Balanced school calendar provides flexibility

Students leave Frankton Junior Senior High School at the end of the day in this file photo from January 2014. Area schools will be adding days to the calendar to make up for snow days.

ANDERSON — Snow and bitter cold. Schools closed or delayed two hours. Disrupted schedules.

Parents will be forgiven for thinking there's some weird Groundhog Dayesque time loop going on.

But this isn't 2014. It's just winter in Central Indiana.

And the outlook isn't great.

The National Weather Service predicts a wintry mix of sleet and snow today through Monday, which means the prospect of cancelled or delayed classes throughout Madison County possible.

All this schedule adjusting raises questions about whether the school year will be lengthened or ISTEP test preparation will be affected.

The short answer for county school districts — most of which have now adopted the so-called balanced calendar — is, not yet.

Anderson Community Schools administrators who cancelled four days of classes last week because of snow and bitter cold have already decided school will be in session on scheduled holidays: Martin Luther King Day Jan. 19, and President's Day Feb. 16.

"This is just what winter is," said Joe Cronk, the district's chief operations officer. He was out driving bus routes and assessing the weather by 4 a.m. all last week to formulate recommendations about whether school should be cancelled or delayed.

In addition, classes will be held on the first scheduled day of spring break, March 16.

"That's one of the benefits of a balanced calendar," Cronk added, because it builds flexibility into the school schedule, yet doesn't sacrifice instructional time, and won't interfere with with classroom preparation for Indiana's standardized tests.

That became a serious issue last year when the district lost nine days that were supposed to be dedicated to that work.

"This year, hopefully, we won't lose any," Cronk said.

Other county public and private schools are grappling with the same issues, of course.

Frankton-Lapel Community Schools, which has not moved to a balanced calendar, also has the option of holding classes for the two scheduled upcoming holidays, but also can add days to the end of the school year as necessary, Superintendent Bobby Fields said last week.

Last year, the district added days, extended the school day, cancelled teacher development days and took advantage of a two-day waiver from the 180-day school year offered by the Indiana Department of Education.

Tom Austin, the returning interim superintendent of Elwood Community Schools, indicated at the board of trustees meeting Thursday that classes will also be held Jan. 19 and Feb. 16, and possibly the first day of spring break.

That's one of the reasons he wants to see the district push forward as quickly as possible in the adoption of technology that will make true e-learning days possible where students can work at home in real time.

Like Stu Hirsch on Facebook and follow him @stuhirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.

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