School district seeks input on year-round schedule

Town hall meetings to be held next week

Trisha Jacobsen, a teacher from Kingman Middle School, speaks before the Kingman Unified School District Governing Board about the possibility of changing the district’s calendar. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Trisha Jacobsen, a teacher from Kingman Middle School, speaks before the Kingman Unified School District Governing Board about the possibility of changing the district’s calendar. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - Before deciding to change to a year-round schedule, the Kingman Unified School District Governing Board wants to hear from parents.

The district will hold three town hall meetings over the next 30 days to give parents, students and the public a chance to ask questions and learn more about the proposed calendar changes.

The first town hall will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Kingman High School Auditorium, 4182 N. Bank St. The second meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at White Cliffs Middle School, 3550 Prospector Ave. and the third at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at Hualapai Elementary School, 350 Eastern Ave.

The board will make a final decision on the matter at its January meeting.

The board is considering changing the school year from the traditional 180 day schedule with breaks for the holidays, a one-week spring break and a nine-week summer break to a 45 days on and 10 days off schedule with a two-week break in the fall and spring and a six-week break in the summer.

The district could use some of the time during the two-week breaks, or intercessions, to tutor students who need extra help or allow students who wanted to go beyond their core classes extra time to do so, said Jeri Wolsey, the curriculum director for KUSD and a calendar committee member.

If approved, the new school calendar would go into effect at the start of the 2014/2015 school year.

Board member Debbie Francis asked if the board could move the vote to February.

"I want a chance to speak with parents," she said. Jamming three town hall meetings into the next four weeks really doesn't give parents or board members a chance to discuss the issue, especially with the holidays coming up, she said.

Superintendent Roger Jacks pointed out that parents and staff start planning vacations and summer activities in February. If the board approved the new calendar in February and the new school year started in June, it could disrupt a number of plans.

Board member Jeri Brock agreed with Francis and said she needed a lot more information about how the new calendar would affect athletics and academic competitions before she could answer parents' questions.

Board member Laurie Voss Barthlow said she was open to postponing a decision on the new calendar for a year to allow parents a chance to voice their opinions.

Board Chair Charles Lucero said he also wanted to make sure parents were on board with the idea and really wanted to see the financial impact the change would have on the district. He wanted to make sure that the district would have the funds to give staff a raise in the future.

William Gillespie, the music teacher for Lee Williams High School, said the board also needed to listen to the opinions of students before making a decision.

He spoke with his students and after explaining that it would help those who were falling behind catch up to their classmates, they were really excited about it, he said.

Board members, teachers and members of the public also had plenty of questions and comments about the proposed calendar.

Trisha Jacobsen, a teacher from Kingman Middle School who was part of the committee that investigated the schedule change, said she thought the change would help students.

"I don't believe it would hinder or hurt our students," she said.

The change might alleviate some of the stress on students who have fallen behind in their class work.

"We as a people and a community have a tendency to shy away from change," Jacobsen said. "We need to have an open mind about this and realize this could be a good change."

Ron Bahre, the technology teacher at Kingman Middle School, agreed that the change could have a positive effect on some students, but recommended that the board delay its decision until it hears from parents.

"We're changing things dramatically here. The parents have to be on board," he said. "It's their kids that are going to go to school when their friends are off (on break)."

Bahre also pointed out that the change would affect the district's budget and there would be less time for teachers to prep their rooms during the summer, especially if the district decided to stop offering summer school classes.

"We need to think this through and take a pause for a year rather than hurry things up so we can get started in June," he said.

Ashley Baldwin, whose children attend schools in the district, said she was familiar with the 45/10-school calendar. A similar system was in place in some California schools her kids attended before they moved to Kingman.

Her main concern was childcare for the younger students who couldn't be left home alone during those two-week breaks. She also asked what would happen with children who were on the free or reduced lunch programs at the schools during those breaks.

The breaks would also cause problems with parents who shared custody of their children.

"This could send a lot of parents back to court," she said.

Wolsey told the board that the schools would be able to continue feeding the children during the breaks.

Carol King, a former teacher from California, said she had experience with a 90 days on and 30 days off plan. The students were separated into four different tracks and parents could choose which track they wanted their child in. This gave parents a lot of flexibility in planning their vacations.

"When we first started, many people were skeptical," she said. But many teachers and students, herself included, felt refreshed and motivated after a 30-day break. The schedule also helped with overcrowding in the schools and reduced vandalism during the summer break.

But the program isn't for everyone, King said. Her district had some teachers leave because they didn't like the schedule. It is very important that board talk with teachers, staff and parents about the change, she said.

Wolsey echoed some of the other speakers' concerns about making sure that everyone was included in the discussion.

"We had members from each of the schools, the district office, the classified staff and the public," she said. "This was no small task. There were some strong feelings out there. We tried to find the right decision."

"I'm really for this tutoring, but would it only be for four hours over four days?" said Brock.

"It could be whatever a school or the district board chooses. We can do however many days or hours a child needs," Wolsey said.

Brock asked how many students stay after school for tutoring now.

Currently, the district offers after school help for students, but students' and parents' schedules don't always allow them take advantage of the offer, Wolsey said. The younger grades usually have good attendance at after school tutoring but it falls off as students get into middle and high school.

Barthlow asked if students would be required to go to tutoring during the two-week breaks in the new school calendar.

"It would be mandatory. Students who didn't attend wouldn't be able to move on to the next grade if they were failing a class," Wolsey said.

White Cliffs Principal Cliff Angle explained that part of the reason for the drop off is that the older students are the daycare providers for the younger students.

The intersession breaks don't have to be just for tutoring, Angle said. "They're also good for enrichment classes or camps."

Holding such classes, especially for the younger students, may allow some of the older students to get the tutoring they needed, he said.