Questions on DeKalb’s adoption of a balanced calendar. Why all the tinkering with calendars?

A DeKalb teacher sent me some good questions on the district’s adoption this week of a balanced calendar with a shorter summer and more breaks during the year.

It is interesting how much time is devoted to calendar debates in metro Atlanta. Cobb is going to revisit its calendar again, too, even though adoption of a balanced calendar a few years back led to a rapid reversal and turnover on the school board. None of the options under review in Cobb is a balanced calendar.

Spurred by the travel and vacation industry, North Carolina passed a law in 2004 that schools cannot open until Aug. 25.  The law gained some flexibility this year and now says the opening date can be “no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26” and closing date “no later than the Friday closest to June 11.”  Districts can seek waivers and many do.

So far, I have only heard from folks in DeKalb unhappy with the new calendar, but I am sure there are parents and teachers who are pleased with it. Any of you out there willing to comment?

Here is what the teacher wrote:

How did the district determine “teacher support” of the balanced calendar? The survey was given to “certified staff,” not just teachers. Therefore, certified school and county administrators – employees whose contractual days are different from teachers – could also vote.

But the survey did not ask which type of certified staff was choosing the calendar. And there was nothing to indicate that the surveys were tracked, so it seems that someone supporting one calendar over another could make as many copies as he’d like. Exactly how much did the board know about this survey before voting on the calendar?

If the need for this balanced calendar is to reduce the “brain drain” that takes place during the longer summer break, is the district planning on changing the 4X4 block schedule that so many of its high schools now use?

With this block schedule, a student could finish his math studies in December and have to wait until the following August to continue his math studies. Isn’t seven months away from instruction more detrimental than eight or nine weeks?

Since the superintendent cited Decatur and Rockdale as examples of districts using the balanced calendar, it would be interesting to know if they changed their instructional schedules when they adopted the balanced calendar or why they use the alternating block schedule instead of the 4X4 block.

Why did the district tout the Gandara & Fish study (1994) of improved academic achievement among at-risk students enrolled in schools using a balanced calendar but exclude such relevant details as smaller classes and increased instructional days?

Why did the 2013-2014 calendar have to be voted on this past Monday? And what was the reason for rushing the certified staff survey so that it was distributed on paper and given only one day for completion and submission.

Did the district analyze its utility and fuel bills for the first week of August, the three days in the first week in October, the third week in February, and the last work week of May to determine that cooling buses and schools for two more hot weeks won’t cost the district more money? I thought the district implemented a four-day work week in some of June and all of July just so it could save $250,000 on utility bills, so it appears that the district has recognized utility costs in other circumstances.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

36 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

October 12th, 2012
9:09 am

We got played, plain and simple. This was always going to turn out the way Dr. Atkinson wanted it to.

As far as the 4×4 block issue, I submitted a question for Dr. Atkinson’s Parent Roundtable at DHS on 10/29, asking her to discuss the discrepancies between the need for a shorter summer to alleviate “brain drain”, but the district’s insistence on keeping the 4×4 in which many students may go 8+ months without Math/Science. We’ll see if she addresses this issue.

Georgia Teacher

October 12th, 2012
9:15 am

I am not sure what the calendar is like in DeKalb, but the one we use in Cherokee is great. We never go more than seven weeks without a week break and it leaves seven weeks in the summer.

I will let our numbers speak for themselves on how the students are doing. That said, we are not on a block schedule, so it is not really comparing apples to apples.

Concernedmom30329

October 12th, 2012
9:15 am

The calendar committee was lied to in DeKalb. The members were told that AC was on all summer, even if no one was in the school. The reality is, unless the school is open for a camp or summer school, the AC is off except in the Central Office.

Mortimer Collins

October 12th, 2012
9:23 am

Why all the tinkering? They have to justify their over-inflated salarys and egos.

AlreadySheared

October 12th, 2012
9:29 am

“Geez, if we only started two weeks earlier we’d have two more weeks to get ready for the high stakes ABCD test on April XX”.

Like standing up in a movie theater so you can see better, it only works if you do it and no one else does. Once everyone decides to stand up, you’re right back where you started from.

