Routt County school calendar changes a tough sell
April 21, 2012
On paper, Hayden School District's calendar is merely a single page of boxes filled with numbers. Significant dates and holidays are highlighted, and it tells students which 156 days out of the year they need to attend class.
At Hayden School Board meetings, the calendar is an annual topic of discussion. When teachers and administrators want it changed, it is dissected for months and deliberated at public meetings for hours.
But inside homes, the calendar is something more. The piece of paper tells families when to take vacations and when to arrange day care. The calendar is key.
"It affects your work schedule and your day care schedule. It affects your family budget and your vacations," Hayden parent Don Hayes said. "There's a lot of things it's going to affect. That's why people are so passionate about it."
Hayes, like many parents in Routt County, has a strong opinion about his school district's calendar. He has spent hours at public meetings telling his School Board what he wants it to look like. And as proposals to change calendars continue to surface in Hayden and Steamboat Springs, parents will have many opportunities to weigh in.
A tough sell
For the second year in a row, the Hayden School Board on Wednesday night narrowly rejected changing the school calendar.
Board members voted, 3-2, against a proposal to adopt separate calendars for Hayden Secondary Schools and Hayden Valley Elementary School after a group of parents, including Hayes, said the district should stick with the traditional calendar. Parents said the new proposal, which included nine additional class days for middle and high school students, would have burdened about 40 families who have children at the elementary and secondary schools. They also said it would have added the expense of running buses on nine extra days.
"I'm a traditionalist," Hayes said Thursday. "I don't like changes to the calendar."
School Board President Brian Hoza and member Vance Fulton agreed with Superintendent Mike Luppes and staff at the secondary schools who said the change was necessary to improve academic achievement, while board members Kurt Frentress, Tim Frentress and Sharon Nereson agreed with parents and voted to keep things the same.
"It creates a rift every year," Kurt Frentress said about the calendar discussions. "We need to get a set schedule and stick with it."
Meanwhile, in the Steamboat Spring School District, Superintendent Brad Meeks said Thursday that he soon will present to the Steamboat Springs School Board and the community two alternative schedules to consider for the 2013-14 school year that aim to address blues break and whether to start after Labor Day. Meeks said regardless of which calendar his district adopts, the piece of paper won't please everyone — just like in Hayden.
"You know you're not going to make everyone happy with the calendar," Meeks said. "In my experience, support (for the adopted version) is almost 50-50 every time. That's just the way it is."
The last major change to Hayden's school calendar was approved April 20, 2005, when the Hayden School Board voted, 3-2, to give students 14 Fridays off and have teachers do professional development on those days. The move added 33 minutes to each school day and did not extend the calendar.
Today, staff members at the secondary schools aren't content with the current schedule, but the elementary school staff is.
Administrators at both campuses said this week that the calendar dilemma and drama exists because their campuses have different needs that are impossible to resolve with a unified schedule.
Still, they are hoping to come up with a compromise in the future that is best for students, teachers and parents.
"I just think all of us are trying to do what's best for kids," Hayden Valley Elementary School Principal Rhonda Sweetser said. "It's not them versus us. It's just the secondary schools and the elementary school function very differently in what we have to deal with. We have a lot more flexibility with our class time than the" secondary schools do.
Hayden Secondary Schools Principal Gina Zabel left the School Board meeting Wednesday night disappointed her school's calendar won't change next year. She, along with her building staff and Superintendent Luppes, wanted the School Board to approve adding nine class days for middle and high school students in an effort to improve academic achievement in the district.
"Most schools have 180 days to work with, and we have 156," Zabel said. "What really started this was a desire (last school year) for our Advanced Placement students to have more class days."
She added the status quo of the calendar does not address the needs of the students at the secondary schools.
A proposal from the secondary schools' staff last year to move the start of school before Labor Day and add eight class days also was rejected by the Hayden School Board after a 3-2 vote.
"We want to have a compromise that works for our entire K-12 system," Zabel said. "Our district adopted a calendar (Wednesday night) that one out of three campuses here supported."
Planning far ahead
As Hayden works to resolve its calendar gridlock, Steamboat's superintendent is hoping his school board by the end of this school year will have two years' worth of calendars approved.
"Just like anything, the sooner you know, the better," he said as he explained the rationale for having calendars set two years in advance, which typically hasn't been done in the district. "I think it's a convenience and a courtesy for parents who want to plan ahead for things."
But before parents can start planning for 2013-14, Meeks plans to seek their input on whether the school district should continue to offer blues break, a weeklong vacation that historically follows Presidents Day.
He said proposals he is considering to submit to the Steamboat Springs School Board include shortening that break to a four-day weekend or having school start after Labor Day.
"We're putting these together based on the feedback we got on the calendar that was approved for next school year," he said, adding that some parents and teachers have expressed an interest in eliminating the break because it interrupts the flow of the school year.
Former Steamboat Superintendent Shalee Cunningham in 2009 considered shortening blues break, which was started to accommodate families who work in industries that ramp up after Steamboat Ski Area closes in the spring, but district staff and parents spoke out against the move.
Steamboat School Board member Brian Kelly said Thursday that it's time for the district to reanalyze the vacation.
"I think you need to be willing to consider changes as a community," Kelly said. "Whatever the calendar is, it's a compromise. With blues break, you're not going to please all the people on this because some people do want that entire week off and other members might be happy with just a couple of days off. You just try to make as many members of the community as happy as you can. But you're not going to make them all happy."
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com