Bottom line is putting students first…
The Crested Butte Community School Site Accountability Committee (SAC) held a thorough discussion about the school calendar at its December 5 meeting.
The discussion was spurred when parent Tricia Kubisiak attended a Re1J school board meeting and complained about the number of consecutive days off during the school year resulting from frequent weeklong breaks and some teacher development days.
“How can this be conducive to learning?” she asked.
The school board advised her to take the issue to the local accountability committee to get a first reaction. She did so December 5.
After a brief history from the school staff on how the current calendar came about, SAC chairperson Tyler Martineau made it clear the committee has no decision-making authority but has some influence with the board.
Teacher representative to the calendar subcommittee Susan Beltz said 2012 was the first year the school let students off for the entire Thanksgiving week. Usually the break would start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving but teachers were seeing huge absenteeism rates, up to 40 percent, the days preceding the break. “The decision was made to experiment with a week-long break this year,” she said.
Kubisiak presented an alternative calendar proposal that among other things included a day off for the kids the day after Halloween. “My research shows that might be the most unproductive day of the school year. But overall, the problem is this calendar was basically approved in 1995 and things are different now,” she said. “This calendar doesn’t work for a lot of people. I’ve even had elementary teachers tell me they don’t like the calendar. I’d say get rid of the October and February breaks. Those breaks result in a lot of young, unattended children being left home while parents work.”
Kubisiak admitted that while her “delivery might stink,” the message has broader support from other parents. “I feel that I speak for many and that the staff isn’t listening,” she said.
Several other parents at the accountability committee meeting supported the current calendar. “It works for my children,” stated parent Linda Oleson. “It allows them to reset and refuel. It helps them learn. But my kids are older. Maybe there are different needs for different age children.”
Martineau said the accountability SAC has a calendar discussion every year and it has been rare if ever that concerns about the schedule have been raised at the meetings. “We can only go by what people say at the meetings and we haven’t heard anything,” he said.
Kubisiak suggested using modern technology to get a more accurate idea of where the parents stand. “A lot of people don’t like to go to meetings at all, let alone talk at meetings,” she said. “I’d say use modern technology to reach out and poll the parents electronically.”
Teacher Julia Kidd said that as a staff member, “I am not adamantly opposed to a change in the calendar. But absenteeism is a big issue for us. The April break is a big one after the ski area closes and parents take their kids out on both sides of the break. It’s hard to teach when there’s 50 percent attendance. If the parent’s voice is saying change it, we are willing to listen. We can use technology to reach out. The bottom line is we have a great school with amazing kids.”
“We certainly value input and try to look at all the factors,” added Beltz.
“I’m not tied to the calendar at all,” said CBCS principal Stephanie Niemi, “but it seems to suit the community that it serves. I personally would love a March break to have time with my husband who works at WSCU and has a different break.”
Several high school seniors spoke up in favor of the calendar. “We benefit greatly from the breaks,” said senior Jett McGuire. “It also seems like it helps the teachers. They catch up on work and the students are the prime beneficiaries of that.”
“The breaks are so incredibly needed because we are incredibly pushed,” said student Sara Sherman. “I don’t think we could just motor through without them. Plus being outside is so beneficial to kids of all ages and the breaks give us that chance.”
“School is rigorous and challenging,” added senior Josh Gallen. “It’s a retreat and a great refresher to have these breaks. We’re young and we could deal with any kind of schedule but this really works.”
Another student at the meeting agreed.“The weeks before the breaks are when we get pounded with essays and tests and such,” she said. “We can get burned out. I’m not sure I’d even be mentally present in those days without a break. They are really wonderful.”
Parent Karen Boyle took time off work to attend the meeting. “My son and I love the calendar. I think it’s awesome,” she said. “They don’t get burned out. We knew they were coming and had to prepare for them with daycare and sure it’s sometimes a bummer and a hassle, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.”
“It is definitely easier now that my kids are older,” said parent Sally Johnson. “When they were younger, I’d have the kids sitting in my shop 10 hours a day. It was hard. But it seems the calendar works for the majority of the people. If it’s not working, maybe we brainstorm other options. Think about bringing back the community workshops that were offered during the breaks for families that didn’t leave town. They were great.
“I do know that there are young children left unattended and that can be scary,” Johnson continued.
“It is something the community should look at and try to figure out to make it better. We can work together,” Johnson said.
“The financial burden will be there no matter when the breaks are,” said teacher Talley Nichols, “whether it’s October or May with a shorter school year. I want the best calendar for the community with high educational benefits. The bottom line is that as teachers, we’ll be coming to work whenever the calendar says we have to come to work.”
“I never said it was a bad school,” said Kubisiak. “The consecutive days in a row being off is hard. That’s the issue. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be breaks during the school year. The excessive length is one of my issues.”
School board member Bill Powell was at the meeting and thanked Kubisiak for being “brave” enough to come to the meeting and speak out. “Our focus right now in the school system is the teaching-learning process,” he said. “We are changing as a public school. We are under a lot of new mandates. But the calendar is always an issue and every school had a unique calendar.
“It comes down to the quality of the time spent in the classroom that is important,” Powell continued. “We understand childcare is a problem. We may need some creative thinking to deal with this very real issue. But this school has some of the highest test scores in the state. The teachers and students have spoken to how the six weeks on, one week off calendar helps regenerate their battery packs. But it is good to revisit the issues with the school district. It’s all about putting the students first. The goal is to work collaboratively to do what’s best for the teaching-learning process.”
“I just don’t have faith that anything will change,” said Kubisiak before leaving the meeting. “But at least I said what I had to say.”
Parent Laura Martineau reiterated that her family liked the current calendar. She pointed out that as the kids get old enough to tour potential colleges, the longer breaks are beneficial since it is so hard to get anywhere, but especially back east, from Crested Butte.
Niemi emphasized that the school shouldn’t be considered a daycare facility. “But I do like the idea of the community workshops,” she said. “They were very helpful. Science camps or history camps are doable but we need to see a willingness to support this from the community.”
Johnson suggested the school could conduct an anonymous survey through the daily bulletin that is sent out by the main office. “Then at least we’d know where the general populace stands. I agree that many times, people don’t want to speak up. An anonymous survey would be easy and could provide valid information.”
Parent Kim McGuire said it might be hard to convince people that the survey would be truly anonymous. “Plus these meetings are pretty open,” she said.
“We need to honor the calendar committee. I’d be hesitant to send out a survey just to the Crested Butte parents,” said Niemi. “And any survey would have to have good controls.”
First grade teacher Molly Frame said that given some of the electronic communication taking place over the issue before the meeting, she was worried people too often could make volatile statements that were hurtful to others when not speaking face-to-face. She felt an anonymous survey could encourage such behavior. “This isn’t a war but at times it felt like that,” she said. “It is easier to say hurtful things anonymously or when you don’t have to see the person.”
Tyler Martineau said the accountability committee made no hard decision regarding a recommendation for the school calendar but will continue the discussion at its next meeting in January. “Part of the discussion will be to determine how better to reach out to parents to gather input on their feelings about thing like the calendar and other issues that impact them.”