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When I look at my calendar for this summer, it’s hard to find many stretches without copious activities marked down. It’ll be a busy summer with the kids and a number of school-related functions. (I don’t really have to tell you how most teachers don’t just relax for three months, do I?) Part of the process since February has been helping plan the school calendar for next year, because it’s never too early to plan ahead.

For the first time in many years, the staff had input into how next school year will shape up. Members of a committee hemmed and hawed over many alternative looks to the way the calendar has been set up in the past. Here’s a look at some of the major changes and the reasons behind them.

One that doesn’t affect many of you is that we added two extra professional development days as a staff. There is so much on the plate of a Minnesota educator these days that it’s impossible to get ready for the school year in three days, so we’ll spend five days prior to the school year (and many will be in there much more than that) getting more than just our bulletin boards ready.

The many initiatives (sometimes considered a swear word in education, but an unavoidable one) coming our way have led to something that will affect many of you: two-hour late starts. In the past, we always had 2-3 of these, often listening to speakers or spending times in our Professional Learning Communities. However, this year there will be one of these each month. They will always be on a Monday, usually the second Monday of the month. There just aren’t opportunities to get staff members together on a regular basis because of various meetings, coaching, etc. These late starts will be reserved solely for work on the initiatives we have going on.

Another big change revolves around parent-teacher conferences in the secondary building. We are going to try one conference night per quarter, right around mid-term. In the past, we did two sessions after first quarter and two in the middle of third quarter. These work well with the elementary principle, but not as much at the 6-12 level. After first quarter, it’s too late to do anything about the grades. In February, many teachers barely know their new semester classes.

Our hope is that conferences will become an opportunity for parents with children in trouble to come in and work out a plan for success. Honestly, so many parents keep up with grades online that conferences are starting to wane in attendance at our level. A quick email often alerts parents of a problem, and a resolution can be found. We still enjoy that face-to-face experience, but we’re spreading out those chances. As always, teachers are often available to meet at many times during a quarter; there’s no need to wait until a grade is out of reach!

My regular readers know how I feel about tacking snow day make-ups on the end of the year, and now we hope to avoid that! Snow day make-ups will occur within the school year, when valuable learning can still take place. There’s one each in December, January, February, and April, with what we hope is a remote chance also in June. Our hope is that parents can look at these and make plans that might be easily changed if we end up in school those days. It’s pretty simple: for example, if we have a blizzard on January 14, we have a make-up day scheduled for January 19, a day that will otherwise be off.

One big change from “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is that seniors will now attend just as many days as everyone else. Graduation has been pushed back a week and will not fall on Memorial Day weekend. It’s always been a struggle for the many classes which have mixed groups with what to do with the rest of the students that is meaningful when half the class is gone. This past year, seniors had six less days than the others, and the previous year, they missed ten days since we kept tacking days on the end. So if you’re planning your grad party for next year, do a double-check: graduation is May 31!

The continuous response we had on the committee was let’s try it. Some of these are sound ideas, even if they’ll take a little getting used to. If something flops completely, we can always change it for 2015-2016. Take a moment to look at the full calendar on the school’s website and start planning now!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is noesis, which means the exercise of reason, as in, “The calendar committee used noesis to determine some changes that could have made life easier long ago.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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