Last night, in a nearly full auditorium at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, a group of superintendents from across the Champlain Valley hosted the fourth and final forum to discuss a controversial new school calendar they had originally proposed for the 2014-15 year.
Known as Calendar 2.0, the proposal would have shortened summer vacation by two weeks, reallocating those days into several one-to-two-week recesses throughout the school year. Such “intersessions,” the superintendents and fans of the proposal have argued, would allow underperforming students to catch up on schoolwork, while allowing others to pursue volunteer work and internships.
But after revealing this week that negative feedback had prompted them to nix the proposal for next year, the superintendents used last night's meeting as an opportunity to collect final input from parents and students. While remaining vague about their future plans for a new calendar, the administrators also assured the public a role in future conversations about time and learning.
“Based on the feedback that we have received, not only from the three forums but also through emails and [a blog], I can tell and I can assure you that [the superintendents] did meet this Tuesday. We voted to not go forward with this proposal for 2014-2015,” John Barone, superintendent of the Milton town school district, explained to an ovation.
“I’ve been asked several times in the last few hours, ‘What does that mean? Are you just going to push it back on us?’” Barone continued. “I’m going to answer you honestly. We don’t know… Clearly, though, what we have heard is that if we move forward, we need to expand the number of people working on this concept.”
The proposal has drawn steady criticism — online and in the recent forums — from parents seeking more research to support the implementation of a calendar that would force their children into stifling classrooms during the precious final days of summer. Opponents have also argued, among other things, that the new intersession programming would require a hike in school budgets, burden working parents and challenge instructors of younger and special-needs children.
Last night, many of those arguments were rehearsed by individuals who spoke into mics at the front of the auditorium. Some of the strongest fire came from those who felt the superintendents tried to force their proposal through without considering the opinions of those parents and teachers.
“I respectfully suggest that, two years down the road, when you start reconvening around this notion, number one, please, more transparency,” said Richard Fox, a Shelburne parent. “The appearance of impropriety is sometimes worse than the impropriety itself, and you folks did not do yourselves any great services by what happened, by suggesting that you’re potentially implementing it in 2014, and not really speaking to all of us until the fall of 2013.”
In a press release this morning, the superintendents’ association estimates that more than 1000 people attended the four forums in the last two weeks. Acknowledging that “there is not broad-based community readiness at this time for this proposal for 2014-15,” the statement goes on to assert the superintendents’ commitment to engaging “communities in a conversation that looks at time as a variable in student learning, as well as capturing the energy around community engagement in education from the discussions at the forums.”
Although some who came last night requested that the superintendents totally abandon the proposal, one parent and two high school students offered their support. Two parents, meanwhile, explained that they would keep their minds open.
One of them, Russ Caffry, also chairs the Shelburne school board and recalled the time his district approved a controversial change to full-day kindergarten classes. Though drawing a distinction between the scale of a change like Calendar 2.0 and one that only affected a single grade, Caffry pointed out that people now love the kindergarten system.
“I don’t know if I support this or not,” Caffry said. “I guess I would ask people to try to keep an open mind, to let the process play itself out, and to see what happens.”
John Barone speaks to the crowd, as Caitlin Waddick (left) holds up a sign to protest Calendar 2.0.