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Schools consider shorter summer vacations

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County schools are being invited to adopt a new calendar that would reshape the academic year in a manner that would shorten the traditional summer vacation. In exchange for some shorter breaks, supporters believe the change would allow for more staff development, tutoring for students who need it most, and work-study arrangements involving kids and local businesses.
At issue is the so-called “Calendar 2.0” that is being spearheaded by some Chittenden County schools who would like to see it used throughout the Champlain Valley and perhaps eventually throughout the entire state.
“For the past six years, (Vermont superintendents) have been having a discussion about the school calendar” and how it could be improved, explained Chittenden South Supervisory Union Superintendent Elaine Pinckney, co-president of a the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association, which includes the combined total of 18 supervisory unions in Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties,
“This is a conversation that needs to be had.”
State law requires that public schools maintain a minimum of 175 instructional days, a number the proposed Calendar 2.0 would honor but apportion differently than the current, conventional academic calendar that reflects a lengthy summer vacation. The Champlain Valley superintendents have been imagining new calendars that would shave a few weeks off summer vacation, which would start on June 22 and end on Aug. 20. In addition, the school year would be interspersed with some additional break time, including a week-long or 10-day break in October, a week to 10 days off in late April/early May, along with the traditional Christmas, Thanksgiving and February vacations.
It is a calendar that would assure teachers their contractually guaranteed in-service and staff development days, according to Pinckney. Teachers could be invited back into the school, at per diem wages, during breaks to tutor students, according to Pinckney. That per diem salary could be funded through the summer school budget and/or other funds earmarked for services for students who currently aren’t making the grade, according to Pinckney and Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jay Nichols, another supporter of Calendar 2.0.
“We are trying to do it in a way that is cost-neutral,” Nichols said.
Students who are performing well in class could use the newly created break time(s) to further their education through internships at area businesses or in other venues, Pinckney noted.
Supporters believe it would be a worthwhile investment in what they said would be an education system equipped to deliver learning opportunities “anytime, anywhere,” while minimizing the amount that students forget during the lengthy summer vacation.
AUGUST 2014 START EYED
Pinckney said she and her colleagues would like to see Calendar 2.0 implemented in time for the 2014-2015 academic year. Proponents will spend the coming months tweaking the calendar based on input they will solicit from teachers, parents, students and business leaders, all of whom are likely to have strong opinions on a potential scheduling shakeup. The new calendar would, among other things, require parents to reconfigure vacation plans and line up supervision and/or activities on the new no-school days.
In the meantime, local superintendents are cautiously evaluating Calendar 2.0. They said there are no firm plans at this point to implement it in Addison County, though local school communities will get a chance to hear about it and weigh in on it.
“I predict we will take a wait-and-see approach with this,” Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Gail Conley said. “The impetus for this is coming from Chittenden County. There are a lot of complications that need to be resolved.”
Conley will retire on June 30 and will be succeeded by newly hired Superintendent Peter L. Burrows. Conley said he believes Calendar 2.0 has many academic merits, but acknowledged that its implementation would require a “serious period of adjustment.
“To be successful, it would require a buy-in from parents, teachers and the communities at large,” he said.
Addison Northeast Superintendent David Adams said there are no immediate plans to put Calendar 2.0 in place in the Bristol-area schools, though he called it an “exciting proposal” that could provide some new opportunities for students and teacher training.
“(Calendar 2.0) is a way to begin this conversation to provide a new structure of learning for our students,” Adams said. “This is a very exciting time for us to be talking about this.”
AGRARIAN CYCLES
Many Addison County schools are tied into an agrarian calendar, officials noted. It’s a calendar that has historically ensured that young people were available to help out at farms or at home at key harvest times.
Addison Northwest Superintendent Tom O’Brien said Vergennes-area schools have made no decision on Calendar 2.0. he noted ANwSU officials have been adjusting school days in other ways, such as extending, maximizing and making more flexible the amount of time that students spend in the classroom.
He anticipated school directors will take a look at the Calendar 2.0 proposal. Like Conley and Adams, O’Brien anticipates that local parents in particular will raise concerns about how the new calendar would affect their work and vacation schedules.
“It requires managing,” he said.
Schools that adopt the new calendar would have to coordinate with their local vocational-technical center.
Teachers, meanwhile, have thus far heard little about Calendar 2.0.
Lisa Beck is chief negotiator for the Addison Central Education Association, which represents teachers in the elementary schools of Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge.
“Teachers here have not been a part of any of the conversations and have not had an opportunity to talk about (Calendar 2.0),” Beck said.
Speaking as an individual, Beck said she is concerned about the potential impacts on families and continuity in the classroom, which she fears could be disrupted by newly created schedule breaks. She also wonders if organizers will indeed be able to find the necessary funding to pay for the plan.
But Pinckney believes the pros of the new calendar outweigh the cons.
“The main thing is, the calendar supports student learning,” Pinckney said. “It provides lots of opportunities for interventions for kids and opportunities for embedded professional development for teachers. It provides opportunities for kids to do applied learning and expand individualized choices that they might have.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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