Winlock School District Kicks Off the School Year with a New Calendar
With back-to-school season in full swing, students, educators, and families across Washington are preparing for a new year of learning, buying school supplies, and figuring out schedules. In the Winlock School District, those schedules will look a little different than usual.
Starting this fall, Winlock is implementing a Modified Calendar, which will create three weeklong “intersessions” throughout the year and shorten the next summer break from 11 weeks to 8 weeks. The hope is that this new schedule will help improve academic performance, said Superintendent Garry Cameron.
“We’re a school district with a high poverty rate,” Cameron said, adding that Winlock schools have also been identified for additional supports from the state. “We’re hoping to take advantage of these extra intersession days and reduce summer learning loss.”
The Modified Calendar is an option made available as part of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) Balanced Calendar Initiative, a grant program intended to support school districts in exploring ways to increase student learning opportunities and shrink learning lost over the summer break. The grants are funded through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars that OSPI has earmarked for learning recovery.
The grants allow school districts to study alternative calendars and decide if it’s something they would like to pursue. Districts are not required to modify their calendars if they decide against it.
Choosing a Modified Calendar
If a school district chooses to move forward with an alternative calendar, there are multiple types that they can create. All alternative calendars must contain the 180 days of school instruction required by state law; instead of being contained in a 9-month period, those days are spread out over the course of the year.
Randy Hall, a Winlock School Board Director, said he has been supportive of the Modified Calendar since it was first introduced to the board. He’s particularly supportive of the intersessions, which will provide additional learning opportunities for students who need them, as well as enrichment experiences like field trips.
“I wanted to give these kids extra things that they can do,” Hall said. “If we’re able to give the kids the extra 15 days with intersessions — and the community, if they really look at it and they’re really unbiased when they look at it, they can see that’s an extra 15 days that maybe while they’re working, their kids are not idle.”
Both students and teachers have the choice to either attend school during the intersessions or take a break. Teachers who decide to teach during intersessions will be compensated for their additional time.
Not all teachers were on board with the Modified Calendar when it was first presented to them in the fall of 2021. Kristy Iverson, who has 24 years of experience teaching English language arts and social studies to Winlock students in grades 6–8, said she was “very split” on it.
“I don’t like working into the end of June, July,” Iverson said. “That, for me, was the biggest thing. The school calendar is fine; why do we need to change it?”
After Winlock’s local education association initially voted against implementing a Modified Calendar, the school district formed a committee to study alternative calendars and visit other school districts that had implemented them. Research shows that alternative calendars help to close opportunity gaps and improve assessment scores, particularly for students experiencing poverty or living in a low-income community. Cameron estimated that 90% of Winlock students are identified as low-income.
In the spring of 2022, the education association started negotiating teacher contracts with the school district, including the calendar for the next three school years. Iverson said those contract negotiations were the “worst experience” she’s had within the union.
“I don’t think our district leaders — our superintendent and our school board — went about it in the right way,” Iverson said. “They did not consult parents at all.”
However, according to the language that was in the teaching contracts, only the school district and the teachers could negotiate on the calendar. No outside input was allowed.
“The district did not want to take it to the community before any negotiations or voting was done,” said Tori Nelson, who teaches physical education for Winlock schools and is currently president of the local education association. “Their fear was, if we take it to the community and the community loves the idea and then the teachers vote no, well now the community’s going to be mad at the teachers. The district would rather have the community be mad at them than the teachers.”
Shifting Teachers’ Thinking
Nelson had been in favor of the Modified Calendar since it was first proposed and worked to show its benefits to her fellow teachers.
“The mental health of teachers and students is so important,” Nelson said. “I’m really hoping that these breaks will refresh everyone a little bit.”
Iverson said she shifted her thinking because she saw the value that came with the alternative calendar’s shorter summer breaks.
“We see that there’s a big deficit of knowledge when the kids come up from the elementary,” Iverson said. “We feel like we work so hard to get those kids to make growth by the time they move on to high school. Anything that can help with that gap in knowledge is, as a middle school teacher, my main goal.”
Committing to the Calendar
The education association ratified the contract containing the Modified Calendar in June 2022, including new language that allows teachers to collaborate with outside groups on the school calendar. Cameron said he’s happy that Winlock will be able to do that.
“I think it’s positive that we can go out with at least a survey to see what the thoughts were,” Cameron said. “It’s nice to have a survey or something we can get out and look at everybody’s thoughts on as we go forward.”
Winlock’s school board voted to approve the calendar in July 2022. With classes starting at the end of last month, the Winlock community has some concerns and a lot of hope for this first year of implementing a Modified Calendar.
“The intersession piece is really the unknown,” Cameron said. “We just don’t know how many students are going to attend — we just don’t. We’re going to find out.”
For Nelson, the intersessions themselves are a success because they give students access to all the supports that come with school.
“We have kids that genuinely want to be here,” Nelson said. “Some of them don’t know if they’re going to have dinner when they get home. Some of them don’t have a safe feeling when they’re at home. We want those kids to be here as often as they can. … I want them to feel happy and supported and loved.”
OSPI will be following the Winlock School District throughout the 2022–23 school year as it implements its Modified Calendar. Be sure to subscribe to our blog or follow us on social media for updates!