PITTSFIELD — SAD 53 and Maine Central Institute have reorganized the 2000-2001 school calendar, not to reflect weather and holidays, but rather to create educational blocks to better serve students.
SAD 53 officials believe the new structure will foster continuous student learning, reduce stress on teachers and children, and provide parents with a better system to track their children’s progress.
“We might as well lead as follow,” Superintendent Terrence McCannell said Tuesday. He said the changes were implemented after nearly five years of study. “We have stressed educational issues in the calendar creation rather than letting convenience be the guiding factor.”
Instead of an exhausting, 12-week block of classes at the start of school, followed by the Thanksgiving break, three weeks of classes, and then another holiday break, the school year has been divided into eight-week teaching blocks.
SAD 53 is one of three Maine districts that have adopted a similar block-style calendar, said McCannell.
The former four-quarter calendar system has been traditionally in effect in this country since 1904. Today the face of educational scheduling is changing to reflect society’s changes: More than 1.9 million students now attend year-round schools in 41 states.
The changes in the SAD 53 calendar don’t reflect a move to year-round classes, said McCannell, “but rather a part of a process of investigation.” Extending the school year is currently not an option, due to the exorbitant cost of air-conditioning the school buildings.
Nonetheless, year-round school is something both SAD 53 and the state will continue to investigate, he said.
Also being scrutinized is a change in the length of the school day.
“We will be looking at that, but it becomes a [teachers contract] negotiating issue,” said the superintendent.
Maine Central Institute’s curriculum director, Rosalie Williams, said the process of creating a new calendar was “at times, stormy.”
“As we prioritized what we needed to look at while creating the calendar, we put the students’ education first,” she explained.
Williams and Arnold Shorey, Warsaw Middle School interim principal, were part of a special committee that included teachers, parents and students which crafted the new calendar.
“This was something discussed for years,” said Williams, “but the consensus was always to wait until the state or the school districts around us made changes. We waited and waited.”
Finally, she said, the district and MCI decided to take a leadership role.
The most notable change in the calendar is vacation placement. For the coming school year, school will begin Aug. 29, with the first vacation coming the week of Oct. 23. Another week of vacation will take place over the Christmas holiday. The third vacation week will begin Feb. 26, and the traditional April vacation is much later than in previous years, starting April 30. Several long weekends are scheduled throughout the year, including Thanksgiving.
According to Williams, the blocks of learning time, which will be four eight-week sessions with a final five-week session, are much more manageable than the previous calendar, which established a 12-week session, a three-week session, and three seven-week sessions.
A priority, Williams explained, was the stress that seems to reach a peak in both students and staff in late fall. Williams said that even though she was on a teaching exchange in China this past fall, the stress that her teachers were under came through loud and clear in their e-mail messages.
By changing to eight-week educational blocks, said Williams, teachers will adapt their curriculums to that pattern. Also, she said, parents will receive progress reports at the end of each eight-week block, allowing them to track their children’s progress more closely.
“Studies indicate that less is forgotten by students over shorter vacations, and teachers spend less time reviewing,” the school official explained. “The new calendar requires our students to attend school for the same number of days. They are just arranged differently.”
The new calendar will now allow for athletes to have some vacation uninterrupted by practices and games. Teachers and others will have blocks of time for professional development, and a period of time will be available at the end of the school year for experiential education.
At a recent forum of Maine Central Institute’s parent advisory board, reviews of the new format were mixed. Some parents, particularly those who taught in neighboring school districts, were concerned that their vacations would not mesh with those of their children.
Others, however, said the national trend toward year-round school, partnered with the calendar’s emphasis on educational strengths, made it a workable, solid change.
Many parents at the meeting, however, were surprised by the calendar changes, which were passed by the SAD 53 school board more than a year ago. The board originally approved a two-year calendar, said McCannell, and waited more than a month before approving it, awaiting public opinion. “There was none,” he said.
The first calendar year, which is the current year, basically remained the same as past years, said Williams, to allow for an easy transition to next year’s changes.
“We’ll try it and see how it works,” was a comment made by more than one parent at the meeting.