Sunday, February 10, 2013

Academic Calendar 2013-2014

The Board of Directors is expected to adopt the calendar for the 2013-2014 school year following a public hearing on February 18th. I thought that since our public hearings typically don't garner a large following, it would be appropriate to offer some insight into the calendar and explain some of the new features for next year. 

As a matter of full disclosure, it makes little difference to me when school begins or ends, so long as we meet the prescribed days of attendance to meet the law. The calendar development process is collaborative. I spend time developing a couple of different options and present them to a group of teachers for review and input. Afterward, they are shared with the School Improvement Advisory Committee. Obviously the Board of Directors has the final say, and after they have a chance to provide input, the calendar is 'finalized' for presentation at the hearing. After hearing input from the public, the board can either move forward and adopt the calendar, or they can send it back for further work. Since the calendar has generally been a pretty benign issue, I presume the calendar will be adopted after the meeting next week. That being said, there are a few difference that you may be interested in learning more about. 

I have included a copy of the calendar below, my apologies that it may not be very easy to read, it had to be reduced to fit on these pages. If you would like to see a full size copy, please feel free to contact my office.

You may recall last year that the legislature had a spirited debate toward the end of the session regarding the school start date and the fact that many Iowa school districts do not follow Iowa, but instead receive a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education in order to start early. 

Under current law, school may not start before the week in which September 1st occurs, but school districts may start earlier if they receive a waiver from the Department. The majority of school districts in Iowa do request and are rewarded a waiver. The waiver is pretty much automatic, but this particular issue may be brought up again during the current legislative session.

Hudson's calendar follows the same start/stop formula as in the past, so we will once again be requesting the waiver. The trouble of course is that if the legislature makes a change this could cause a lot of consternation with school districts needing to all of a sudden change the calendar after contracts are signed and professional development is scheduled. If the legislation changes one has to assume we would have at least a year to plan for it. But anyway, school is slated to begin in Hudson for the 2013-2014 school year on August 15. I know what you are thinking, it seems earlier and earlier each year! Why do we do it?

Probably the biggest reason is that in recent years we have made an attempt to end our first semester prior to Winter Break. Additionally, it is tradition in Hudson to have a full week of spring break which aligns with the University of Northern Iowa. Without the early start date, it would be impossible to end the first semester before Winter Break or have a full week of Spring Break without school carrying into June.

Speaking of breaks, this year we are proposing two full weeks of break during the Winter. 

The biggest departure from previous calendars that you may notice is the early dismissal schedule for professional development. Please take note that the district is proposing a weekly early dismissal at 1:30. Why? There are a lot of reasons for this change.

Last year the Iowa legislature passed a law that requires teachers to work collaboratively outside the normal instructional day for a minimum of 36 hours. Many school districts are approaching this in a variety of ways and can use normal professional development to achieve this goal as long as teacher collaboration is a key component of the equation. In Hudson, the weekly early dismissal seems like a natural transition to this model.

We will be beginning our second year implementing the Professional Learning Communities at Work model with our teachers, where collaboration among peers is of paramount importance. Because of the large number of shared faculty and complex instructional schedule that we have in our district, it is difficult to schedule collaborative meetings with our teachers where they can all be available. By implementing a district wide early dismissal, it makes it much more viable to implement the PLC model with fidelity.

So what can you expect teachers to be doing during this early release time? The faculty will be answering four critical questions regarding the progress of your child's learning:
  1. What is it we expect our students to know? (Development of essential learning outcomes)
  2. How will we know they have achieved mastery? (Results of Common Formative Assessments)
  3. What will we do for children who have mastered the content? (Enrichment)
  4. What will we do for children who have not mastered the content (Remediation)
The work of the faculty will be focused on the analysis of data gleaned from the common formative assessments and designing instruction to meet the needs of students identified in questions three and four. We are tentatively planning for the first hour of our professional development to focus on those key areas. The second hour of professional development will consist of our elementary staff working on the development of essential learning outcomes in the area of reading with a goal of developing a recommendation for a new reading curriculum, while the high school focuses on 21st Century Skills and preparing for the implementation of the 1:1 Project in the high school.

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