I was delighted to read the Letters to the Editor in last weeks edition of the Hudson Herald! If you haven't had a chance to read this edition yet, I would encourage you to do so. Several of our high school students wrote letters of support for an academic calendar that would have the first semester concluding at Winter Break. Before getting into specific arguments for or against this option, I wanted to thank you all for writing appropriate letters with sound arguments and respectful dialogue. You have exercised your Constitutional right to Free Speech in an honorable fashion. Your Government and English teachers should be proud!
At the board meeting on Monday I presented four calendar options for consideration, none of which considered ending first semester before Winter break. These calendars merely used a similar start/stop formula that was in place when I arrived. My focus for the academic calendar has been [on] adding additional early dismissal days for our teachers to align the Iowa Core Curriculum with fidelity through the implementation of professional learning communities (more on that later).
During our discussion on Monday evening, the board expressed support for adding extra early dismissal days, and narrowed the options presented. When I spoke about the letters these youngsters wrote to the paper, our discussion shifted to "Is this a feasible option and, can we do this?" I promised to look at an option that considered a semester configuration like this, and would present that scenario at the next board meeting.
So the letters that these students wrote had an impact! However, it would be a misstatement to assume the calendar is going to change to this configuration. At this point we have opened a dialogue, sparked a conversation, and taken something under consideration. We have some pretty big hurdles to overcome.
The biggest challenge is inequity between the terms. The school year is 180 days, and it is desirable to have semesters of equal length, otherwise first semester classes may not have the required amount of seat time, or worse yet not be able to cover all the curriculum for the course. Consider this year for example. The last day before Winter Break was day number 84. If that were the end of the semester, second semester would be 96 days in length. A 12 day difference in length of semesters is extreme. This would almost certainly eliminate the use of zero days in our calendar, (the day before break when students have a more relaxed learning environment). This year we have had a pretty uneventful winter, but there would need to be consideration given to what would happen if there were snow days during the first semester, or worse yet snow days during the semester exam period!
Here is the good news though: this has provided an opportunity to evaluate the academic calendar through a new lens. Perhaps there is a way to craft a calendar that enables the first semester to end before Winter Break, and create some unique and innovative features in the way we deliver instruction. I guess we will have to see!