Developing the district calendar each year may seem like a formulaic procedure that only requires shifting school days around standing holidays. However, in practice, it is a lengthy and involved process. Our goal is to create a calendar that prioritizes student learning and success, while also balancing adherence to a number of state mandates, weighing parent and staff input, and working around the natural calendar year. Occasionally, the elements stack against us and make it difficult to find a formula that meets everyone’s needs; 2017-18 is one of those years. We understand the impact our calendar has on work schedules, family travels, etc., so let me shed some light on how we arrived at the current, approved calendar.
We start with a set of guidelines we call our “non-negotiables.” These are requirements set by the Texas legislature through the Education Code that all public school districts must follow. Non-negotiables include: the requirement that teachers work a minimum of 187 days, including 11 in-service (staff development) days; students are required to receive 75,600 minutes of instruction, which is 176 days in LISD due to the length of our school day; students may not start school earlier than the fourth Monday in August; two bad weather makeup days must be scheduled; and early release days may not exceed six. This year, the fourth Monday in August is the 28th, the first time in 11 years it has fallen so late in the month. Starting this late has made it difficult to fit all the teaching, learning, holiday and testing days into our calendar puzzle, without pushing the end of school to mid-June.
In addition to those mandates, we also take into consideration other issues like keeping the number of instructional days per semester as even as possible, working around testing days in the spring semester, trying to follow the same spring break schedule as the University of Texas, allowing one week of vacation for Thanksgiving, two weeks for the winter break and two days for our district Continuous Improvement Conference (CIC).
Once we have weighed those many factors, we begin the process of drafting and approving our calendar. From October through November, district administrators work with staff and community committees to collect their priorities and input that help shape the calendar. In December, a draft is presented to the Board of Trustees for their discussion and ultimately their approval. This year, because of the unusually difficult parameters, Board members spent several hours over several Board meetings discussing various options and working with staff to develop eight different calendar drafts. Feedback from parents and staff was collected and voiced after each draft was shared, which helped guide our Board of Trustees to approve a calendar during their Feb. 2 meeting that they felt best serves our students, staff and community.
You will notice a few changes from this year’s calendar to next, which I would like to highlight. Because Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a Monday, we have opted to start the winter break on Wednesday, Dec. 20, to give our families adequate travel time ahead of the holiday, with staff returning on Wednesday, Jan. 3, and classes resuming Jan. 4. This mid-week break and return also helps relieve our working parents, where the original full-week holiday extended to Jan. 8. We have also eliminated early release days (except for high schools before the end of semester), replacing them with full staff development days to help minimize interruptions for parents. Additionally, we have moved our two-day staff CIC from the beginning of February to August prior to the start of school. This helps balance the number of holiday, bad weather and staff development days in the spring semester, and allows our staff time to apply the valuable knowledge they gain at the CIC throughout the entire school year.
The Board did discuss a new option called District of Innovation passed by the 84th Legislature in 2015 that may help ease scheduling restrictions, but the Board decided not to pursue it at this time. I will discuss the District of Innovation more in-depth in next week’s column.
While there is no one calendar scenario for 2017-18 that will be a perfect fit for everyone, I want you to know we have heard you and have made every possible effort to accommodate as many requests as possible. I would also like to take a moment to thank our Board of Trustees and staff for the many hours they spent working together and deftly navigating this complicated process, as well as all those who have spoken up to help us reach an amicable solution.
To download a copy of the approved 2017-18 LISD School Calendar, please click on the Calendars button on the left side of our website.