Baldwin schools hears positive feedback on balanced calendar; other MOISD schools unsure if year-round school is right for their district

BALDWIN — Three months into the school year, Baldwin Community Schools has received overwhelmingly positive reactions to the new balanced-calendar system.

A balanced calendar shortens the district’s summer break and spreads the days off throughout the year in one- or two-week blocks called intersession periods. During these intersession periods, classes are available at the schools for students to catch up in subjects they may be lagging behind or take elective classes.

Superintendent Stiles Simmons said he can’t ultimately say how successful the new calendar will be until the end of the year, but is pleased with the results so far.

“What we’re seeing is exceeding my expectations,” said Simmons. “I was told by another superintendent, whose district switched to the balanced calendar before us, it took until February for people in the community to come around and see how the program is better. In Baldwin, families and parents really came around almost immediately.”

Baldwin High School Principal Calvin Patillo said he believes this is largely due to the way the district involved area residents in the change.

“I think one of the key reasons the switch worked was because we took a lot of effort to get the community involved and make sure everything was on board a year before we made any changes,” explained Patillo. “Students, staff and the community have really embraced the balanced calendar and have seen the benefits this new system can provide.”

The balanced calendar helps prevent summer learning loss — students falling behind, getting out of the habit of studying or forgetting material over a long summer break. It also prevents learning fatigue — kids and teachers getting “burned out” from long periods of nonstop work and studying.

“If you look at the research, studies show summer learning loss is radically cut down when districts take measures like a shorter summer break,” said Simmons. “We decided this would be the best plan for our kids to combat this problem. For some students, summer school helped mitigate the loss, but for others it didn’t and we just had too few students attending summer school. We had our first intersession period in October and both the students and staff got a chance to rest and get re-energized. A lot of the teachers I talked to said the break came just in time for the students.”

“I like it,” said parent Jeremy Hunter. “The schedule keeps the kids focused, they retain more information and it lets them pick up right where they left off when they get back from being on break.”

The school district supervisors were unsure how the intersession period would work, but following the first one in October they are confident the concept works and have gotten great input from families.

“We didn’t take advantage of the intersession classes — I think my son needed that break — but I like that they offer them and try to add in some fun stuff as well. My son is in first grade, so maybe he might take some of the intersession classes when he’s older,” said parent Andrea Lynch.

The district is planning to distribute surveys to students and community members in February to research how the public is reacting to the new calendar. Simmons said thus far, the reviews are glowing.

“I’ve had students approach me to ask about when the next intersession is,” said Simmons. “My own kids enjoyed our intersession programs and parents I’ve spoken to out in the community have given me a lot of positive feedback. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who had markedly negative feelings about the switch.”

Among the superintendents in the

Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District member districts, reaction to the possibility of year-round schooling is mixed.

Roger Cole, superintendent of Morley Stanwood Community Schools, said the district had considered altering its calendar a couple of years ago, but he didn’t see a benefit to doing so.

He noted according to some research, the “summer slide,” the learning loss that happens after students leave school on break, was greatest immediately after classes ended.

“If I have my numbers right, 75 to 80 percent of the loss was in the first two or three weeks,” Cole said. “Theoretically, if you have three- or four-week breaks, I feel like you would be playing catch-up all the time.

“I didn’t actually see a benefit to a year-round program, I really don’t. If you’re still doing 180 or 190 days of instruction, just doing it in a different configuration, you’re not seeing the kids for any more contact time.”

Chippewa Hills School District Superintendent Bob Grover has similar feelings about the possibility of year-round schooling.

“I’ve never been convinced it made a huge difference,” Grover said. “You hear people say, ‘Oh, the summer slack is gone.’ I’m not sure it’s gone. It’s just divided into three four-week gaps instead of one 12-week gap.”

Grover would put more thought into considering year-round schooling for the district if he was actually able to see it was beneficial for students’ learning.

“I’d want proof that changing to year-round would lead to gains academically,” he said. “I’m talking about data to show a consistent statistical gain in learning, not just something that could be a one-year fluke.”

Evart Public Schools Superintendent Howard Hyde said he believes the idea of a balanced calendar has potential, but he also shares some of the same concerns as Grover and Cole.

“The concept of kids not taking off three months for the summer is a good concept,” Hyde said. “We tend to re-teach students for the first couple of weeks once they’re back. But if that were to happen, it would have to be everyone in the MOISD.”

If a balanced calendar did occur, Hyde believes more than 180 days of schooling should take place, but either scenario would cause additional roadblocks for EPS. Operating costs would increase, especially when it comes to using air conditioning during the summer months. In some buildings, particularly Evart Middle School, classrooms become too hot to create an effective learning environment, he added.

“There’s a lot to go into trying to align something like this,” Hyde said. “I think it’s something that probably needs to be looked at more closely.”

At the end of the 2014 school year, Crossroads Charter Academy conducted a survey of parents to see if they were in favor of switching to year-round schooling, Superintendent Pam Duffy said. The feedback was positive, but the logistics of making the switch have given the administration pause.

“There are a couple of potential problems with switching year-round schooling,” Duffy said. “The biggest is air conditioning. We do not have air conditioning in the elementary school.”

Another problem is sports. Conceivably, if CCA went to year-round school and the rest of the district didn’t, students could be on break during sports seasons, Duffy said.

Using a series of four-week-long breaks for year-round schooling could potentially be worse than having the one big break, since teachers would have to spend time after each break reviewing material, Duffy said.

“I don’t know if the jury has fully decided that year-round school is the best thing for kids,” she said. “I’m not convinced, we are concerned about summer slide and that is a problem, but if we went to year-round school we might see a slide occurring multiple times a year.”

Officials at Big Rapid Public Schools also have participated in the discussion of year-round schooling, according to Superintendent Tim Haist.

“Right now, we’re curious to see how other schools do who have made the transition,” he said.

Big Rapids Public Schools and CCA share a challenge to year-round schooling: air conditioning.

“None of our schools are air-conditioned,” Haist said. “It becomes difficult late in June and early in August to keep students in the classroom because it doesn’t have the chance to cool down in the evening.”

There are other aspects of the school year that would have to adapt to a balanced calendar, Haist said.

“The athletic seasons, clubs and activities for students as well as staff who don’t traditionally work year-round are all things we would have to look at,” he said. “We would hope the Michigan High School Athletic Association would be supportive of a transition as well.”

Tim Webster, superintendent at Reed City Area Public Schools, has more positive than negative feelings toward year-round schooling.

“The balance is attractive to me,” he said. “I think it has some pluses and minuses, and I’m glad someone else is doing it first so we can see if those pluses outweigh the minuses.”

As opposed to stating concerns about the summer slide, Webster believes students often become burned out after long periods in school without breaks. Therefore multiple breaks throughout the year would alleviate the issue, he said. However, if RCAPS were the only district to change its schedule, issues would arise for students who attended the MOISD Career Center or who dual-enroll.

“I think it would work if everyone in the MOISD decided to change to that calendar,” Webster said. “The positives and negatives would need to have balance.”

Herald Review Staff Writers Candy Allan, Karin Armbruster, Adam Gac and Emily Grove-Davis also contributed to this article