In the monthly Webster Parish School Board meeting the board voted and passed to change the school year for the district into a balanced calendar.
In short, the balanced calendar would take some time from summer vacation, shortening it from 11 weeks to 7 weeks, and would add longer breaks of two weeks in between the nine week periods that class is in session.
“The summer vacation has been reduced by four weeks. Which means that our students, as well as our nine-month employees, will still enjoy a seven-week summer vacation. Then the other four weeks that have been there are taken and they’re redistributed into the calendar year to help form those three intersession periods,” said Johnny Rowland, Superintendent of the Webster Parish School Board.
“We certainly will have changes and adaptations we have to make, but that’s what we’re charged to do, see where we can make it better, and then make those changes.”
Specifically, the 2021/2022 school year will start in August, and the first 9 week period will begin, followed by a two week intersession period from Oct. 11 through Oct. 22. The intercessions for the winter and spring nine week periods is Feb 14 through Feb. 25 and April 11 through April 22 respectively.
Breaks will still be allotted for Thanksgiving, still receiving a weeklong break, and Christmas/New Year’s, still being a two week long break. This, on top of other, single day holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day, etc.
Part of the reason for this change to the traditional calendar is that it will allow the parish to better respond to students who are falling behind during the school year.
“We have so many students with a pandemic that are behind and we really have to put our major focus on those kids,” said Rowland.
“Over time, we want to become like other schools that have this calendar where they provide a lot more enrichment opportunities for kids because they’ve spent the time with those kids closing the gaps. We want to just make it better every year.”
The intersession periods will allow teachers the chance to provide instruction to kids who are falling behind sooner, rather than waiting annually for summer vacation to offer remediation.
“We are excited about the possibilities surrounding what the intersession periods could mean for our students. For example, each intersession period is after a roughly nine-week period, and so then what our teachers and administrators will be able to do is actually analyze the data from that nine-week period and see where our deficiencies are, and then, go to those students that have the most needs and offer the opportunity for those students to obtain immediate intervention then,” said Rowland.
“Because how many years have we offered summer remediation? When you offer summer remediation you’re trying to provide something for students. It’s going to be hard for them to really remember what they did the first nine weeks and try to intervene in June. So we think, you have a better chance of providing those intensive interventions at the end of a nine-week period.”
Students would then be offered a voluntary, self-paced and live instruction course taking place during the intersession period that would allow them to get caught up. These opportunities will also be available virtually. For the live instruction, transportation to sites where these courses take place will be provided, and school meals will be provided as well.
More than helping students catch up, Rowland’s vision for the intersession periods is one where on-level and gifted students can further their academic pursuits.
“What we want to try to do is have on-site intensive intervention for those kids that need it most, but we also want to provide some self-paced opportunities for those kids that are on level, either reviewing what they’ve done or trying to front-load them for the next nine weeks. Then we have our gifted kids. We have some phenomenal gifted teachers in the district. We want to have things for that group of students to do as well during that time that are built within the Google classroom,” said Rowland.
“We want to try and have something for all of our kids. Even though we know that this is really meant for the ones that need it most, we just see an opportunity to provide something for everybody.”
Commending the change, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley stated, “I recently learned that you recommended a balanced calendar for the upcoming year to your School Board. I was impressed to hear that the Webster Parish School Board passed that motion. Congratulations.”
“Our home state – Louisiana – has long desired to have improved educational outcomes. Sometimes, however, making changes to secure better outcomes for children is a difficult process. I am using this opportunity to thank you and your Board for making a courageous decision that has the potential to improve outcomes.”
“In a quick review of data in Webster, I notice that only 30% of Kindergarteners enter school with the necessary skills to be successful on day one. I also found that third grade mastery rates for reading and math were 40% and 35%, respectively. Those numbers do not shift much in the eighth grade where reading mastery rates hit 48% and math rates are 17%. Clearly, we have room for improvement and that requires a challenge against the status quo.”
“The Board’s adoption of this new calendar will certainly receive both praise and criticism. What I have found, however, is that a balanced calendar leads to some important outcomes such as improved attendance, reduced behavior referrals, and bolstered teacher morale once it’s incorporated.”
“Please accept my appreciation for your willingness to try alternative approaches to improve outcomes for kids – it is what they deserve.”