Austin board pushes calendar research forward

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Committee will continue looking at options

Austin Public Schools will continue looking into revisions to its schools’ calendar and start time, but potential changes are still years away.

The Austin Public Schools Board decided Monday to continue researching an 8:30 a.m. start time and what it called a “balanced calendar” with breaks no longer than eight weeks. Even with the board’s support, any potential changes are still years away. If the board eventually approved a change for the district’s calendar or start time, school officials said the changes probably wouldn’t be implemented until 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.

“We’re really at the beginning; this is a marathon, not a sprint,” board member Angie Goetz said. “We have a lot left to learn, talk about, and a lot of community input left to take place; a lot of educating all of us.”

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Over 2014, a committee of about 50 community members — parents, teachers, students, school-board members and others — researched different options for a school’s yearly calendar, as well as other options, such as start time, that could help students.

The group recommended at a previous school board meeting that the board continue researching possible changes to see if they could be good for Austin.

Moving forward, there will likely be a new committee formed to research more in-depth questions that people have.

“We don’t know what that structure will look like yet, but there will be committees working on it,” Superintendent David Krenz said.

He said the new committee will likely meet this spring to discuss logistics and meet in the fall to start doing more in-depth research, similar to the first calendar working group’s structure. The new committee, similar to the first, will not decide whether to make any changes. It will simply research questions or concerns that community members and board members have and see whether changes could work in Austin.

About 84 percent of the original committee recommended further investigation for an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for grades five through 12, while maintaining the current number of instructional minutes per day. About 92 percent of the group recommended further investigation of what it called a “balanced calendar” with breaks no longer than eight weeks, while maintaining the current number of instructional days per year.

Those options will be the main focus points for the new committee, which will look more in-depth at things such as how the busing schedule would work or how activities such as sports or 4-H would be effected.

“I think it’s good,” Krenz said. “I think the original working group felt positive enough about it, and obviously with their votes on the early start time and the calendar options, that they were overwhelmingly positive about continuing to look at it. And I think that had an impact too in how the board viewed things.”

Goetz was excited to learn more about options to enhance learning, but she said it will be a slow process for the board and working committee.

“Our calendar working group did a fantastic job in bringing lots of good research to us,” Goetz said. “I think we still have a lot to learn; I think that our focus should always be student achievement, with what’s best for our community in mind.”

Goetz said the board will not take the research lightly and will not rush through it. She said the board is excited to look into anything that could benefit students, even if it doesn’t come to fruition.

Krenz said the board has a good start with the committee’s research and discussions with the board.

“There obviously were a lot of questions put forth, and a lot of good discussion, which I think is important,” Krenz said “They don’t want to rush into something without having all the facts.”