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School board discusses next year’s calendar

by Amber McDown

The Webster Parish School Board meeting on March 13 focused primarily on the school calendar for the 2023-2024 school year. 

The past two years, Webster Parish schools have been using the “balanced” calendar, which included a shorter summer break to reduce “summer slide” as well as intersession breaks which not only gave extended breaks during the school year but also provided opportunities to give struggling students more intensive learning. 

The balanced calendar was first approved following the shutdown of schools during the COVID pandemic. During COVID, students across the nation got further and further behind on their educational goals due to a number of factors including significant absences. The intention behind the use of the balanced calendar was to find ways to help students return to their pre-COVID performance on state testing. 

The district now has data to show that students are improving and getting closer to pre-COVID levels. For example, when comparing Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) scores of kindergarten through 2nd grade students who attended the fall intersession, 62% of those students improved their composite scores; 100% of the kindergarten students improved, 49% of the 1st grade students improved, and 72% of the 2nd grade students improved. When comparing LEAP test scores, 100% of school indexes increased from 2021 to 2022 for the 3rd through 5th graders, and 75% of schools increased for the 5th through 8th graders. In 2022, 9 out of 14 schools in Webster Parish scored higher on the LEAP than in 2019, which was before the COVID shutdown. Overall, the district scores exceeded the 2019 scores.

Another benefit of the balanced calendar is that it gives both students and teachers more frequent breaks, so they are more prepared mentally and physically to learn and teach. In a survey that asked teachers “do you feel the balanced calendar has offered more opportunities for employees to refresh and recharge throughout the school year,” almost 72% of teachers who responded agreed. The traditional calendar does not include the intersession breaks that the district has been using for remediation and enrichment classes.

Regardless of whether the balanced calendar or the traditional calendar is selected, school will still begin in early August. This is because the schools that are on the block system (four subjects per semester rather than seven, and with longer class periods) need to have 84 days of school completed before the Christmas break. The proposed balanced calendar currently has students starting school on August 3 and ending on May 28. The proposed traditional calendar has students starting school on August 10 and ending on May 14. Both calendars await set testing dates before being finalized, then they can be voted on.

The Webster Parish School Board meets at the school board office, which is located at 1442 Sheppard Street in Minden. The next meeting will be held on April 3 at 6 PM.

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