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Necessary Change
by Garrett Valenzuela
Feb 07, 2013 | 4005 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo -- Students in Washoe County School District will be heading back to school early this fall as the new WCSD calendar takes effect Aug. 12 and will be in place for two years. The calendar will be reviewed by the WCSD Board of Trustees while it is in place in the coming years.
Tribune file photo -- Students in Washoe County School District will be heading back to school early this fall as the new WCSD calendar takes effect Aug. 12 and will be in place for two years. The calendar will be reviewed by the WCSD Board of Trustees while it is in place in the coming years.
SPARKS -- Ready or not, the new Washoe County School District calendar will be in place for two years beginning in the fall of this year. A shorter summer, longer winter break and week-long breaks between quarters are new features students, parents, teachers and administrators will have to get used to.

Though the WCSD Board of Trustees decided to put the calendar under a review process before the two years is finished, Sparks-area principals feel the bulk of the changes, such as the early start date and extended winter break, will remain in effect.

Early Start Date of Aug. 12

Shortening the summer was a major topic of discussion in developing the new calendar. Proponents say the reduced time off keeps students from needing to be refreshed once returning to school in the fall.

“I think we will have less loss of learning with a shorter summer and we will spend less time bringing students back up to speed when the new semester starts,” Tasha Fuson, principal at Spanish Springs High School, said. “I personally like the fact that summer will be shorter, as a parent of three children, the summer is a very long period of time and my own children are getting bored near the end.”

Fuson said the district’s calendar will more closely align with the college calendar allowing for more partnerships with the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College. Kevin Carroll, principal at Sparks Middle School, said his school has already begun making those connections with UNR to bring education students into the school for their practicum and internships and, in turn, he speaks to classes at the university to help bring youthful teachers into the district.

“I think there has been a disconnect there for so long,” Carroll said, “And the university teaches some new things, and our teachers are learning some new things as well, We want to share that information and I think it is going to be much better for everybody.”

Extended Winter Break

The new calendar allows for a three-week Winter Break from Dec. 23 to Jan. 10 adding one week to the current calendar’s break. The first semester, in contrast to the current calendar, will also end before Winter Break and not force students to return from break before taking final tests.

“I am excited for the next two years because I am hoping the data is going to show that it is good for all students,” Jennifer Van Tress, principal at Van Gorder Elementary School, said. “I have a high school student and it is so frustrating that he has to spend his time over Christmas Break studying for finals or the stress of having two weeks off and going in to take finals. It is not in the best interest of students to have two weeks off and try to come back and remember what they learned.”

Fuson said she feels the high school parents and community members had much to do with the decision to move the end of the grading period to before Winter Break. She said when the Board of Trustees reviews the calendar there is likely to be minor tweaks, but thinks the calendar stands to benefit students and parents.

“We need to work with our parents, community members and our families and see if it is impacting our community in ways we may not have thought of,” Fuson said. “I’m sure there will be things we haven’t thought of while we are on this side and planning all these things, but after we try it for a year we can find the impact and get the feedback.”

Fall Break and Extended Spring Break

The WCSD has built in Fall Break from Oct. 14-18 and extended Spring Break by one week, taking place from March 31 through April 11. The breaks, supplemented by Winter and Summer breaks, allow for a week or more between grading periods.

For students, it may seem like more time on the couch easing their brains, but principals district-wide have already made plans for those breaks to help bring up graduation rates and stifle the need for students to require remediation.

“What I do see Sparks (Middle School) doing during those breaks is providing intervention for students and credit recovery for students as well as professional development for teachers if they choose to do that,” Carroll said.

Van Tress said her school will employ similar strategies during the breaks to help identify and aid students who may be struggling. She said accelerated courses are also an option for students who are on track and looking for a new challenge.

“If students are achieving, we want to give them a chance for extra credit work and some fun things as well,” Van Tress said. “We will be looking at those extra weeks to be able to do that and meet the needs of all our kids.”

At the high school level, Fuson said she plans to use credit recovery programs to help students who have fallen off the graduation track or who may have failed a class. She said those programs can give students any needed remediation, especially for seniors planning to graduate, or supplemental learning they wish to receive during the extended breaks.

“We have the avenue of intensive tutorial reteaching and filling in the gaps for kids and being able to regain those credits in a timely manner, instead of having students have to count on seat time in a classroom,” Fuson said of her A Plus credit recovery program. “It’s huge because if they have failed a course only on a specific part, and not the entire class, they will not have to retake the entire lectured class if they are able to pass it on the standardized test. It makes it more meaningful for the kids and not feeling like their time is being wasted on seat time.

“We will also be able to offer test preps for proficiency exams where typically we would have to take them out of their class, thus saving them instructional time in their other classes.”

No More Multi-Track

Van Gorder Elementary and Spanish Springs Elementary are two Sparks schools being removed from the multi-track year-round (MTYR) calendar due to rezoning structures and calendar approval by the district. The school’s will now have the same start and finish date as all others in the district, rather than having 75 percent of children beginning at one time while the other 25 percent are on a different track, beginning on an alternate date.

“It is important for us to all be on the same calendar so our families can be together,” Prim Walters, principal at Spanish Springs Elementary School, said. “As far as what is best for kids, I think when I have all of them here at the same time it is more productive. I think there won’t be any breaks (for different tracks), and sometimes that is good and sometimes it’s bad, but I think we will be more consistent.

“I see the professional development I can provide for my teachers being more consistent and productive which, in turn, will hopefully make sure my students are more successful. I think the biggest indicator will be student achievement because we are trying to remediate in high school and if we are getting more students to graduate because we are giving them some extra time and extra help, it will provide evidence for the calendar.”

Van Tress resides on the calendar committee for WCSD and said when the time does come for the review of the calendar’s effectiveness there will be a number of things to look at, most importantly student achievement and evidence to support it.

“The calendar, the way it is right now, is a barrier to credits and walking across the stage for graduation,” Van Tress said. “I know change is hard. In my personal life I am giving up my August vacation time, which I have been doing for close to 20 years. So I understand what is being sacrificed, but as a parent I want to make sure my school is doing everything possible to make sure my kids are successful. I think this is just one step in the right direction of making sure our kids are college and career ready.”
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