April 27th, 2021
Each spring we compile a group of educators, parents, and administrators to examine and develop a new academic calendar for the upcoming school year. This year is no different - although we got a later start than normal due to the pandemic affecting just about every facet of our work. With the significant needs and support we recognize our students will require to help them recover from the last eighteen months, we prioritized time at the beginning of the year for staff to work together so we are ready to serve our students well. We also applied for a 3-day waiver to allow for embedded professional development tying together all the instructional initiatives we have been working on.
Last Wednesday evening, April 21st, the MSD School Board approved our 2021-22 annual calendar and a waiver application to allow for three days of professional development and training as a part of the student calendar. The calendar committee included the waiver option to reinforce and support the effectiveness of our instructional practices to support students who are in need of more direct, targeted strategies to increase achievement. There are some significant improvements in this calendar: conferences are moved to the front of each semester, embedded waiver days for the entire district staff training, and remote learning for inclement weather events. This is an investment to increase training and understanding for our teachers and support staff.
I want to share a HUGE appreciation for the work of the Annual Calendar Development Task Force. There are some great advances in this calendar. They will help us build stronger relationships with our families, increase our instructional and inclusive practices to increase achievement, and invest in each other. We know time is one of the most difficult barriers to developing collaborative and coordinated professional learning opportunities. Much thought has gone into this calendar about how we provide ongoing training and support to ensure the effectiveness of our instruction as we shift to support individual student needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
I notice there are 3 fewer student days in the school calendar. Why is that?
OSPI requires an average of 1027 hours of instruction for each school year in a 180-day calendar. OSPI provides a waiver option to address learning needs and allow for flexibility of their programs. School districts are permitted to waive up to five school days in a given calendar year as long as they meet the 1027 instructional hour requirement. Waivers are good for three years. Meridian School District has been working to build specific instructional skills and content knowledge to increase student achievement and close opportunity gaps - two significant strategic plan goals. Our waiver proposal invests three days to provide additional training and professional development to teachers and support staff across the district. We will continue to exceed the required 1027 instructional hours.
Haven’t we had staff workdays in our other annual calendars?
Yes, we have used four non-student workdays to prepare the day before school starts, a workday between semesters for grading, and one additional workday in each semester. OSPI requires districts to dedicate content for two of these four days: one to examine social-emotional learning and the other to examine racial equity. While we have had those days, and they will continue, there are OSPI requirements for specific content. This has limited our ability to create cohesively shared professional development for our teachers and support staff to better meet our strategic plan goals of increased student achievement and closing opportunity gaps through improved instructional skills. In this calendar, we moved the two workdays from each semester to the beginning of the year and have placed the waiver days in October, March, and May to build our professional development targeted at improving instructional practices throughout the year.
What are teachers and classified staff doing during these days?
Teachers and staff will be engaged in professional development and training to increase their understanding of inclusive practices as it applies to instruction, connecting mental health training and social-emotional learning strategies to increase achievement and provide opportunities for all students. Paraprofessionals will be working toward their certification goals and building their social-emotional learning strategies and building their student support skills. Given the impact of the pandemic, we recognize our students need additional support now and into the foreseeable future. This positions our district to collaborate and effectively recognize and target interventions for each student using specific assessment information. Each waiver day builds on these skills and strategies.
Why are conferences scheduled earlier in each semester?
Another exciting aspect of this calendar is the movement of conferences to the beginning of each semester. The focus is on prioritizing social-emotional aspects and building strong relationships with families early on in each semester. It is a different focus on students' needs, their recent struggles, and their goals. This approach will allow us to prioritize each child by putting them at the center of the conversations, honor family input, and support students in developing goals for each semester. Having conferences early in the second semester allows us to use first semester performance and grades to help reinforce stated goals or develop new goals earlier in the semester.
Why are elementary conferences scheduled during a different week than the middle and high school conferences?
This dedication of elementary conferences one week and secondary conferences the next allows us to focus these supports on each level – each week. We hope the separation minimizes conflicts families have reported when we held elementary and secondary conferences during the same week in the past. This also allows us to better support our transportation routes and not overwhelm our translator/interpreter resources. This spring we were unable to provide these supports to all of our families and their children as effectively as we needed during our conferences.
How will poor weather be handled? Will we have snow days?
Remote learning will be how we respond to inclement weather situations. Deploying one-to-one devices to all students allows us to shift to remote learning if we have the need. We expect to increase our use of Google Classroom and will have teachers prepare remote learning steps for times we may run into inclement weather. We will be sure to communicate early whether we anticipate a shift to remote learning. This permits us to not need to pad the calendar with additional reserve snow days that have pushed our end of the school year deeper into June.
Are these changes just for one year?
No. Waiver programs run for three years. We also developed similar draft calendars for 2022-23 and 2023-24 for the waiver application. We will share them as drafts after we hear the waiver was approved. Waivers may be renewed through OSPI. We will assess the effectiveness of this waiver plan by the winter of the third year so a decision may be made earlier in the year whether we should renew the waiver.
What happens if OSPI does not approve the waiver?
It would be unfortunate and hamper our ability to collectively expand our instructional, assessment, and social-emotional skills of our teachers and support staff. Practically speaking, we would need to shift the first two staff workdays from August 30th and 31st to the waiver workday in October and the waiver workday in May. The waiver workday in March would convert to a regular school day. The first student day would remain September 2nd. The last day of school would be moved to June 16th, resulting in a shift of graduation to June 8th from June 14th. These adjustments would significantly impact our ability to prioritize our instructional focus and be prepared to support our students as they come into the new school year. We have been told we will know if it has been approved no later than June 10th.
I noticed the start time for Irene Reither Elementary is 9:00 am. Why is it five minutes earlier?
In developing our plans for our most recent return to in-person learning in April and applying for the waiver, we discovered the daily schedule for Irene Reither is five minutes less than the instructional hours of MMS and MHS. Since we were re-establishing the board-approved schedule from 2020 for Irene Reither Elementary to finish this school year, we elected to wait until the next school year to bring all teacher instructional hours into alignment with each other.
As we receive additional questions we will continue to add to this list and have it posted on our website.