Considering a balanced calendar

BIG RAPIDS – Conversations surrounding the idea of year-round school are growing ever more common around the state, including in local districts served by the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District.

While no schools have plans to move to a balanced calendar, which provides more continuous periods of instruction, many are considering the pros and cons of a school year that includes a shorter summer break and longer breaks spread throughout the year.

The MOISD operates on a balanced calendar in providing educational services for Eagle Village on U.S. 10, Pineview Homes in Evart and the Muskegon River Youth Home.

“The staff like the balanced schedule because you go to school for a time, and then you have a break to regroup and recoup,” said Karen Roy, MOISD director of general education. “The rest of our programs really are contingent on what the local districts do because we run collaborative programming. If we decide to ever make that shift, we need everyone to move together because you can’t run collaborative programs when you are all on different schedules.”

A year-round schedule would likely decrease summer learning loss and burnout, provide teachers and students with more frequent breaks and provide districts with better use of facilities, which are still being maintained and cared for during the summer months. However, the schedule also creates scheduling conflicts with sports practices and events, can make childcare difficult for families, makes remediation difficult and can be costly if schools are not equipped to run year-round.

“Our facilities currently are not equipped with air conditioning,” Roy said, adding that many local districts also do not have air conditioning. “So there is cost because you would have to air condition them if you were going to have people in the buildings in the summertime.”

The state recently approved $2 million in funding for pilot programs to help under-performing districts transition to a year-round schedule, grant money Baldwin Community School District sought after many informative community discussions regarding making the switch. Baldwin Community Schools did not receive grant funds, but Superintendent Stiles Simmons said the district will continue to pursue funding in the hopes of transitioning to a balanced calendar for the 2015-16 school year.

“We see this as a temporary setback, which just means it is a setup for a comeback,” Simmons said, noting that there is a huge demand for year-round education in the state. “We anticipate more grant opportunities.”

Crossroads Charter Academy also has been discussing the idea of making the switch to a balanced calendar.

“We are researching and communicating with parents so people understand it,” said CCA Superintendent Lynn Gullekson. “We have to make sure they are on board with anything we want to try. There are a number of parents who are very supportive and a number who are hesitant. I think they don’t understand yet how you still get a significant summer break of six weeks.”

The largest obstacles CCA faces with making the switch to a balanced calendar are coordinating schedules for high school athletics, students who dual-enroll or attend the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center and MOISD special education services, Gullekson said.

If conversations become serious at any of the districts, Roy said community members can expect to be invited into the discussion.

“There is more interest in year-round school, especially since there are not as many farming communities anymore,” Roy said. “We have been so stuck on an agricultural calendar for so long, but we are really not there anymore. It’s something we really need to think about.”