Following a 5-2 decision Monday night, the Cleburne ISD board of trustees approved a new COVID-19 response calendar for the 2020-21 academic school year which includes 10 additional days for targeted student support and enrichment.
The “Option B” calendar, one of three presented to teachers, staff and parents in an online survey conducted last week, will have students reporting back to school on Aug. 3. The first day of school for teachers will be July 29. Fifteen minutes have also been added to the school day at the elementary level, with all CISD campuses observing 8 a.m. start times, dismissing at 3:45 p.m.
Trustees were provided with the results from the calendar survey, along with optional comments from participants. In addition to feedback regarding the calendar options, parents were asked if they felt safe in sending their students back to school in August, while teachers and staff were asked if they felt safe returning to work.
“There was no clear-cut, overwhelming consensus from parents or staff regarding any of the calendar options,” said Dr. Chris Jackson, assistant superintendent of Research, Data and School Improvement. “The questions and comments we received are a reflection of what we will be covering in the coming weeks in creating a plan for coming back to school. There are a lot of questions about protocols, and we are still waiting on guidelines from the Texas Education Agency on what daily operations will look like.”
District administrators making up the Superintendent’s Cabinet recommended the adoption of the Option B calendar as a balanced approach in addressing gaps in learning, due to the loss of 44 days of face-to-face instruction with the closing of schools to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus. The calendar also takes into account possible disruptions to the school year due to COVID concerns.
With the additional ten days for instructional support and enrichment, in which student attendance is encouraged but not mandatory, will come $2.2 million in state funding, which will be utilized in compensating teachers and staff involved in the expanded learning days for students.
“In proposing this calendar, we are being responsive to possible closures and anticipated gaps in learning due to the early closing of school last spring and the ‘summer slide,’” Jackson said. “Once school starts back, we must be prepared to support students, many who will be behind academically.”
Cleburne has designated two days of supportive intervention focused on reading and math and enrichment at all grade levels, at the end of the first through fifth six week grading periods.
“This calendar is out of the box — and will require more work from our teachers and staff,” Jackson said. “It will have students in school for 180 days. But there’s a lot of research that supports extended learning opportunities and targeted instructional time. On our targeted support and enrichment days, we will be ready to meet the needs of all learners.”
Through periodic conferences with parents, teachers will establish mutual agreements for students to attend the scheduled sessions to receive support for specific learning needs.
“We hope our parents will take the opportunity to have their child receive targeted instruction in the small group settings we will be utilizing,” Jackson said. “This focused support will be more intense and will provide personalized instruction.”
Trustee John Finnell said the calendar option proposed to the board, with the expanded learning opportunities, made it a viable plan, with funding to address the teachers that will be engaged.
“These ten days will give students what they didn’t have,” Finnell said. “It’s an opportunity for kids to get extra time, and with the state funding for this, we have an incentive for those teachers interested in teaching more days. This calendar has us doing something if COVID comes back, and doing something to address the learning lost in the spring. If everyone opts in, we have a plan---and one we can pay for.”
“My thing goes back to the loss of student growth due to the lost days of classroom instruction and the summer slide,” Trustee Teddy Martyniuk said. “With the changes we are making in this calendar, we want to impact that. I’m more concerned about this than the financials. By starting earlier, how fast are we going to bring kids back from the slide? How do we know what kids did during remote instruction and over the summer? If the purpose of this calendar option is to address the slide and gaps in learning, we need to adopt it.”
Superintendent Kyle Heath told trustees the upcoming school year would not be “normal” due to the impact of COVID-19.
“We can all agree the next school year will not be a normal thing,” Heath said. “None of us has a crystal ball. But we do know we can provide the best possible things for kids in offering this additional targeted support and enrichment. And we have found a funding source to help with it. If we never try anything different, we can’t expect a different outcome. Our job is to produce students who can be successful in society, and we also need to be cognizant of the social and emotional needs of our students and staff. Our teachers have done an incredible job and this is one more tool for them to help students, through these ten additional days of learning support and enrichment.”
More than 825 parents participated in the online calendar survey, which was provided in English and Spanish. About 485 responses were received from CISD staff, including 300 teachers. The adopted calendar will have the school year ending before Memorial Day. The new calendar has been posted on the district website, c-isd.com.