Traditional vs Balanced School Schedules Part 2

There’s a lot of community discussion going on in anticipation of a possible major change to our school system calendars. (Read the Assistant Superintendent’s op-ed piece on it here.)

Currently, Oak Ridge Schools operate, for the most part, on two different schedules.  The school administration is proposing that ALL schools go to the same schedule.  To summarize:

  • The Preschool and Willowbrook Elementary operate on what is commonly referred to as a year-round schedule (this is not one of the proposed options).  They operate 9 weeks on, 3 weeks off and have a 5-6 week summer.
  • The rest of our schools operate on a traditional (Option 2/Calendar A) schedule that includes a 1 week Spring and Fall Break, a 2+ week Christmas break and about a 10 week summer.
  • The proposed “balanced” (Option 1/Calendar B) schedule operates 8-9 weeks on , 2 weeks off with an 8 week summer.

Even though these options are proposed for the 2015/16 year, a decision will be made by the BOE by this summer.

While the two week breaks outlined in the  “balanced” schedule (Option 1/Calendar B) could include the enrichment opportunities that Dr. Marczak references, it is unlikely that they will be offered for free, for everyone and for the entire two weeks since Willowbrook only offers such activities for 1 of their 3 weeks and used to charge for them as I recall.

The implications of these changes are not trivial. Proponents of the year-round and balanced schedules cite retention as a primary selling point. I do know a lot of parents who’ve had very positive experiences with these schedules. However, having had a son go through the Willowbrook program, I can personally attest that any retention benefit was nullified by his problems in re-adapting after each break. He struggled his entire 3 years at WB but we did not realize why until he started middle school. I’m convinced it was the schedule. It would take him 3-4 weeks to get back into the routine and just as he was gaining momentum, a 3 week break threw him back to square one. We braced for middle school but were pleasantly surprised when most of the issues he’d had at WBES all but disappeared.

Obviously when it comes to education, one size does not fit all. But operating two schedules is costly. Or at least that is the reasoning behind changing to a single-schedule system. According to an email from Dr. Marczak in response to this request, it cost about $115,000 more to run two schedules than it would to run one. That $115K = less than ¼ of 1% of the total annual school budget, or the average salary + benefits of a single principal, or just over 1 penny on the property tax rate.

Don’t misunderstand me, $115K is a lot of money and I applaud the BOE for exploring the potential for savings. But, is it worth the hassle of changing to a single-schedule system? I don’t know.

I do know that we have a lot of working-class folks who already struggle with our quirky schedules. I believe the balanced schedule will further burden them. What’s more, given the interference with sports and summer activities that the balanced schedule will most likely impose, we risk deterring future families from locating here at a time when we need to do everything we can to attract that very demographic. Therefore, I’ll be voting for the traditional option (Option 2/Calendar A according to the phone call and flyer that we received. I strongly encourage all parents and teachers to be very clear of what their options are when they receive their call Monday night.)


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