YeahBut

October 12th, 2012
9:38 am

It works great for everyone involved except students, and their parents. The struggle will be what to do with the kids when they have the time off that doesn’t fall into the classical gaps the xmas and spring breaks incur. Its a little early to install the filter.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

October 12th, 2012
9:40 am

Atkinson gets what she wants and parents be damned because this is what’s going to lead us to “victory in every classrom”. Nevermind that 60% of those who pay Atkinson’s & teachers’ salaries wanted the calender unchanged…studies (that I haven’t been directed to or seen) say this will improve student achievement, and 68% of teachers (who aren’t talking to anyone) overwhelmingly support the balanced calendar. I can’t wait to for the BS to flow at the roundtables next week…

Henry County Mom

October 12th, 2012
9:47 am

I don’t have a problem with the proposed balanced calendar in DeKalb. It is similar to the calendar we use in Henry county. My elementary kids love the that they get scheduled breaks. We never go more than seven weeks without a week break and it leaves 2 months in the summer for vacation. I think that if the DeKalb parents give the balanced calendar a chance, they will come to love it.

Dekalb parent

October 12th, 2012
9:54 am

The tinkering is crazy. All this talk about shortening the summer break but after CRCT testing in the spring my kids are being taught nothing for the final three weeks of school in May. Given the budget deficits has anyone analyzed the county’s utility bill for cooling schools for the hottest month of the year (August) ?

Georgia and education not compatible

October 12th, 2012
10:17 am

Why all the tinkering…maybe the “DISTRICT” can add more furlough days without students missing more school. Who thinks that DeKalb WON’T have furlough days?

Old timer

October 12th, 2012
10:28 am

Maybe the testing should be moved to May…early May. Scoring could be done ore quickly. When I taught in TN we had scores on the Gateway scores back in a week. I wonder why it worked there and not here.

Old timer

October 12th, 2012
10:29 am

I meant to add….end school a little earlier as not. Much goes on anywhere after testing. Use the rest of May for remedial teaching.

Teacher Reader

October 12th, 2012
10:30 am

There is no data to show that shorter school breaks make for a better education. If our children aren’t learning subjects until mastery, shorter breaks, longer breaks, it won’t matter, because the kids don’t know it.

Atkinson is over head and doesn’t have a clue if school calendars and an early dismissal day each week are her top priorities in this district. Even buying boxed programs that cost millions after having similar programs in the past that have not helped increase the learning in our schools. Atkinson can’t depart soon enough, and Georgia is in trouble if the Charter School amendment does not pass, as without choice our public school districts will never have the kick in the pants to need to improve and actually focus on our children and their learning.

mystery poster

October 12th, 2012
10:43 am

These calendars are not balanced calendars, they simply have breaks during the year and a shorter summer.

A true balanced calendar has 10 weeks on, 3 weeks off all year.

bu2

October 12th, 2012
10:43 am

Texas also passed a law pushing the start date back to late August. Schools were getting earlier and earlier.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

October 12th, 2012
10:51 am

Sure, a balanced Dekalb calendar isn’t the end of the world. I’m just extremely frustrated at how we arrived at the decision. Why was the feedback of “certified employees” given more weight that parents? Who funds the system? This is Atkinson dictating the calendar she wants…plain & simple.

d

October 12th, 2012
10:52 am

Personally, I am happy with the calendar proposed for 2013-2014. I do hope, although I doubt that it will happen, that the administration decides against the early release.

catlady

October 12th, 2012
11:15 am

If we want students to do better, we should REWARD passing the CRCT with field trips and all kinds of fun activities for those who pass. The non-passers go on with regular, even enhanced, instruction for the last 4 weeks of school. This would be predicated on a quicker turn around on CRCT scores, and a willingness to spend some time and money on the ACHIEVERS (however limited that can be acertained, using the CRCT).

bootney farnsworth

October 12th, 2012
11:17 am

1-this is another example of smoke and mirrors, to give the crowd something else to think about while
Cheryl does what she wants to anyway.

2-Dunwoody mom put it well: we’ve been played

The Deal

October 12th, 2012
11:18 am

I’m with the Cobb Co. superintendent who said that it is what goes on inside each classroom that makes a difference for the children. “The calendar is a community choice.”

I also wish they would stop referring to DeKalb’s calendar as “balanced”. This is 6 days off through the entire school year. There is not a week-long break in October, only 3 days.

Regardless of the duration of the school year, why do we continue to start in early August? It makes no sense.

Jeff A. Taylor

October 12th, 2012
11:32 am

Maureen, I’m about to drop some truth on you.

