Kent ISD Drives Change in School Calendar

The Kent Intermediate School District (ISD) has led the initiative to put public schools in Kent County on the same schedule.  Their preferred schedule has teachers reporting Aug. 21 and students arriving the following day for the 2017-18 school year.  The decision of Lowell Area Schools (LAS) starting prior to Labor Day weekend has been met with mixed reactions.  Numerous school districts in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois also start before Labor Day so the trend is seen beyond Michigan’s borders but continues to be a debate across the country in most every state.

Starting School Prior to Labor Day

It was 2005 when Michigan passed a law saying public school districts could not start classes before Labor Day.  The economic effect on tourism was the reason for the discussion and introduction of the law.  But districts were allowed to seek a waiver from the state.  Kent ISD sought and received a three-year waiver from the state for all of Kent County.  It is now up to individual districts to decide whether or not to align with Kent ISD.

Of the 20 districts in Kent County the majority of them have already received a waiver to start early and have done so in the current or previous school year or are making the decision to adjust the school calendar in the fall.  A handful of districts are unable to change for the upcoming school year due to current contracts with teachers but plan on seeking the early start with a new contract.  

Initial Reaction

Change is not always openly accepted when it is first announced.  Being creatures of habit can be easier than embracing something new.  On the issue of a change in the school calendar a variety of reactions and emotions occurred after the official announcement.  

Some parents, teachers, and students are not in favor of the idea.  Some like it.  And there are others who do not mind either way.  LAS Superintendent Greg Pratt he indicated teachers and some parents were asked to provide input on the suggested change.  

Comments on Lowell’s First Look’s Facebook page where the change in schedule was announced showed some parents felt a survey or other means of being able to provide input should have been done on the part of the district.  Others mentioned concerns over starting school in potentially hot conditions.  The shortened summer break in 2017 was also not looked upon favorably.  Other parents did not like the idea initially but have since decided it’s a change which is happening so they’ll need to adjust.  

Lowell Area Schools typically does not release the new school calendar until sometime after Spring Break.  Lowell’s First Look spoke with Superintendent Greg Pratt who said, “It’s a personal decision on time.”  He acknowledges the new start date is considered a significant change to some and there will be an adjustment period.  During a conversation with Director of Curriculum Nate Fowler he indicated being aware some families may have vacations already planned with deposits made for the end of August.  The district will work with families in regards to absences on a case-by-case basis.  Giving LAS students the most educational opportunities is the driving force behind the calendar change.

Why the Change?

Kent ISD offers classes to high school students through their Kent Career Tech Center and other programs including Kent Innovation High and the Kent Transition Center.  Last fall they announced Launch U, which is a technical middle college program.  Districts within the Kent ISD footprint who do not start prior to Labor Day could be at a disadvantage missing classroom time.  Kristy Bem has a high school senior this year.  She is opposed to the change in the calendar and comments, “It did not bother my senior class daughter to have to go to community college and KTCT earlier than high school.”  Bem was the only parent opposing the start date who offered to comment at the time of our publishing.  

Families with college students as well as those in K-12 may like having a more similar schedule to plan family events throughout the year.  Some families have one parent working in a district within the county and another parent at a different district within Kent ISD and putting the county on the same calendar and holiday schedule aids education families as well.  Candice Fleszar-Smith, Operations & Communications Manager at Discovering Michigan, will have students at the high school, middle school, elementary school, and one starting college.  She says, “Working in the tourism industry, I understand the advantage of a later start, but it makes sense to align with partner programs at KCTC and GRCC. The ultimate goal is education for our kids, so why put them at a disadvantage starting late in programs?”  The thought of giving students in the Lowell Area School District as many tools to succeed is what drove the decision.  An earlier start will allow students to prepare for state testing and college entrance exams.  State testing typically ends in May.  The early start means more preparation time prior to testing.  

The end of the first trimester will now happen before Thanksgiving.  The change is said to help high school students be able to take exams without having to do so shortly after returning from a break from school.  Additionally the end of each trimester will be a half day for students.  A full day for teacher will allow for professional development time.  

The state required districts to add 5 days to the current school year this year, up to one 180.  Due to this mandate only one week off from school was granted in December.  Under the new calendar there will be two weeks off.  No adjustment was made to the number of days students and teachers are required to be in school.  The first day of school before Labor Day means two weeks off at Christmas and summer vacation starting a week earlier than previous years.  Individual schools will have to determine their meeting the teacher nights, open house, and conferences during the year, which will likely be moved up.  

Carrie Hoffman is the owner of Dippy Do’s Daycare.  She is in favor of the calendar change.  “I think an earlier start may help with the ‘summer blues.’” she says.  Hoffman also feels two weeks off for Christmas break will allow families more time for interaction together.     

It Is What it Is?

The current school year will end on June 9.  In what will feel like the end of summer rather than fall administrative personnel will be in buildings in mid-August.  Teachers report Aug. 21 and students the following day.  This could be considered the bad news.  

Turning the frown upside down the district welcomes back two weeks off at Christmas, half days at the end of each trimester, and will end the school year one week earlier compared to recent years.  

Districts granted the waiver by the state are able to put the calendar schedule in local hands rather than those of politicians in Lansing.  As with any change 100% satisfaction is not guaranteed no matter your stance.   The calendar adjustment is that – an adjustment.  

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