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With the end of the 2019-20 school year at Scotland County R-I cancelled and doubt lingering about when classes will be able to resume due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is for certain, the SCR-I district calendar will have a whole new look.
At the April 17th meeting of the Scotland County R-I Board of Education, the school board voted 5-2 to approve a four-day school week calendar for the 2020-21 school year.
The issue had been voted down in March, but returned for discussion at the April meeting when the board moved to change course.
As the board prepared to discuss approving the district calendar for the upcoming school year, Board President Christy Aylward asked members to reconsider the proposal to transition the district to four-day weeks as opposed to the traditional five-day school week.
“Many hours had been spent researching, collecting and analyzing data from existing four-day school week districts and public opinion from Scotland County teachers, staff, students, parents and community members,” said Aylward. “I can speak as the board President that every board member has each student’s education as a priority.”
In March, the board had voted 4-3 to stick with the traditional five-day school week. Aywlard, Jamie Triplett and Sam Berkowitz had voted in favor of the four-day week, while Sydney Johnson, George Koontz, Rhonda McBee and Cole Tippett voted against the measure.
“Heading into the process, I was originally opposed to the idea,” said Berkowitz, who voted in favor of the transition all along. “I had a problem with the concept of fitting what has always taken five days, now into four days of instruction time. Ultimately I deferred to the teachers, who know more about it than anybody, and a vast majority were in favor of this.”
That combined with overwhelming public support of the issue were enough to convince Berkowitz to vote for the change.
“We had tremendous response to a public survey on the proposal and more than 80% were in favor of transition to the four-day week,” said Berkowitz. “That is a huge majority so I felt like I needed to support it.”
Board member Jamie Triplett echoed those sentiments. He indicated initially he was not in favor of the change but eventually decided to support the issue based on feedback from the staff and the community.
“Through personal contact with various stakeholders, I believe that closely mirrored the favorable survey results combined with research findings, staff survey results, and community survey results all showing positive support of a hybrid schedule,” he stated. “I believe that if the SCR-1 staff and the majority of stakeholders are in favor of an issue, then positive results will be achieved. I have no doubt this decision will have a positive outcome even facing the current situation.”
While the public supported the issue, board member Rhonda McBee still had concerns about the measure and ultimately voted against it on both occasions.
“This was a very difficult decision for me as a board member based on my experiences as a former educator and school administrator, parent, and grandparent,” she said. “I attended the public forums and I viewed the public survey results. I especially focused on the comments collected on the surveys and did not feel confident that student learning was the primary reason for a change in how our district delivers instruction to all students. I did not find any comments that suggested that patrons believed that student learning will be improved for the majority of students by changing our instructional delivery to a modified calendar that lengthens the academic day.”
She noted that while there are pros to changing the instructional school calendar such as retaining and attracting quality teachers and administrators as well as providing older students and high achieving students more time to focus on their individual interests, it was not enough to overcome here concerns about instructional time for all students.
“In my experiences I have found that daily contact with students, especially our younger population, has a profound effect on academic and social learning,” she said. “Young students often do not have the developmental skills necessary to remain focused for longer periods of time and I feel that extending the day will not enhance student learning for our youngest students. It is my belief that students in the lower grades are acquiring and learning critical skills to be successful in the upper grades and in life. My greatest concern is that by limiting the days that students are with trained educators and their peer group; it may negatively impact their ability to make optimal progress in future years.”
After discussing the issues at the April 17th board meeting, a vote was called to approve the traditional five-day week, 173-day school calendar. The voted failed by a 4-3 mark with Johnson, McBee and Koontz voting yes, and Tipett, Aylward, Triplett, and Berkowitz voting no.
A motion was them made to approve the 2020-21 school calendar that was originally presented at the March board meeting calling for a four-day school week. The motion passed by a 5-2 vote with Aylward, Berkowitz, Koontz, Tippett and Triplett voting yes and Johnson and McBee voting no.
“For the 2020-2021 school year the decision was made to move to a modified four-day school week,” said Aylward. “This decision was not taken lightly and there was much discussion. The uncertain times we are currently maneuvering through has given us pause as to the right course of action in terms of the way education will be delivered. One thing is certain when our students return to classes at SCR-1, as a district we must be equipped to assess our students and provide the best educational experience. Our current way of doing ‘business’ will forever be changed by the educational and future financial setbacks. As a district, we must think outside of the box in terms of how our teachers are going to assess individual student need and provide resources necessary to make our students successful following the absence of school attended fourth quarter.”
Despite being opposed to the change, McBee expressed her confidence that the district will make it work.
“Ultimately, my decision to support a traditional calendar was based on what I felt would benefit long term and future academic progress for students. I respect the work of the committee that reviewed and presented the findings of the four-day calendar and I have confidence that our board, administrators, teachers and staff will continue to provide our students with a quality education using the calendar that was approved,” she said. “We are very fortunate to have a school that provides quality instruction and puts the needs of students at the forefront. This has been very evident during this difficult time in our community, state and nation.”