At least for now, the balanced (year-round) school calendar is off the drawing board at Nevada.
A year ago, the district began conversation about implementing a balanced calendar. Interested staff were invited to participate and a committee was formed.
According to Superintendent of Schools Steve Gray, the main reason for exploring the concept of a balanced school calendar was based around wanting to improve the educational setting for non-proficient students — particularly those of low socioeconomic status (SES). The SES subgroup is growing and now makes up nearly 40 percent of the Nevada student population.
"The committee found that, although the research was not overwhelming, there was some research to support a greater retention of learning when breaks in instruction were limited to no more than six weeks," Gray said. There was documentation showing that low SES students do not have the same learning opportunities as their more affluent peers when away from school.
A balanced school calendar takes the required 180 days needed for the school year and spreads them out more evenly throughout all 12 months of the year, thus eliminating the traditional summer break in favor of shorter breaks during the course of the year.
But, after going through a flow chart that included research, information in the school newsletter, presentations to community groups, a question-and-answer piece in the newspaper and gathering of feedback, a recent survey of the school’s employees showed that there was not enough "critital mass of staff support to overcome the barriers the new calendar would present," Gray said, noting that the barriers cited most by staff were both personal and professional.
Gray said through an email address, created by the school district to provide an avenue for input on this topic, the district received some input, 75 percent of which, he estimated, was positive. He also said that feedback from the committee’s presentations to around 10 service groups in the community was also mostly positive.
The change to a balanced calendar, however, would require significant change. "That change would be complicated by many interconnected factors involving our larger society. In short, we would be a bit of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to many of the societal activities connected to our lives," Gray said. Some of those activities, he added, include secondary schedules, child care, recreation, student activities and employment.
Gray said he never took a "position" on the balanced school calendar, but he did express interest in moving the topic away from the committee table and into the staff and community for feedback. It was determined, however, that if at any time it appeared there was not enough support to continue to move forward, they would end the discussion.
"The end result is that we will need to go back to the drawing board to tackle our original problem — nonproficient students, particularly among our low SES subgroups. We are confident that our commitment to staff training and professional development will make a difference, resulting in improved instruction and student achievement," Gray said.
Remediation opportunities are also likely, Gray added, but noted that these take time and money. "Without the intermediate breaks of a balanced school calendar to allow for timely remediation, we are primarily left with a summer school option." He said the funding of that will require some creativity, as the current school finance formula is not structured to support a great deal of staffing outside the regular contract.
Gray commends the district for taking a hard look at these types of topics. "Our world is changing and our learning models need to change as well. Student needs are changing, and therefore our service needs to change. Nevada is fortunate to have committed and solution-focused professionals willing to volunteer their time and energy to topics like balanced calendar."