The board of education is considering altering the school calendar for Tullahoma City School students, according to district officials.
Discussion during a Monday, Aug. 7, board member Jessica Fogarty proposed a new calendar for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years that included a later start date, shortened fall and spring intersessions, a longer Thanksgiving break and an earlier summer recess.
Her idea was to give TCS students a week-long Thanksgiving and an earlier start to the summer break in exchange for shortened fall and spring breaks.
For the past several years, the district has given TCS students two full weeks off for both fall and spring intersessions. The Thanksgiving holiday has also only been three days long, encompassing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after.
In order to give students two full weeks out of school in the fall and spring, students were expected to begin the school year in late July, rather than in early August. The school year also did not end until after Memorial Day, typically the last two or three days of May, instead of before the unofficial start of summer.
Another reasoning for having two full weeks of intersession in the fall and spring was so that students could complete some remediation and credit recovery during the second week of the break, according to Pat Welsh, the board chairman.
During the study session, Welsh said he had seen a decline in the amount of remediation taking place during the intersessions.
If remediation is not happening during the breaks, he said, there was no reason to have them be two weeks long.
Additionally, there was a consensus among board members that having the fall and spring breaks last for two full weeks was placing an undue burden on parents who work.
Finding childcare was difficult for one full week, said Fogarty, adding that having an extra week on top of that was nearly impossible.
Reducing the length of the breaks would alleviate some of that pressure for working parents with young children.
Another concern for the board, and particularly for Fogarty, was the lack of proper instructional time after the Memorial Day holiday.
“One thing that I can concretely say, from a teacher perspective,” she said, “if you go for those four days after Memorial Day, if you think that (they) have any instructional value for our children, I invite you to come to a classroom.”
Fogarty said she would have trouble accepting any calendar that goes past Memorial Day, “because to me, you are sacrificing what you know for a fact is not going to be instructional time.”
“Don’t do that to our kids,” she said to the board.
She also said keeping students in school for any number of days during the week of Thanksgiving was a waste of instructional time.
Kim Uselton, the vice chairman of the board, agreed, saying there were frequently years where she would have only two to five students in her classroom the day before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Having so few students in class meant she was unable to give any proper instruction, so it felt like a waste of a day, she said.
In altering the calendar structure, the board wanted to accomplish five distinct goals, according to Director of Schools Dan Lawson.
Lawson sent out an email to all TCS employees to inform them of the proposed changes.
First, the board wanted to ensure that the calendar “supports optimal teacher instruction and student learning,” he said.
The board also wanted to keep the start date “no earlier than August,” as well as an “end of the year date before Memorial Day.”
Additionally, the board wanted to extend the Thanksgiving break into a full week and keep both fall and spring breaks.
According to Lawson, “all five goals are accomplished in both of the calendars.”
In addition to accomplishing those five goals, the calendars meet all state requirements of including 180 student attendance days, 10 professional development days for teachers and 10 vacation days.
Proposed calendar layout
The draft calendar for the 2018-2019 school year begins Aug. 1 and includes a day off for the Labor Day holiday on Monday, Sept. 3.
Fall intersession is tentatively slated to begin on Thursday, Oct. 4 and continue through Friday, Oct. 12.
The week of that break is reportedly able to be adjusted, Lawson said, “subject to confirmation of student activity schedules at Tullahoma High School.”
Following another five weeks in school, students will receive the full week of Thanksgiving, Monday, Nov. 19 to Friday, Nov. 23, off.
The Christmas holiday will remain at two weeks in both proposed calendars.
Students will still receive the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Monday, Feb. 18, as well as a Friday off on Good Friday, April 19.
Spring intersession will take place from Thursday, March 21 to Friday, March 29.
The proposed last day of school for the 2018-2019 school year will be Friday, May 26, the Friday before Memorial Day.
The 2019-2020 calendar would include the same general layout, with an Aug. 1 start date, a week and two days for both fall and spring intercessions, a full week of Thanksgiving break, two weeks for the Christmas holiday and singular days off on Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Friday of Good Friday.
Drawing from examples
According to Fogarty, she looked at the school calendars of both Coffee and Franklin County schools as well as Maryville City Schools in East Tennessee.
“I think it’s a hybrid between Coffee County, Franklin County and Maryville,” said Fogarty.
The calendars for Coffee and Franklin counties look very similar to the one she proposed, she said.
“It’s (the calendar) not that different than any of the counties that are around us,” she said.
Maryville City Schools, said Lawson, is a school district with which TCS is on par academically.
In years past, the board has made it a priority to send the proposed calendar out to all TCS employees in order to gain feedback on potential calendar conflicts before the board votes to adopt the schedule.
“Our practice has been to provide draft calendars and solicit your feedback before the BOE votes to adopt,” Lawson said in this year’s email.
Lawson encouraged all to “look over the two calendars… and share (their) thoughts with us.”
It was Lawson’s belief that the general sense of feedback would be positive, with only minor complaints that the schedule was different than in years past.
The proposed calendars are not official yet, however; they still require a board vote, which will not take place until Monday, Aug. 21 at the earliest.
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.