UPDATE 5/7/13 @ 10 p.m.
CABELL COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- During the past few months, many parents and teachers in Cabell County railed against the idea of switching to a balanced calendar.
They wanted the school board to take more time before making an official decision. Now they're getting their wish.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Sawrey says the education reform bill that passed in March is responsible for the delay.
"It was our understanding there would be a relaxation on a variety of rules that relate to the calendar,” Sawrey said. “It turned out it was much narrower. It may actually complicate putting a balanced calendar in place."
The new state superintendent told all school districts in the state they shouldn't make any decisions at this point because there are still questions about how the reform bill will be implemented.
At Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, Sawrey says those questions likely won't be answered until the fall.
The school board was originally going to vote on whether to make the switch this spring. They say more time to research all angles of a balanced calendar is not a bad thing.
"Any change that's going to be made, we want the community to embrace that change,” school board member Mary Freeman said. “That's the only way anything can be successful for our kids."
Sawrey says if they do end up adopting a balanced calendar, it likely won't be until the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest.
In five community meetings over the past couple months, the public mostly voiced opposition to the proposed switch.
Tuesday night school board members listened to a summary of the reaction presented by Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Gerry Sawrey.
Sawrey concluded by recommending that board members delay the decision because of proposed legislative changes that deal with the school calendar.
The report given to board members shows that following the presentations, of the 297 people who attended the community meetings, 178 still believed a traditional calendar was best for instruction while 54 said a balanced calendar was better. 65 said they were not sure.
Following the staff meetings, 51 employees were in favor of the balanced calendar, 50 were against, and 61 were not sure.
Those numbers were from survey cards handed to people following the meetings.
Tuesday night the public brought their concerns about the proposed switch to school board members.
A recurring complaint parents voiced is that no one has determined how much the changes would cost.
Of those who spoke during the delegation portion of the meeting, all but one told the board they were opposed to the balanced calendar.
Board members say they're taking all the feedback into consideration, but ultimately the vote will come down to doing what they feel is best for students.
"Being on other boards and commissions, I've had tough decisions to make, and I don't base any of that on being elected again,” board member Mary Neely said. “I base it in my heart and what I think is best for children right now."
"I think we have to consider the emotions of the parents and what they're going through,” board member Bennie Thomas said. “It's just sifting through the information and deciding what's best for kids."
The earliest a vote could come is mid-April, but not if the board takes Sawrey’s recommendation.
In her report, Sawrey said the majority of reasons for opposition “are highly personal based on traditions and routines built over the years around a 10-week summer break.”
Up for debate is a school schedule consisting of four 45-day quarters, with the three breaks lasting two to three weeks -- followed by a much shorter summer break.
If approved by the school board, the changes would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year.
Tuesday’s meeting was the last of five informational meetings, and a lot of parents say they're still not convinced it’s best for their kids.
The school board says the issue will be put to a vote either in late April or early May.
Monday night school officials held a public meeting at Barboursville Middle School where the public could learn more about the proposed changes and weigh in with their opinions.
This was the second of five such meetings in the county.
The new schedule would cut the long summer break from 10 weeks to about five.
The school year would consist of four 45-day quarters, with the other three breaks lasting two to three weeks.
During an hour-long presentation Monday, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Sawrey said research has shown the changes would help students living in poverty, said to be more than 50 percent in the county, by cutting away the learning loss that comes with the long summer break.
Students would also be offered academic help during the new breaks.
"I am concerned about the kids that are from families living in poverty,” Sawrey said. “We have an increasing percentage here in Cabell County, and often their voices really aren't heard."
Following the presentation, those in the crowd were separated into groups with facilitators at tables in the school cafeteria to talk about their thoughts on the proposed schedule change.
Connie Priddy has a son who attends Barboursville Middle School. She says she doesn’t believe a change in the school calendar would fix the problems.
"Students are going to be motivated on a very basic level, by their parents, by the way they're raised,” Priddy said. “There are a lot of things schools can't fix. Changing the calendar is certainly not going to be something that can fix those socioeconomic issues."
Sawrey says the balanced calendar benefits all students, not only those who have fallen behind.
Tara Nelson has two kids who go to Barboursville Elementary. She says she felt the presentation didn’t have enough specific information on how all students would benefit.
"I would like to see more specific information like test scores that other schools have raised by what percentage,” Nelson said. “I didn't hear that. It was very vague, I thought."
The next meeting is scheduled for February 25 at Milton Middle School.
The changes, if approved by the school board, would go into effect for the 2014-2015 school year.
You can read more information on the balanced calendar on the Cabell County Schools web site:
Steve Knighton, who's principal at Piedmont Elementary, has a pretty good idea what the concerns are. His school was changed to a modified calendar in 1996, and it's been that way ever since.
