Contentious school calendar is set
A split vote by the Yuma-1 Board of Education approved the 2018-19 calendar option that was not recommended by the Calendar Committee, as well as being the less popular choice in a community survey.
The board approved “Option B” by a 3-2 vote, last week during its regular meeting, but not before extensive discussion. Voting in favor of Option B were Dan Ross, Lindsey Seward-Galles and Kim Langely, with Thomas Holtorf and Duane Brown voting against. It was preceded by a motion to approve Option A, which was defeated by a 2-3 vote, with Holtorf and Brown voting in favor.
Teachers Amy Melby and Sheri Morton represented the Calendar Committee before the board. Melby said the committee met several times, considered the needs for each building and department, and added that the committee members realize no calendar is going to make everyone happy or meet everyone’s needs.
She then recommended Option A, which featured a modified four-day school week. There would be five-day weeks at the beginning and end of the school year, transitioning to a four-day week in October and then transitioning back to a five-day week in April.
“This is not about teachers wanting to work less,” Melby stressed.
She said the calendar makes effective use of instructional time, and provides consistency for the students as well as professional development time for students.
Both calendars provide 161 contact days, which is three more than the current 2017-18 calendar.
Option B, more closely resembles this year’s schedule, which alternates between four-day and five-day weeks through much of the school year, except the off days in Option B for 2018-19 puts all the off days on Fridays instead of sometimes a Monday and other times a Friday.
Melby said the biggest struggle this year in the schools is the alternating between four-day and five-day weeks, coupled with sometimes Monday being the day off and other times Friday. She said Option B is better than the current calendar but is still inconsistent with the alternative between four-day and five-day weeks, which she said is particularly difficult for students and staff at the elementary level.
She stressed Option A is the most consistent, with the one transition to a four-day week in October, then the one transition back to a five-day week in April.
Option A also is supported by the vast majority of teachers. Each building principal surveyed each of its teachers in private, asking which option is the best for students academically. The support for Option A was 100 percent at Morris Elementary School, while it garnered 70 percent in both Yuma Middle School and Yuma High School.
“Please consider the experience of the teachers and recommend the best option to meet students’ needs,” Melby said.
A community survey also showed the most response for Option A.
Superintendent Dianna Chrisman gave the results of that survey. She said the idea was to receive input about the calendar, but the survey instead turned into a vote by those who took it. Out of 255 responses, 176 (69 percent) showed support for Option A, Chrisman said, and 48 (19 percent) for Option B. She said it was difficult to tell which way the respondents leaned in the other 31 responses. Chrisman added that the Spanish-language survey results were consistent with the other responses.
Morton told the board the alternating weeks are hard on the students. She said it is difficult to explain, but it is something one can tell in the classroom. She said those who will need daycare will know for sure they will need it on Fridays from mid-October through mid-April.
Morton noted many area districts with four-week days have many less teacher-student contact days than what the Yuma-1 calendar calls for.
Board member Ross said he considers the student-teacher contact hours, not days, to be more important, and he is interested in maintaining those contact hours.
There have been some hard feelings created through this current calendar process, including a letter sent to the board that apparently took some personal shots at the board members if they did not support Option A. (The letter was acknowledged but not read in public at the meeting.)
Ross noted he also is a parent and he also has done a lot of studying on the issue, and has decided Option B is best for the students. He acknowledged the teachers made valid points.
“I don’t know if we would ever come to 100-percent agreement,” Ross said. “We have some of the best teachers around, bar none, so I don’t want anyone to be upset tonight when we get done voting, one way or the other…the decisions we make are not personal.”
He said his research on four-day weeks revealed some good point and some bad points. He said it boils down to why going to a four-day week is being done, such as for cost savings. Ross added he feels Option B is consistent.
Board member Galles said she thought the survey results were not as clear to her as Chrisman presented them. She stressed that the board members have heard both sides of the issue.
“It’s not like we don’t value your opinion, but we have to look at everybody’s opinion as a board,” she said. “I have to put aside my personal thoughts.”
She said the board has done its research, and board members have talked to other districts. She said she really believes in the five-day school week, but that there has to be compromise and she felt Option B is the best compromise.
Galles stressed Yuma-1 has great staff and students, that she really values the staff, and her decision is nothing personal against teachers.
Brown took his turn, explaining he did a lot of reading on the impact of four-day weeks on students and could not find anything where it harms students. He said four-day weeks clearly are becoming more popular in western states. He noted that the majority of teachers and survey responses show support for Option A.
“For me, Option A is a good compromise that gets people to where they want to be,” Brown said.
He also noted that a four-day week also helps in teacher recruiting, particularly with many area districts already on four-day weeks.
“I look at this and, okay we are not really going to a four-day week…but we’re putting a good compromise together,” he said
Brown said he is completely in favor of Option A, and pointed out the calendar is addressed every year, so it could always be changed next year if it does not work out.
Board member Holtorf said he had been on the fence, but he decided on Option A as it came down to what Brown mentioned, teacher recruitment.
“The reality is if we want to get the teachers we want, Option A is more attractive,” he said.
Holtorf said that honestly it does not really matter to him as there is the same amount of days in each calendar, and noted that his one child still in school often is gone on Fridays anyway for athletics. He also said the ideal for him is the five-day week. However, he said there will be several positions to fill in coming years as teachers retire, and once again stressed that Option A makes it more attractive for prospective students. He also noted the district already is on a “ping-pong” four-day week anyway.
Board member Langely said she wished what had been presented by the teachers at the meeting had been said earlier, but added she realized it is a tight time frame getting all the calendar work done.
However, she said she does not like the book-ending of five-day weeks at the start and end of the school year. She said she has heard from people who would rather have the four-day weeks early and late in the year with five-day weeks in middle, and also have heard from people who would rather have Mondays off instead of Fridays.
Langely noted the Calendar Committee does not have an easy job, but neither does the board, and board members do not get paid. She works for Smithfield, which is the biggest employer in Yuma County. Langely said feedback from employees is it will be difficult on them having each Friday off in regards to daycare, and there will be instances where the older children will have to babysit the younger ones.
Langely referenced the letter mentioned above. One of the statements in the letter, she said, was that if the board does not support the calendar committee, then people should not support decisions made by the board.
“I think that’s offensive because every board decision that we make is ultimately for the students, for the staff, for the teachers. That’s why we’re here,” she said. “…We’re put in the most difficult position of all.”
Langely said it was mentioned to her about teachers having more free days to make appointments. She said they already have a lot of free days for appointments, more than most working people, and that it just takes some advanced planning.
“Even if 5 to 10 percent of kids benefit from more contact throughout the school year, it’s important,” she said.
During the discussion, Chrisman also noted that several responses from the surveys asked why teachers need so many professional development days. She said education requires much more than just what happens during student-teacher contact time. Chrisman explained that 579 of the district’s roughly 780 students are on some kind of individualized plan. Teachers are split into three-teacher teams to work on those plans, which average 20 students per three-teacher team. She said working on those plans takes up the majority of professional development days, which leaves little time for other professional development.
In the end, the board voted as reported above, with Option A first being defeated on a 2-3 vote, followed by Option B being approved on a 3-2 vote.
The 2018-19 calendar is not on district website yet, yumaschools.org, as some final details are being addressed, such as the dates for graduation and eighth-grade promotion.