New Kingman school calendar may be one change too many for district

Parents, teachers split between old and new schedules

Parent Mollie Simmons, accompanied by her son, Asim Moncrease, 8, and daughter, Nola Moncrease, 2, asks questions about babysitting schedules for her children during a town hall meeting at Hualapai Elementary School. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

Parent Mollie Simmons, accompanied by her son, Asim Moncrease, 8, and daughter, Nola Moncrease, 2, asks questions about babysitting schedules for her children during a town hall meeting at Hualapai Elementary School. (KIM STEELE/Miner)

KINGMAN - Parent Mollie Simmons was so disturbed Tuesday by the discussion of a new school-year calendar for the Kingman Unified School District that after asking her questions, she left the town hall meeting at Hualapai Mountain Elementary a half hour before it was finished.

"This is the first time I've attended one of the three town hall meetings, and one of my concerns is where I'm going to put my son during the time off," said Simmons, whose 8-year-old son, Asim Moncrease, attends Hualapai. "Also, Asim is in the accelerated program here and he's already having trouble keeping up with it. With a new schedule, he's going to speed through the program too fast and he won't be getting any down time."

Simmons said she works a full-time job, her husband has two jobs and while her mother baby-sits for Asim and his sister, Nola Moncrease, 2, during holidays and summer break, the grandmother is in her 70s and can't make big changes. Simmons, who asked KUSD staff if studies had been done about the success rate of a new calendar and whether receiving more money from the federal government was behind the decision to consider it, said it sounded like the district had already made its mind up.

About 75 parents and teachers showed up for the town hall meeting, which was the third in several months at various schools. KUSD staff members, including Superintendent Roger Jacks, fielded questions from the stage about changes in child care, funding for the new schedule, how long it would last, lengths of family vacations, opportunities for student summer employment and more. For the first time, all five members of the KUSD Governing Board attended and voiced their opinions on the change.

Under the new schedule, which would last 180 days, students would have a two-week break in the spring and the fall, a regular winter break and a six-week break in the summer. Currently, students attend school for 180 days, but have one week off in the spring and the fall and nine weeks off during the summer. KUSD staff reiterated throughout the meeting that the proposed new schedule is not year-round. Extra tutoring time, called intersessions, would be available for students needing help.

Jeri Wolsey, curriculum director for KUSD, said surveys to teachers and parents throughout the district showed that parents preferred the traditional school calendar over the proposed 45-10 calendar by 1,099 to 363. But teachers favored the 45-10 calendar over the traditional calendar by 251 to 133. Wolsey then offered a list of reasons from teachers and parents in favor of and against both calendars.

Reasons for the traditional calendar included:

• more summer camps and activities for students

• teachers get a real break from teaching

• older students have time to get a summer job

• children split between two homes have longer visitation during summer break.

Reasons against the traditional calendar included:

• more time spent on review of the previous year's material at the beginning of the school year

• remediation offered in the summer is often too little and too late

• needed professional development for teachers is harder to obtain

• finding appropriate child care can be difficult with many people going on vacation.

The 45-10 calendar also featured a list of reasons in favor of the schedule. It included:

• opportunities for families to take small trips throughout the year

• teacher and student stress lessened with regular breaks throughout the school year

• decrease in child care expenses

• students don't have to re-learn old material because the breaks are shorter.

Reasons against the 45-10 schedule included:

• lessened possibilities of students getting jobs during the two-week breaks

• summer programs are shortened

• students may lose out on internships

• dissatisfaction among high schools because the schedule impacts sports.

Parent Tracy Hurlburt, who has a junior at Kingman High School and a kindergartener at Manzanita Elementary School, showed up at the town hall meeting to protest the proposed shorter breaks for vacations. Hurlburt said many people's best memories of their childhoods were the long summer vacations to other parts of the country they got to take while school was out of session.

"What right do they have to take that away from this generation?" asked Hurlburt. "My daughter in high school has perfect attendance, but she's going to lose that status because we're going on vacation no matter what they say. The district has no right to dictate to us when we can take our vacations."

After the audience's questions and comments, members of the Board presented their thoughts on the proposed schedule change.

Laurie Voss Barthlow said she has children attending schools in the district and is in favor of the calendar change and the shorter summers. Barthlow said she understands that the change is a big issue in the community and is not opposed to waiting a year to implement it.

"We're also sympathetic to the concerns from teachers that there is too much change coming too soon," said Barthlow. "But we have a 30 to 40 percent failure rate on our AIMS tests right now. We're flunking out on AIMS and now we're staring down the barrel of the new PARCC test. Where we're coming from as a district is trying to carve out some time during the school day to give our students the extra assistance they need."

AIMS stands for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, a testing system that is being replaced by the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, test. It's part of Common Core, which was implemented this year.

Board members Jeri Brock and Bruce Ricca didn't weigh in on the issue, but member Debbie Francis said she hasn't made her mind up yet, despite what parents and teachers say is a done deal.

Francis does not have children attending school in the district.

"I'm still listening to people about this issue," said Francis, noting she hopes area childcare providers will work with parents if the schedule change takes place.

"The Board's mission is academics for all students, and we have to make decisions that serve everyone in the district the best we can. We have to do something, because what we have right now is not working very well."

Board member Charles Lucero said the Board's goal is to provide a foundation for the success of the district's students. Lucero said he is looking at whether the schedule change will increase academic achievement, be best for the community and be consistent for teachers, parents and students.

So far, said Lucero, he doesn't have an answer for all of those questions, but is hoping to soon.