FOREST CITY — After receiving the results of a calendar survey, the Rutherford County Board of Education is shifting course, and no longer supports a “balanced,” or “year-round” calendar. Instead the board supports a modified traditional school calendar for the 2020-2021 school year, and will likely adopt such a calendar in February.
Renee Collins, Rutherford County Schools (RCS) assistant superintendent, presented the board with the survey results. Survey participant included RCS parents, school employees, students and others. There were 3,312 total respondents.
There was overwhelming support for the modified traditional calendar. This was preferred by 50.13% of the respondents. The year-round model was preferred by 36.66%, while the traditional calendar was preferred by 13.21%.
With the modified traditional calendar, school would start Aug. 16, 2021, and the first semester would conclude before the Christmas break, including end-of-course testing. The last day of school for students wold be June 7, 2022. It includes a summer break of approximately 10 weeks.
However, because of state legal requirements, the school can’t begin any earlier with the traditional calendar. Therefore, the first semester will be shorter than the second semester, by 16 school days.
Previously, school administrators had advocated for a year-round calendar systemwide. They had indicated it would be better for the students academically, especially in the high schools as it would allow the first semester to end, including testing, before the Christmas break, while maintaining semesters that were of equal length.
Survey respondents were also asked about various calendar features that are important to them. The feature deemed most important was concluding the first semester testing before the Christmas break. This was followed by having a student vacation day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and then having a summer break of at least eight weeks.
The modified traditional calendar includes these features.
The feature deemed least popular, or least important, was beginning the school year in July. The next least important was providing three-week breaks during fall, winter, and spring.
Besides being the overall first choice in the survey, the modified traditional calendar was also preferred by more than half, (51.8%) of school employees. The year-round model was preferred by 42.3$ of school employees.
Forest City Dunbar Elementary will continue with its year-round schedule that it has followed for years, and Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH) follows a schedule aligned with Isothermal Community College. All other RCS schools will follow the modified traditional calendar that is expected to be approved by the board at its regular February meeting.
“If we are looking for the calendar that is appealing to the most people as possible while alienating as few people as possible, the modified traditional calendar satisfies that criteria,” Collins said.
There are several factors that offset the imbalance between the number of days in the first and second semesters in the modified traditional calendar, administrators say.
Extra time in the second semester is beneficial because that is when the largest number of special school events and activities typically take place. Second semester is usually when most “inclement weather” disruptions occur. And, additional state-mandated assessments take place in the second semester.
Regarding AP (Advanced Placement) courses, most are year-long, or are scheduled for second semester, because AP exams are administered in the first two weeks of May.
With the traditional calendar, when first semester ends after the Christmas break along with end-of-semester testing taking place in January, a number of the initial days after the break were spent reviewing.
“I think the position of a large number of our high school teachers is that it is better for us to have high impact instructional days where we sustain student momentum and complete testing before Christmas, as opposed to coming back after Christmas and having a number of days that have lower impact because of the lost momentum due to the two-week break,” Collins added.