Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Isn't It Time For Year Round School

"Enjoying" my 6th SNOW DAY of the year and had some time to think. And I kept coming back to the same idea, wouldn't it be nice if we had the months of December, January & February of instead of June, July & August. Don't get me wrong, I love the summer; and would much rather have that time "off" instead of Dec-Feb; but it leads me to the bigger question of, why do students and teachers have three continuous months off anyway?

It's amazing that in the year 2010 most schools in the US are still operating in a 1910 (or maybe better yet, 1950) paradigm in regards to how they approach scheduling. Whether it is the scheduling of classes (check out my earlier blog, Let's Do What Is Best For Kids) or the scheduling of the school year. I mean, haven’t we moved beyond the agrarian calendar? Living in Iowa I appreciate the hard work farmers subject themselves and their families to, but really, how many students are required by their parents to milk cows daily, contribute to the planting and harvesting of crops, or maintenance of the farm in general. Aren’t we far past due for a revision in the school calendar?

To me it makes sense to change. Change to some sort of system in which students are in school year round. Detracters might say: you’ll burn students out . . . you’re going to have to pay teachers more . . . it costs more to cool than heat (really?!?) . . . what about family vacations . . . how will you conduct sports/extra curriculars when school’s not in session . . . and on and on and on.

I’m with Sec. of Ed. Arnie Duncan, I think it’s time we start to evaluate the school calendar. Almost a year ago he was quoted: "It doesn't matter how poor, how tough the family background, socioeconomic challenges," Duncan said. "Where students have longer days, longer weeks, longer years -- that's making a difference." Additionally, in the globalized world that we live in, students around the world are coming to school earlier and staying later, and this “extra time” has translated to better scores, better colleges, and better jobs. It’s time Americas schools do something about this.

In addition wouldn't year-round schooling change the negative perceptions some parents/community members have of teachers and the teaching profession in general. I mean, even my dad thinks that I'm robbing my community of its tax dollars because I only work 9 months out of the year. I think year round schooling would go a long way towards rebuilding the lack of professionalism wrap many teachers face nation wide.

So, whether it is transforming the 180 day/9 month school calendar into a 180 day/12 month calendar or trashing the 180/9 calendar and instituting a 210/12 to increase teaching and learning for students and teachers, the time is now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids

I recently finished a passionate discussion with our Building Leadership Team regarding the Master Schedule for next year’s school year. Our group is currently “scattered” on the direction for next year’s schedule, but one thing is for certain, we all have ideas on what “might” work.

Undoubtedly there will be push back from members of the BLT, staff, students, and parents; but I think we need to do things differently. So this time, Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids, not what’s best for us (the adults). And yes, this is going to mean tough decisions, especially in these economic times, because this could mean some of my colleagues might not be back next year. In a small district, many of us think that since we only have one high school math teacher and one junior high math teacher that “our” job is “safe.” But the reality is, none of our positions are safe from the cutting block. But back to my original thought, Let’s Do What Is Best For Kids!

Let’s get the students involved in the process, let’s invite them to the table, empower them to share what works best for them. Then, let’s build the schedule.

Once we’ve done that let’s think about starting earlier or staying later or both. Let’s let teachers come in at 7:00 and go home at 3:00, or roll in at 10:00 but stay until 6:00. Let’s ask teachers if they would like to double their class size and teach a class with a peer from another department. I can see it now, math and science teachers teaching a group of 60 freshmen, with the help of a skilled special education or talented and gifted teacher to help deliver the content, modify assignments, and assess learning in order to stretch the learning of all students.

Let’s get rid of study halls and implement a mentorship program in which students teach one another. Where high school students work with junior high students, and junior high students work with elementary students. Where teammates on the basketball floor help one another to stay eligible because it not only helps them win games, but helps build a sense of community that improves the learning of all.

So if you have any ideas, suggestions, or are currently working in a place that does some of these things, please let me know, because by March 1 our team will have decided what 2010-11 will look like at Van Meter, and one thing is for certain, it’s going to be different. But I want to make sure it is “What Is Best For Kids!”