We’re in our 2nd year in Cobb schools after 8 yrs. in Charlotte. The NC calendar change was aided SOME by powerful lawmakers with connections to the tourism industry, yes. But it had MUCH more to do with two money and public relations issues which reached deep into the edu-establishment in the state.

One, the belief that a later August starting date saved districts some on cooling costs (particularly districts festooned with trailers) and two — and by far MOST important — the two weeks of “class time” in June provided ample opportunity tutor and re-take end of year exams. That’s it.

Actual education stopped by Memorial Day in CMS and in virtually all NC districts. From then on it was either parties and movies or reviews and re-tests. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now from what I’ve seen, Cobb’s peripatetic fretting over calendars reduces to this — Cobb’s teachers, by-in-large, are lazy and spoiled. If they do not have a week off every few weeks to grade papers and tests they get cranky and annoy the administration. The admin also seems to like having a mid-October-ish break to function as a “reset” button to shuffle students around class levels depending on student performance at the eight-week mark. (A more insular and smug bunch of gate-keepers I’ve never encountered.)

I’d be shocked if the latest cal Cobb adopts does not have a week-long fall break. It was interesting that the Super’s own cal gambit had an end date of May 21st with no fall breaks — indicating to me his iron-clad opposition to going past Memorial Day. And as crazy as starting Aug. 1 with a fall break might be, running into June is pure unadulterated madness.

It is just beyond sad that all of Cobb’s high achieving students will be locked out of many enriching and challenging summer programs — fine arts especially — because staff has to have that Aug. 1st start date and their regular break time.

City of Decatur Parent

October 12th, 2012
11:43 am

I was on the City Schools of Decatur calendar committee a few years ago. If Dekalb’s committee meeting was anything like CSD’s, you did get played. Here’s how the Decatur meetings went. A central office representative comes in the room and says…”The superintendant has charged you with setting a balanced calendar. She would like the first semester to end before the winter break. She wants a week off every 6 weeks. A week off for Thanksgiving. Two weeks minimum for the winter break and spring break to fall in line with all the other systems.”

Given that the state mandates 180 days…that means you start at a designated first day of winter break and count backwards 90 days. You add in the 1 week breaks every 6 weeks and all the federal mandated holidays like Labor Day, which push that start date even further to the beginning of August. (August 1st for CSD) First semester is set. You then start after January 1st and count 90 days out and add in the 1 week breaks and holidays. And the second semester is set. There are generally 2 or 3 options depending length of winter break, if you want to start school on a Wednesday or Monday, when January 1st falls, etc.

Then the superintendant puts out a press release saying… Here are the 3 calendar options for next year. I had nothing to do with the decisions. It was all the calendar committee’s idea.

The parameters are so tightly controlled that as a committee member is no way to give her anything but the calendar she really wants. Several people brought print outs of calendar ideas from other states as well as studies showing various points of view. Those idea’s sat untouched on a table off to the side as there was no place on the agenda to discuss any other ideas but the ones the system wants you to discuss. It is smoke and mirrors.

Ghoti

October 12th, 2012
11:52 am

Don’t like the balanced calendar in Dekalb? Sign the petition!

dekalb-county-ga-school-board-no-to-the-balanced-calendar

Ghoti

October 12th, 2012
11:54 am

Rebecca

October 12th, 2012
12:03 pm

How do camps adjust and hire staff (many of which are highschoolers) if the calendar for each county is different? What do parents do with multiple weeks off during the year if camps, or other support are not available?

Dunwoody Mom

October 12th, 2012
12:14 pm

The calendar is “balanced” simply because there are 90 days of instruction scheduled per semester. Of course, this is before the teacher furlough days that will be coming. DCSS apparently does not have the capability of putting a budget together that does not affect the actual education of our children, i.e., instruction time. I’m hoping with a new Budget Committee (Paul Womack will be off the board), that next year’s budget can be established without further degrading our teachers and students. Time will tell.

There are many facets to a discussion of calendar changes, not just what to do with the children during these in-semester breaks. Dr. Atkinson chose not to have this discussion. Yes, I’m still furious.

