Calendar committee to release survey on balanced calendar, later start time

Published 10:01 am Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Austin Public Schools’ Calendar Committee is getting ready to release a public-wide survey to find out how the community feels about a balanced calendar or later start time for students.

Over 2014, a committee of about 50 community members — parents, teachers, students, school-board members, community members, business owners 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 second calendar committee, which consisted of about 35 members similarly diverse to the first group, took a 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. After many interviews with stakeholders, they are ready to release a survey for the public on the matter.

“These focused interviews … that was kind of phase one, so we’ve kind of wrapped up phase one now and we’ve collected a variety of information,” Calendar committee leader and teacher Jill Rollie said. “ … And now what we did with that baseline information is we created a survey.”

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The Austin Public Schools Board decided in January 2015 to continue researching an 8:30 a.m. or later start time, as well as what it called a “balanced calendar” with breaks no longer than eight weeks, after that first calendar committee recommended more research should be done on the topics.

“The school board’s recommendation was, they found there was some value with those suggestions and we needed to create a second group to really look at feasibility,” Rollie said.

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.

“The mission of this second group is a little different than the first group,” Rollie said. “To inform and gather information on the two suggestions that were recommended on the original group.”

The second committee started meeting 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, did not decide whether to make any changes. It simply researched questions or concerns that community members and board members have and see whether changes could work in Austin. Committee members interviewed many stakeholders in the community, and have just finished the survey which will be distributed sometime in January 2016. The survey will be open to the public and people will have access to online copies and paper copies for about two weeks.

“We’re really just looking for feedback and information so we can finish our mission,” Co-calendar committee leader and teacher Derik Gustafson said, emphasizing the hope that anybody who wants to turn in a survey can have access to it.

After gathering results from the research, interviews and survey, the committee will present their findings to the school board, likely in the spring.

“We’ll synthesize the information we collect in the survey, we’ll meet as a group and talk about what we want to present to the school board, and then it’s up to the school board what they want tot do with it,” Gustafson said.

“That’s on them,” Rollie added. “They’ll have to decide the next steps.”

Whether those next steps are more research or implementing a change will be up to the board.

Rollie and Gustafson commended the committee, which was open to any community member, for volunteering their time and energy to get as much information as possible to find out what’s best for students.

“They’re volunteering a lot of time to really investigate what’s best for our students so that’s cool,” Rollie said.

School officials previously told the Herald even if the district decided to implement one or both of the changes, it likely wouldn’t be implemented until 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.

Both committee’s research is available online, as well as the survey that will be available for people to fill out, at People can also attend meetings, which happen about twice a month, and can contact the district to find out more information.