Grandview ISD and Keene ISD recently released revised calendars for the 2020-21 school year that feature a more balanced year.

Both school districts will start their academic years earlier and end later than a traditional school calendar, but with more breaks and days off throughout the school year.

Grandview ISD’s board of trustees has already approved its revised 2020-21 school calendar while Keene ISD’s board is set to vote on its new calendar at its Monday meeting. Other school districts in Johnson County are also considering changes to their school calendars.

The revised calendars are partially due to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the 2019-20 school year.

“I think people realize that times are different right now,” Grandview Superintendent Joe Perrin said. “The main reason we’re doing it is because we feel like this is what’s best for our students.

“Normally we would not make this big of a change at this time of year, but with missing nine weeks and the strong possibility of missing days throughout the year, we feel like it is what is best for our kids. As you have probably seen on the news, both the governor and commissioner are encouraging schools to adjust their calendar. If we didn’t change and had to be out, the days missed would have to be made up at the end of the year in June.”

Perrin and fellow administration met with two separate groups of teachers and a group of parents on Zoom over the past couple of weeks to develop GVISD’s updated calendar.

Keene Superintendent Ricky Stephens said he believes their new school calendar — if approved — will be a win-win.

“Our main concern when we did this was we did not want to make a decision to change the way we do things based solely on the virus, because that’s not a good way to make academic policy decisions,” Stephens said. “So we really wanted to make sure what we are doing is best for academics, No. 1. So it’s best for academics and then also benefited us in case of the virus returning, so it’s a win-win.”

Even in normal years, the “summer slide” is a challenge for schools and students. But due to coronavirus closing schools to in-person learning two months early, there are concerns for how drastic this year’s summer slide will be when students return after this summer break. Stephens said this calendar — featuring a shortened summer break — will help cut into that summer slide.

“The summer slide is real,” Stephens said. “Every year, forever and ever, when a kid leaves at the end of the school year and comes back 12 weeks later, they fall off six, seven, eight weeks worth of where they were when they left us. So the first four or five weeks of school is teachers trying to get students back to where they were when they left. 

“The coronavirus amplified that slide. You’re looking at possibly a semester’s worth of loss. So that’s what we looked at is how do we shrink the summer slide, and this balanced calendar fits perfect. You turn it from a 12-week slide to seven weeks. Logically, it makes sense you’d have less slide if you’re out half as long.”

Perrin echoed similar thoughts about the summer slide and how this new calendar will help eradicate those issues.

“You always have that time in the summer where students have been off for so long, when they come back teachers have to spend so much time getting them caught back up,” Perrin said. “We feel like starting two weeks early will help with that.”

Another positive to the revised calendars includes increased time off during the school year, for multiple reasons, including simply giving teachers and students extra breaks while also providing built-in options in case a second wave of COVID-19 returns and shuts down school for a couple weeks.

For example, Keene ISD breaks its school year into four nine-week semesters. And after each nine-week semester, there will be a break. After starting school on Aug. 4, a two-week break is scheduled at the end of the first nine weeks for Oct. 5-16. The second nine-week semester, which features a week off for Thanksgiving, includes a three-week break for Christmas and New Year’s. At the end of the third nine-week semester is a two-week spring break March 15-26.

“This gives us hard breaks at the end of our nine weeks,” Stephens said. “We’ll go nine weeks and have two weeks off. One of those weeks is straight-up vacation and the next week is reserved for remediation. Another one of our things is we think it helps with teacher and student burn-out, which is real. They go through long stretches of school every day for long periods of time. This gives them opportunities to avoid that. You go nine weeks hard and then you’re off a while. The way I look at it is we’re giving families extra time in the fall and in the spring to really spend time together.”

Stephens also discussed those extra weeks as built-in security due to the virus.

“It changes hourly, but as of today, if we get a single confirmed case on a campus, then it’s going to put a campus on quarantine for 14 days,” he said. “If that happens before the two-week break in October, then those two weeks make up for that. The breaks are built in there to make up for bad weather days, the coronavirus, massive flu outbreak, a tornado coming through, etc. Those days are built in there to where we could accommodate days lost within the school calendar.”

While Keene’s and Grandview’s new school years are similar, there are differences. Grandview won’t have the two-week break in October that Keene implemented. Instead, Grandview ISD has an extra week off before the Thanksgiving holiday for a two-week break. Grandview, which also breaks its school year into quarters, will also be off three-plus weeks for winter break in addition to two weeks off for spring break in March.

Both Perrin and Stephens said their respective school districts will work with students and their families with any scheduling conflicts due to late notice of the school year change.

“There were some people who already had vacations planned and some who help their families with work, like on a farm, and different things like that, so we’re going to work with them this year,” Perrin said. 

“This is an 18- to 24-month process that we did in a month and a half because of the situation with the virus,” Stephens said. “We realize some people may have had a vacation planned that first week of August, so just call us. I have a teacher who has an anniversary cruise planned that she can’t get out of. And we’re going to work with her. We’re going to work with parents this first year because it was such a quick change.”

Stephens posted a powerpoint presentation with detailed explanation and information online, which is available on Keene ISD’s Facebook page.

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