Bill & Ed's Excellent Adventure

October 12th, 2012
12:44 pm

Our buddy Jay Cunningham will still be on that budget committee, so I don’t have a lot of confidence that next year’s DCSS budget will be any different than the current one.

big picture

October 12th, 2012
12:56 pm

With you DM; IMO she wanted this and “re-surveyed” the teachers – because of low turnout – (code name for central office employees) with the specification that the results should yield what she wanted. Moreover, she LIED to a board member at an open meeting, assuring that member that she would also resurvey parents by the decision date to ensure that more parents also could/would have the opportunity to respond. Then at the recent meeting indicated that she was unable to do so with the short turnaround allotted. SHE HAD NO INTENTION of further surveying parents and we ALL know it.

This is an utter mess. If there are a mass of children who are not LEARNING the material (reflected in her brain drain statements), then offer summer school to these children – meaningful summer lessons that push these kids forward. The problem is that the district has pushed forward “inclusion,” which stifles the prepared learners, and which prevents teachers from truly reaching down to assist the learners who need additional help. Summers could provide this, while allowing children who do not need additional assistance to gain access outside of the school system. The system COULD then provide meaningful assistance to those who need it. Indeed, wouldn’t we need fewer teachers then?

A mess. And Atkinson, in my books, has proven herself willing to lie to get what she wants. I wanted to support her, but watching her lie to a board member to get her way simply lost it for me. And the other idiots on the board bought what she was selling. Shame on them, they clearly do NOT think and do research for themselves. I used to fully support having a combined county. I used to oppose charters and vouchers. Because of the decision making and policies of the current board and super, my votes will now change. If the vote in Dekalb is overwhelming for charters, the school board (yes, I’m directing the comment to the board chair) has only itself (or its majority members) to blame.

Concerned DeKalb Mom

October 12th, 2012
1:32 pm

I would have no problem with a week off after 7 weeks of instruction IF THERE WERE EVER 7 WEEKS STRAIGHT OF INSTRUCTION.

This first 9 week marking period has been laughable at best in terms of direct contact time for students with teachers. As a DeKalb parent of a 1st grade student how much time that teacher has spent instructing his/her students. Between a school’s own internal assessments to begin the year, plus benchmarks, plus SLO’s, and now ITBS and CogAT…I don’t discount the fact that giving assessments mandated by an outside group and then evaluating those assessments and recording the data is exhausting for teachers. But my children have spent a MINIMAL amount of time learning in their classrooms.

The Deal

October 12th, 2012
1:50 pm

DM, you and I are in total agreement on this one. She’s been in office for over a year and hasn’t done anything to correct the brain drain that actually does happen with the block scheduling, as opposed to the fictional summer brain drain. That excuse holds no water.

Also, don’t put out a survey that you’re going to ignore anyway. It is actually more insulting to be asked and ignored than to be ignored in the first place.

I am also suspicious of the wording “certified staff”. This obviously means the central office all voted. Not that it matters anyway. Dr. Atkinson’s mind was made up anyway.

The thing that does confuse me is WHY she would do this. There is no benefit to her for all of the ill will it’s getting her. Unless other major initiatives are undertaken that focus on the students (zero chance of this), the test scores are not going to magically rise. Plus, what is the benefit to Dr. Atkinson, specifically, of this schedule since this decision was obviously so personal to her? I just don’t get it.

Disgusted in Dekalb

October 12th, 2012
4:30 pm

The Deal, you ask a great question. Clearly, Dr. Atkinson wanted a new calendar and all of the surveying was just a charade to enable her to introduce it as something everyone wanted. But why does she want a different calendar? It definitely won’t affect student achievement positively, and it could affect it negatively. So why? If, as some have surmised, Dr. Atkinson is going to use DCSS as a stepping stone to yet another overpaid position, perhaps she is already updating her resume. She can say that she took our backward school system from a traditional calendar to a balanced one; doesn’t that sound progressive?

My2Cents

October 12th, 2012
11:16 pm

So how on earth did people my age ever get decent test scores and graduate with the old school calendar that started after Labor Day? This nonsense needs to stop.

another comment

October 12th, 2012
11:26 pm

Dekalb used the infamous Monkey Survey. The same bogus survey, that revealed in Cobb County that 3 times as many teachers as Cobb County even employes, voted in the monkey survey. In Cobb those Crazed pro balanced, keep insisting that the monkey survey was a valid vote. Yeah an internet vote that allows anyone to vote in any category to vote as many times as they want is valid. In Cobb, several members of the board either didn’t run again and were replaced by people who wanted the traditional Calander back. Or were out right voted off like Holly Cash. Flip Flopper David Banks, who originally Campaigned on a traditional after Labor Day Calendar and then Flopped to Balanced, is the bozo, and fake conservative that has wasted thousands of taxpayers dollars keeping this going in Cobb County.

