Two major changes to the Washington School District academic calendar will go into effect next year.
The district will add instructional time to the school day to alleviate makeup days due to inclement weather and eliminate the early out Wednesdays.
“That means no more snow days to make up,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Judy Straatmann, who presented academic calendars for 2019-20 and 2020-21 last Wednesday night to the school board.
Board members unanimously approved and applauded the changes.
Straatmann said due to a change in state law, there is no longer a minimum of student attendance days required, as long as the required number of hours are included in the calendar.
Currently, school districts are required to have a minimum of 174 days.
Straatmann said the new rule gives school districts more flexibility in developing their calendars.
So effective next school year, the Washington School District will have 1,104 hours of attendance which includes 60 hours of inclement weather makeup.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said many more school districts will be adjusting their academic calendars as a result, so making up snow days can become a thing of the past and students, parents and staff will follow a consistent schedule.
Straatmann said the instructional minutes being added will result in a set calendar with no changes in the beginning or end dates of school, holidays or winter/spring breaks.
Graduation also will be set, she said, with no possibility of having to change the date due to having too many snow days.
“That means not having to reprint graduation announcements or changing travel plans for out-of-town guests,” she said.
At the high school, start times will change next year from 8:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. The school day also will be extended by five minutes from 3:20 p.m. to 3:25 p.m.
The net change in time is 15 minutes, said Straatmann.
At the middle school, a 10-minute recess included as part of lunch will be eliminated and the start time will change from 8:30 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. School will end five minutes later from 3:25 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The net change in time is 20 minutes.
At the elementary level, there will be no changes in minutes because students already log 1,104-plus hours.
Straatmann noted that instructional time is figured differently at the elementary level because students are not moving between class periods as much as the middle school and high school.
At the Four Rivers Career Center, lunch will be reduced from 30 minutes to 25 minutes.
Straatmann noted that teachers will still be under contract for 183 days. While additional time is not being added to the teacher contracts under the new schedule, staff will be required to plan a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes outside of their contract.
Teachers are required to be at school 30 minutes before classes start and 15 minutes after classes end.
Straatmann noted that if school is canceled in excess of six days, staff will be asked to fulfill their contractual obligations by either reporting to work on an inclement weather day if roads are safe to travel; work from home utilizing the virtual desktop; use comp time acquired; or use personal time off.
Straatmann said the feedback from staff has been very positive.
The calendars were shared with the staff at each building to solicit feedback, she said, and tweaks were made based on that input.
Straatmann said the PLC (Professional Learning Communities) meetings for staff, now held every Wednesday afternoon, will be moved to one Friday a month.
This means no shortened classes on Wednesdays for students the next two years and instead they will have one Friday off each month.
There are many advantages to this change, Straatmann said, including providing more continuous, uninterrupted teaching time and more efficient use of professional learning for staff.
Parents and students also will like having planned three-day weekends to travel without missing schools, she said.
Straatmann noted the changes were developed with input from the district calendar committee comprised of teachers and administrators, balanced between the different grade levels and buildings.
In discussing any changes, Straatmann said the goals for the committee are to establish an academic calendar that maximizes student learning; that is considerate of professional learning time for staff; and is thoughtful and productive.
The committee also must work within state requirements.
“They did an exceptional job,” she said.