School breaks debated

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

The most effective way to fit 180 days of instruction into the months of the school calendar is still being debated by school board members, teachers and administrators.

Calendar committee members met Dec. 13, and looked at two proposed calendars for the 2012-2013 school year.

One came from the teachers' calendar committee. It features five full school days off for fall break, and two "professional development" days.

"It's a good fit for what a majority of parents and teachers said" in response to a calendar survey this fall, said John Denton, representing Cornersville Middle School.

"Was it a large majority?" Randy Perryman asked him.

"Yes," Denton replied.

"Then for me, that's it," exclaimed Perryman. "I'm going to support the teachers because they're there every day; they're the experts on this."

Ann Tears agreed with him.

"We have to work with what they're telling us they need and they want," she said.

The other proposal for next year's calendar came from the calendar committee, led by Barbara Kennedy. It shows a shorter fall break, and three professional development days.

"I don't want anybody to think this is what I want," exclaimed Kennedy at the start of the meeting. "I'd like to start after Labor Day and go straight through, but that's not feasible.

"We have to use whatever resources we have to make the most efficient use of 180 days," Kennedy continued. "Our core purpose (as a board) is to make sure they're getting an education."

Technology Supervisor Suzanne Ingram, who is also the Race To The Top program coordinator, was asked about professional development.

"Professional development has been very critical," Ingram responded. "I feel very strongly about professional development. Until this district begins to train together, we are not going to advance together."

Schools Director Roy Dukes agreed; "There's more and more need for professional development. We need to keep up with new ideas and trends."

Cornersville Principal Bob Edens said his high school teachers wanted just two professional development days. "They want to be in the classroom," he said.

"Our test scores are dropping," Kennedy pointed out, recommending adopting a calendar that puts pupils in the classroom for more days prior to end-of-course testing.

"It may not be the calendar," said Tears. "It may be something else."

"We have the second hardest curriculum in the state," said Danny Pickle of Spot Lowe Technology Center, supporting Tears.

"That's true," confirmed Ingram. "We're testing differently. A lot has changed." She said she didn't like the state Department of Education's simile, "We're building an airplane as we fly it," but didn't deny it was apt for education in Tennessee right now.

"They've got to up those scores," Ingram exclaimed. Professional development days "support teaching" if they're done right.

"We need to go back and talk and see where to put a third professional development day" while avoiding three-day and four-day weeks, Kennedy said.

She quoted Albert Einstein's definition of insanity - "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" - while urging committee members to consider changes to the calendar for the betterment of education.

"Change is hard," said Kristen Gold after the meeting. "Why doesn't Marshall County take the lead and let the others catch up with us?"

"I'd like one more discussion" of the calendar before the Board votes in February," Kennedy said. "We need to decide about a professional development day at the beginning of the school year, or at another time, and also about the length of fall break." Possible elimination of some or all of the "abbreviated days" when no buses run and school is over at 9:30 a.m. was also a talking point.

Board member Curt Denton was annoyed at the way the calendar committee did not appear to have worked with the teachers.

"We didn't work with the teachers last year," Curt Denton said. "That was one of my requests. The whole point is to get the board and teachers together and get input."

Curt Denton, like Kennedy, would like school to start later, when it's not so hot. Gold pointed out if school started later, the only way to get the right number of classroom days in the first half of the year would be to eliminate fall break, shorten Christmas vacation, and do end-of-course testing after Christmas, which no one seemed to want.

"We can talk about it at the January meeting," Kennedy finally said, as the penultimate meeting of school board members for 2011 drew to a close.