To prove my point about the fake Monkey Survey, even though I don’t live in Dekalb, and did not have my Computer in Dekalb at the time, I voted in the Monkey Survey. In fact I voted in the Monkey Survey at least 20 times in a period of 5 minutes. In all cases I voted for the traditional calendar, and for the Wednesday early release ( that works really well, my kids had it when I could afford Catholic School). The only variable in my vote was what type of Stake holder I was. At times I was a parent, student, teacher, community member, etc…

I believe that when Atkinson saw that both the Parent/Students were against the balanced Calander she then started handing out paper ballots to office workers and teachers. According to Dekalb Teachers and Staff on the Dekalb School Watch 2, they were forced that they would be top of RIF list if they did not vote for the Balanced Calender.

The Balanced Calanders are a big problems for parents and employers. I used to supervise 200 people in Dekalb county at a major employer. It is hard enough to coorinate leave for Christmas Holidays. Summer Break has always had enough camps then parents could alternate weeks, so you had coverage when your workforce spead out breaks. Spring Breaks was another Difficult scheduling week, but you could get employees to alternate year. To add weeks in the Fall and the Winter will only add more issues for employers. Also, University Camps for High Acheivers ussually run into the first or second week of August.

The big problem you have in Cobb is teachers who live in out lying counties like Cherokee, want this to be off with their kids. Then you have in Dekalb teachers who live in some of the Southern Counties that have it. Well here is an easy solution, if you want a teaching job in x school district then you are required to live in that district. The county can provide you with a $100K or $200K a year tax exeption on your County and School taxes to make the County more affordable for you to live in or they will just have to pay their teachers more.

We have to stop penalizing the good students. If some students can’t retain the school work and don’t have parents who make them read and do math facts over the summer. Then they can attend Summer School.

When my youngest daughter was at Catholic School she got lazy one year with the IOWA test and only scored in the 52% on the reading. The School expected all Students to score above 80% and they were a Blue Ribbon so they wanted all to be above 90%. She was more than Capable. So I live others whose kids screwed off got a flyer on Emery University Summer Reading School. It was 6 Classes on Sunday afternoon for about $550. The classed were about 2 hours they had to read 3 books which I had to buy. About midway through the sessions, the teacher asks me what is she doing their she is very bright. I said the Catholic school made me bring her to come back at the same grade next year,because she only got on the 52% or so on the IOWA test in Reading. He said she was reading at the 5th when she came in and she was a rising 4th grader and was at the 6th and the top kid in the class when she left. I said she probably just screwed off on the test.Oh well, I guess it taught her, she ruined 6 weekend of her summer break.

I don’t see the Public School giving Math fact books for the next year. In Catholic School every child was given one to complete by the begining of the next year of school. This was along with the reading list. We have never gotten any Math for Public School to do over summer.We also got no Summer reading list between 6th to 7th although my daughter has bought some 2″ thich book series that I am sure is way abobe the 7th grade level.

ellie

October 13th, 2012
7:17 pm

I wouldn’t mind Dekalb’s balance calendar if you worked 6 or 7 weeks and then you got a week off. But that’s not the way they are doing it. Until Feb. it’s a couple days here and a couple days there.

Instead of worrying about the calendar, they need to be worried about textbooks. There’s not even enough books to give all the students.

Teacher-Mom in Cobb

October 15th, 2012
6:59 pm

My students and I miss the balanced calendar in Cobb, and neither my students nor myself are “lazy and spoiled” as one of the commenters suggested. We just appreciate time off to recharge and get caught up.

Erin

October 16th, 2012
5:14 pm

As a former Dekalb educator, when the school system puts out the calendar, it was common knowledge that the teachers are just ’shown’ the calendar before everyone else. We already knew that the county office had made their decision and that asking us was just protocol. Many of the parents at my school didn’t even know that they had a say in what the next years calendar would be.

Fortunately I live in Rockdale and I LOVE the balanced calendar! When I worked for DCSD I would just save my vacation days. Having my kids out in October and February allows us to find great vacation deals and most places aren’t crowded. We very rarely travel in the summer now. I just need everyone to get on the same accord with Spring Break. Rockdale is one week and the rest of the metro area is another.