The new schedule for the 2013-2014 school year, which will bring students back to school two weeks earlier and also extend the last month of classes by a week, is meant to keep students from falling behind and improve graduation rates. In order to achieve these goals, the school district targeted the summer months that have shown the largest amount of retention loss.
“One of the main things is that the summer is shortened by about three weeks, so that reduces learning loss,” said Bryn Lapenta, WCSD Senior Director of Student Accounting. “What the teacher ends up teaching in the spring and early summer will be picked up more easily again in the fall.
“This allows us to pool the resources so that we don’t have 14 different start times. The kids will be able to be in school and hit the ground running on the first day. The Washoe Education Association has been supportive of the calendar change and the teachers are really in support of it. I think what we need to do as we move forward is monitor the effectiveness of the change to make sure we’re meeting the goals and strategic plan that we weren’t and caused us to move this way.”
In order to counter the shortened summer, the Balanced Calendar will include a week-long fall break in October, as well as an additional week to both winter and spring breaks. These extended breaks will allow the WCSD to take another step towards improving graduation rates and reducing learning loss by implementing a system to ensure students do not fall behind.
“I like the idea that we will have a week in October, three weeks around Christmas and two weeks in April that we can do remediation for students and hopefully get them on track to graduate,” Reed Principal Mary Vesco said. “It’s going to offer more time for remediation. If we see that some students are falling behind in October, this will give them the opportunity to work with people and get that work made up in those classes. That’s the most important thing to do.
That’s why we’re here, to get them ready for the world of a university and the world of work. If we can get them caught up on classes, that will be very crucial.”
Although the WCSD wanted to reduce retention loss by reducing the summer break, it is not worried about students not being able to recall their curriculum after the fall, winter and spring breaks.
“There is research on this that where the loss starts to occur somewhere between 4-6 weeks,” Lapenta said.” So if you have a three-week break, it won’t affect that.”
Another aspect of the new school calendar, which is only approved for a year, that many people point to as a pro is that high school students will now take finals for the first semester before winter break, rather than after.
“I like the idea that the semester will end before the winter break so that the kids aren’t coming back for a week and then taking final exams,” Vesco said. “That will all be done before winter break now and I think that’s very important for the kids. There’s a lot of kids who really struggle and stress over exams and I think this change will be helpful to them.”
While there are plenty of benefits that the school district points at, the schedule change has raised some questions.
“My concern is how it is going to be paid for and exactly what programs are we using,” Vesco said. “Another concern that I have is will the kids that need to use those programs for remediation come during those weeks when they know everyone else is on vacation. That’s a concern. Until we’re there and doing it though, we just don’t know. The downside of it is it’s a paradigm shift for all of us. You just have to adjust to it and do it though.”