At KUSD, back to school comes earlier this year

Desert Willow Elementary School held its annual volcano science project in May. Third grade students make “volcanoes” using ingredients from a list of materials and then made them “erupt” at the school playground. Here, from left to right, Logann Fossum, 9, Kari, Hayli, 4, and Byron Murphy, 9, and Jaren Rucker, 8, react as volcanoes foam over. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

Desert Willow Elementary School held its annual volcano science project in May. Third grade students make “volcanoes” using ingredients from a list of materials and then made them “erupt” at the school playground. Here, from left to right, Logann Fossum, 9, Kari, Hayli, 4, and Byron Murphy, 9, and Jaren Rucker, 8, react as volcanoes foam over. (JC AMBERLYN/Miner)

KINGMAN - The sticky, hot days of summer may still be peaking, but the sizzling season is already winding down for students who will be coming back to school a week earlier at the end of July.

This year, the Kingman Unified School District has changed to a 45-10 schedule that was approved last year by the governing board. It will run through the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.

Under the 45-10 schedule, which lasts 180 days, students will have a two-week break in the spring, fall and winter, and a six-week break in the summer. Extra tutoring, activity and enrichment time, called intersessions, will be available the first week of each two-week break for students needing help or a safe, fun place to go.

The first day of school for new teachers this year will be July 22, and all other teachers will return to their classrooms July 27 to get ready for school. The first day of school for all students is July 30.

Times are a-changin'

Last year, students followed a traditional schedule in which they attended school for 180 days, but had one week off in the spring and the fall, two weeks off in the winter and almost nine weeks off during the summer. Jeri Wolsey, curriculum director for KUSD, said the change is good.

"We're only starting one week earlier this fall," said Wolsey. "The new schedule is a little adjustment for parents, but when the first break comes, everyone will be happy to have it. I think the change will make a difference to the students, teachers and parents."

The first break, or intersession, will take place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 9. During the first week of each two-week intersession, students will be involved in exercises where they can make up tests and catch up on studies. Also, teachers can participate in professional development.

Winter break will run from Dec. 21-31, and the spring intersession is slated for March 7-18. The last day of school for students will take place May 27, and the final school day for teachers is scheduled for May 31.

"As far as the district office goes, we've only had positive reaction this year from everyone about the new schedule," said Wolsey. "In fact, we have community members telling us they're looking forward to the time off in the fall. We're ready and set to go."

Not all are fans

The new schedule hasn't always been accepted by the community, though. Last year, the district spent several months presenting the proposed schedule change to teachers and parents during three town hall meetings at area schools. The reaction was mixed, at best.

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.

Reasons for the traditional calendar included more summer camps and activities for students, a real break from teaching for educators, more time for older students to get a summer job and longer visitation during summer for children split between two homes.

Reasons against the traditional calendar were more time spent on review of the previous year's material at the beginning of the school year, too little remediation offered in the summer, and the difficulty in obtaining needed professional development for teachers.

The 45-10 calendar featured a list of reasons in favor of that schedule, including opportunities for families to take small trips throughout the year, less stress for teachers and students because of regular breaks during the school year, a decrease in child care expenses, and students not having to re-learn old material.

Reasons against the 45-10 schedule were lessened possibilities of students getting jobs during the two-week breaks, shortened summer programs, lost chances for student internships, and dissatisfaction among high schools because the schedule impacts sports.

Board member Laurie Voss Barthlow, whose daughter will be a freshman this year in the district, said she is in favor of the calendar change and the shorter summers. Barthlow said she understands that the schedule has been a big issue in the community, but believes it will be beneficial for all.

The board met repeatedly and agreed overwhelmingly that the 45-10 schedule would provide extra time for students during the intersessions to catch up on their studies or get more help, said Barthlow. The new schedule is a modified calendar, she added, not year-round school.

"This is what we came up with so we didn't have to lengthen the school day or year," said Barthlow. "The new schedule, as well as Re-teach and Enrich and Daily Math Skills, are all things we're doing to bolster our programs. Students need more than the basics to succeed, and we're giving them extra time so they don't have to cram it all in."