlain Valley superintendents have shelved Calendar 2.0 — a proposal to shake up the school year — after the idea caused an outcry among parents.
The Champlain Valley Superintendent’s Association scheduled four public forums, but after just two of them, they had heard enough to decide to pull back on the proposed 2014-2015 implementation date.
The news was announced at the third hearing, held Wednesday evening in the Burlington High School auditorium.
“We just don’t believe the community is ready for 2014/2015 and it’s not about forcing something on the community,” said Jeanné Collins, superintendent of the Burlington School District.
Five of the 17 superintendents behind the idea stood in a row at the base of the stage Wednesday, as parent after parent took to the microphone, making their objections heard.
Roughly 150 people attended and more than 20 spoke — some raised questions, others were flat-out opposed, but skepticism was nearly unanimous.
At the center of contention are 10 school days.
By law, students are in school for 175 days; no one is proposing to tamper with that number. What superintendents want to do is shave two weeks off the 10-week summer vacation, one from the beginning of the break and one from the end, and redistribute the vacation schedule throughout the school year to create longer breaks.
The superintendents say the schedule would cut back on “summer regression” and the additional blocks of time off during the year, called “intercessions,” would allow teachers to intervene earlier on to help lagging students catch up.
Students and teachers would have different options during the intercession. The group hasn’t solidified how that would work, but activities could include additional schooling for struggling students, internships, project-based learning and professional development for teachers. Vacation time would also be preserved.
“Brain science tells us that focused learning and pausing and reflecting helps cement information,” Collins said.
But the superintendents also readily admitted that Calendar 2.0 might not be the cure-all, it might need tinkering with and the research proving its worth is far from infallible.
Calendar 2.0 is off the table for 2014/2015, but Collins said the superintendents aren’t giving up on the idea. “We are committed to continuing the conversation,” she said.
Milton superintendent John Barone said officials have been asked repeatedly, where is the research? “The truth to that question,” Barone said, “is there isn’t a lot of research that clearly shows a link between changing a school calendar and improving student’s learning.
“Should this proposal move forward, we would be on the cusp of doing some action research,” he said.
The majority of parents who spoke Wednesday were not game.
Susan Harrington, an English professor at the University of Vermont and the parent of a fifth-grader in Burlington, told the superintendents, “We are small state, we are not a wealthy state and I don’t want you to do action research with our schools, with my children, with my children’s friends.”
While Harrington and others asked for more data showing the value of switching calendars, Maurice Mahoney, a retired teacher, said superintendents should make the decision based on the community’s reaction.
“If you want data, you can’t get more important data than asking parents and teachers and students what they think of the calendar,” he said.
The community, Mahoney said, wasn’t looking for “gooey words like ‘thank you for your input.’”
Mahoney said he bristled at Barone’s repeated references to “not next year.” “Just take it off the table,” he told them. “You’ve really got to listen to these people.”
There were just a smattering of students, and only one weighed in. Henry Prine, a senior at Burlington High School and the Burlington Technical Center, had a complaint that many others echoed — that Calendar 2.0 had been thrust on the community.
“The main group I see missing is there are very few students and teachers here, and I think there was very little outreach done,” Prine said.
The superintendents didn’t contest that. “We’ll own that. We could have done and should have done a better job communicating our thinking,” Barone told the crowd.
Superintendents started studying the idea two years ago. They peddled the idea to teachers, school boards, after-school organizations and businesses over the summer, though Collins conceded that, “we might not have done as good a job of talking to teachers as we could have.” And this fall they are reaching out to parents.
The group also has a website, which includes a moderated forum with more than 150 comments — many voicing skepticism about the concept. A moderator has diligently responded to a number of the commenters and, in some cases, engaged in lengthy back and forth discussion with them.
The proposal is supposed to be cost-neutral, but some parents said they were skeptical about that claim, pointing to things like air conditioning costs during the summer weeks.
Some parents wanted more detail about the particulars — what types of activities would take place during the intercessions, how much actual vacation time they would include, whether child care providers and afterschool programs could adapt their services to a different schedule.
Others said a calendar change seemed like a feeble attempt to address problems like summer regression. “To me, the calendar feels like a distraction from the real problems you’ve identified,” said Jessica Oski, the parent of a fourth-grader at Champlain Elementary School.
And others simply don’t want school to eat into their children’s summers.
Parents determined to preserve the 10-week summer vacation have created a website with a petition that’s accumulated nearly 1,000 signatures. They’ve also set up a Facebook page, sent letters to the editor, and turned out in droves to the public forums.
Barone estimated that over 600 people came to the first two events.
Collins said the utility of the current calendar has expired.
“I think we have a calendar that was built for two centuries ago and a school system in total that was built for the 19th century, and we are in the 21st century,” she said.
But after proffering the idea to parents, superintendents have observed that loyalty to the calendar hasn’t waned.
“A 150-year calendar, you don’t change in four forums,” Collins said.