School board, approves change for 2020-2021 school year
Students and staff in the Marion School District will be on a new calendar when summer break comes to an end later this year. Last Thursday, the Marion School Board approved a plan to put the district on what it is calling a “hybrid” school calendar. While not exactly a “year-round” school year and not the traditional “long-summer” school year, the new calendar will feature extended breaks throughout the school year and a shorter summer vacation. After conducting several surveys with staff, students, parents and leaders in the community, Marion School Superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter made a final pitch over the proposal to crowd of stakeholders, parents and community members at the Marion Performing Arts Center last Monday night ahead of the school board meeting. Fenter presented both the hybrid school calendar and staggered start times plans to the audience of about 120. The two proposals were presented as ways to potentially improve academic outcomes and college readiness based on standardized testing. Fenter said better schools would drive an improved quality of life in the city. “The most important factor that Marion continues to evolve to is based on one single factor, the quality of the public schools,” said Fenter. The Superintendent stressed the same number of school days for students under the hybrid academic calendar. Fenter indicated that both research and common sense called for redistributing breaks throughout the year. He said some summer vacation days would be shifted under the plan. The proposed calendar added two weeks to fall break, offered the same Thanksgiving and winter breaks, and added a week of spring break. The hybrid calendar took aim at reducing the “summer slide” with students forgetting some of what was taught in the previous grade. The calendar also offered a chance for students and teachers to stay fresher with more breaks across the year. Poll results from faculty and staff, parents, and students showed most favored the calendar change. At Thursday’s school board meeting, the board approved the move to the hybrid calendar. The board did not approve the staggered start time proposal. It was that plan that produced the most division in those who took the survey. The survey results for the staggered start time produced closer splits, with opposition for ringing the first bell for secondary students (7th through 12th grade) at 9 a.m. and dismissing for the day at 4:15 p.m. Parents and students cited problems with getting non-driving older students to school, after-school activities, and other issues in explaining their opposition. The school district is faced with adding 15 new school buses, with a $2 million price tag, to address logistical issues of getting students bussed in without long rides and very early pick-up times. In addition to the bussing costs, Fenter presented research that demonstrated older students perform better with more sleep. Fenter was confident in the potential success of the new calendar. The “Some people are saying we will lose students to school choice if we make these changes,” said Fenter. “They said the same thing before we went to magnet schools. We’ve gained students both years since magnet schools.” The superintendent said faced with a choice between a bigger school system with school choice students opting in and a better school system, he’d take better every time. “You see the improved results these changes could bring,” said Fenter, “if you’re in charge, don’t you have to try?” Fenter said the hybrid calendar is something they are going to take time to evaluate, with a three-to-five-year period to provide an opportunity to see what results the change brings.