"There's going to be a lot of angst among the parents," Knighton said. "They're going to be concerned about how it's going to affect them personally and their family life."
Knighton says the first year Piedmont switched the calendar, he was running two schools under one roof. One half was on the modified calendar, and the other half was for students whose parents resisted the change.
"Our attendance went up with both students and staff," Knighton said. "Our discipline issues were down, and our test scores went up, as well."
Kim Landers teaches the fifth grade at Piedmont and remembers that, as well.
"I remember the kids who took the tests in the spring," Landers said. "Their scores were so much higher. I was shocked. I didn't expect that."
Every parent interviewed by WSAZ says they appreciate the modified schedule.
"We love it. I wish the middle schools and high schools did it, too," Erin Coffman said. "We know take our vacation at the beach in September. There are fewer crowds, and it's a lot cheaper."
If Cabell County makes the move to a "modified" or "balanced" calendar, it will not be until the 2014-2015 school year.
Keep in mind, students would still only be required to be in school for 180 days a year. The breaks are just spread out during the course of 12 months.
If you'd like to learn more, here's a list of upcoming informational meetings in Cabell County:
Doors open at 6 p.m. for each meeting.
The first input meeting with parents and community members will be at Huntington Middle School starting at 6 p.m. School employees can meet with district leaders from 4-5 p.m.
The "balanced calendar" would mean 45 days of classes, then an extended break, 45 more days, then break.....throughout the year with one month long break during summer.
The earliest it would be implemented is the fall of 2014.
It's nothing new for Piedmont Elementary, in Charleston, W.Va. That school has been on a modified schedule for 17 years.
NewsChannel3'ss Bill Murray profiles the school and its learning curve, coming up on NewsChannel3's 5:30 Edition.
It's a number that has school leaders taking a serious look at what changes they can make to change those numbers.
That is why they are looking at a "balanced calendar" to begin the 2014-2015 school year.
The idea is a shorter summer break with other, longer breaks or "intersessions" scattered throughout the school year.
It would mean major changes for families in so many ways -- childcare, changes to family vacations, summer camps and sports.
"I believe people working around what the schools need to have that is the dog wagging the tail, not looking at the tail wagging the dog," Cabell County Superintendent William Smith said.
But school leaders argue the change could help close the achievement gap with those 57 percent of students who are considered low income.
At a meeting Tuesday, Assistant Superintendent Gerry Sawwy explained a study from Johns Hopkins University that helps put the push in perspective.
"After 20 years of research they found that summer learning loss is really responsible for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low income students and higher income students by the ninth grade," Sawwy said. "That is really profound."
She went on to explain, "By the end of the fifth grade, low income students are two to three grade levels behind."
Enslow Presbyterian Preschool operates on the Cabell County Schools calendar. Director Diana Van Horn believes they could easily change the schedule to adjust.
"I really believe in the fact that there are children who fall further and further behind with every passing summer, so I am very excited about it and very supportive," Van Horn said.
Teacher Teresa Merry, however, is concerned about the "stop-and-start process" she said that might affect her 3-year-old kids.
"You can expect some separation anxiety issues at the beginning of the year, even with two weeks," Merry said. "At Christmas they come back in, they are screaming for mommy, holding on to her leg. You have to peel them off and you have to start all over again."
She, like so many other parents, wants to ensure time with family. That's where the lengthy summer break came in handy.
"If you have sports activities and camps and all different things trying to pile that into two little weeks there is no time left to be a family," Merry said. "Family as far as I am concerned is the most important part of it. It has to start at home."
Stay-at-home-mom Ellen Johnson says she is interested in trying the balanced approach out. She recognizes her situation is unique.
"So it would be a little easier for me. I can see where it would be a big problem if you have two full time parents," she said.
Both Ben Smith and his wife work full time. He says the span of a three-month break makes it easier to care for his small children.
Sawwy explained Tuesday that this move is not about convenience or tradition.
"This is a discussion about student achievement for all," she said.
Smith explained the additional costs have been tallied and he says they would be minimal.
He also believes the "intersessions" or breaks that would happen would be opportunities for teachers to stay in the classroom and for students to have enrichment that goes beyond the confines of the school curriculum. He believes the district already has the money needed for the programs, it's just a matter of redistribution.
School leaders are anxious to talk with community members with questions and concerns. They also realize day care providers, summer camp leaders and many other entities would be affected by this. They are hoping those groups come to the meeting.
A series of meetings is scheduled to address those concerns. Click on the link below to find a meeting near you and more information about the proposal.
If the school board decides to vote on this issue, the vote would be in May.
A draft version of what's called a balanced calendar was presented to members for review. Experts say students do better without the summer drought of not having an education.
But school officials say they're not rushing into anything just yet. They say after Christmas break they will begin to have meetings with the public to get more input.
If the board should decide to make the switch, the calendar would be effective for the 2014-2015 school year.