Calendar chaos

Calendar Chaos
Posted on 04/03/2017

The Dispatch

The Lexington City Council’s vote Monday to convert the Lexington City Board of Education from an appointed board to an elected one - all at once, this fall - has rippled throughout the school system and the city.

Noting the upheaval likely to be caused by the system’s first-ever election, the current school board voted to rescind a plan for a “balanced calendar” next school year that would have given students more, but shorter, breaks. Now district administrators are scrambling to come up with a more traditional calendar.

The change has staff, parents and childcare providers adjusting their plans for the upcoming school year.

The resolution passed by the City Council, in addition to a proposed local bill sent to the legislature in Raleigh, takes away the council’s ability to appoint members of the school board and will establish an elected board with seven members instead of the current nine.

With each of the board seats up in the election, the possibility exists of having a completely new board of education at the end of the year.

Rick Kriesky, superintendent of Lexington City Schools, said he is “devastated and sad” the district won’t use the balanced calendar, a project the district officials had been researching and preparing to implement for three years. But, he said, administrators will push forward with the standard calendar.

“We have a very, very … brief window of time to move forward with the new (standard) calendar because we want to be as sensitive to our students, parents and staff as possible,” Kriesky said. “It’s truly unfortunate … but we respect our City Council, and we respect the authority that they have to disband the school board. This is the hand that we were dealt, and we will do the best that we can for our students.”

Community impact

The proposed balanced calendar has caused conflict over the past three years, and Lexington residents have been divided over whether or not switching calendars would be best for students’ academic progress and their parents’ schedules.

Throughout the past three months, Kriesky met with the top five childcare providers in the city to help them best plan for the altered school schedule. With the system reverting to a standard calendar, these providers must now backpedal on their proposed plans.

One of the providers, Richard Akashambatwa, director of the Kidz Dreamz Klub, an organization that provides after-school and summer academic programs for children from low-income families, said this switch presents “logistical challenges” for him and his business.

“We had to first and foremost plan for how we were going to execute the summer, because … the city school kids were going to go back after seven weeks, and the county kids were going to have a longer summer …” Akashambatwa said. “We were planning for summer activities, and we book (them) ahead of time. So we started booking activities for summer camp for less children when the city school goes back. Now we have to go back and say, well, now we need more spots for these activities.”

Akashambatwa said the Kidz Dreamz Klub serves around 105 students during the summer season, with 60 percent of the children coming from the city school system.

In addition to making changes to their summer camp plans, Akashambatwa said Kidz Dreamz Klub also had to make changes to how they approached the breaks during the school year, changes they must now undo.

“We started communicating to parents and making sure they understand the differences when the children (from city schools) were to go back to school, there are those weeks they were going to have breaks during the balanced calendar, so we started planning for those weeks … so we could accommodate parents and their schedules,” Akashambatwa said. “That in itself was also another change in the planning. … A lot of programs, I’m sure, in the area will have to change back again and begin to normalize again their program.”

Virginia Keller, who has a grandson who attends elementary school in the district, said she was excited about the school system going back to a standard calendar.

“I am for it. It works better for me as far as, you know, finding someone to take care of him and my work schedule,” Keller said.

Akashambatwa said as he informs parents of the switch back to a standard calendar he has received “mixed” reactions.

“It was a mixture of responses,” Akashambatwa said. “There were some parents who said the balanced calendar was going to be good for children in terms of academics … and then there were other parents who didn’t like it because it affects their vacation times … and things like that, but it was mixture.”

The calendar process

The City Council passed the resolution at its meeting Monday night, and Tuesday morning Kriesky and other system administrators got to work on a traditional calendar. Due to the limited time they have to draft the new calendar, Kriesky said he got a copy of the 2017-2018 Davidson County Schools calendar to use as a template.

On Thursday, the Lexington City Schools calendar committee, which is comprised of selected staff members from each school, parents and central office administrators, reviewed the template, the feedback and suggestions from the staff and state laws regarding school calendars and recommended the proposed calendar for Kriesky to review on Friday.

Kriesky said the committee reviewed a total of 183 possible changes by staff to the new calendar, and 72 of those responses stated that they would like to start school earlier than Aug. 28, which ultimately was impossible because the calendar would more closely resemble a balanced calendar rather than the standard one the district is trying to adopt.

“I think it indicates that our teachers recognize the fact that being able to complete the first semester prior to Christmas break is in the best interest of students academically,” Kriesky said.

Kriesky said the calendar creation process is normally a 30- to 60-day endeavor that begins in January, with the calendar presented to the board of education at its March meeting. However, with these changes, administrators had to squeeze this entire process into less than a week.

The new calendar is scheduled to be proposed by Kriesky to the board of education during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Julia Hudgins can be reached at (336) 249-3981, ext. 213, or at julia.hudgins@the-dispatch.com. Follow Julia on Twitter: @LexDispatchJH