Two weeks before a decisive school board vote, Director of Schools Jesse Register is heightening his pitch for adopting a new balanced school calendar, releasing a short video to board members Tuesday night to help make the case.
“Time is a very important variable that we need to use better,” Register begins in a film he narrates. “I feel like we cheat children out of time in Tennessee.”
For the past several weeks, Register has had board members, teachers and parents analyzing and providing feedback on two so-called balanced calendars for the 2012-2013 school year that would shorten summer breaks, but create longer spring and fall breaks, along with “intersessions” aimed at student enrichment.
All the chatter is heading to a climax when the Metro Nashville Board of Education votes on a proposal Aug. 23.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Register described a scenario in which he would likely recommend the board adopt a version that would begin school on July 25 in 2012, contingent on an extra $20 million in future unidentified funding to extend the number of school days from 173 to 180 days. The proposal also has 10 days reserved for the professional development of teachers.
But his recommendation would have what he calls a “fallback” plan if the $20 million weren’t available. As a plan B, the board would approve a second balanced calendar that would begin school on Aug. 1, cost no additional funding, but only increase school days to 176.
“Long summer vacations affect the retention of learning that children have over the course of the school year,” Register said, adding that it disproportionately hurts economically disadvantaged and English Language Learner students.
Of course, Register’s recommendation, if it materializes, would come down to the votes of nine board members — and they made it clear Tuesday they haven’t decided. The board could also vote for one of two traditional calendars.
“There is a lot of speculation that a decision has been made by this board,” board member Cheryl Mayes said. “But it has not.”
During a one-hour conversation on the topic Tuesday, board member Mark North cited concerns with the $20 million in funding. As did board member Michael Hayes, who alluded to the “political realities” of the coming year when he said a property tax increase could be on the horizon.
But board member Ed Kindall reminded colleagues that adopting a balanced calendar wouldn’t necessarily be asking for additional funds; hence, the plan B.
“As a school board, we do what’s best for children,” Kindall said. “I think we need to put that out there and not worry about $20 million. Hopefully, that will happen. If it doesn’t happen, then we haven’t lost anything. We would move back to the same calendar.
“If you start talking about that now, and start speculating on whether or not we’ll be able to get that money, all that does is give people ammunition who don’t want a balanced calendar,” he said.
• In other items, the school board adopted changes for the 2012-2013 student assignment plans of the Antioch, Cane Ridge, Pearl-Cohn and Hunters Lane high school clusters.
The changes only affect certain neighborhoods and schools within each cluster. Approved changes are available to view at mnps.org.