by Sarah Einselen
DELPHI — For the last several weeks, school board member Gil Smith has made a point of asking parents and kids in Delphi one question: What do you think of a balanced calendar?
“I work out of Indianapolis quite a bit,” he said, “and work with an awful lot of parents that have kids on the balanced calendar in the Indianapolis area, and they just go on and on about how they enjoy the calendar.”
So Smith brought it up during closing comments at a school board meeting this summer. He asked other board members to get a feel for parents’ and teachers’ opinions on whether Delphi should consider moving to a school calendar that includes a one- to two-week break between each nine-week period, a two- to three-week Christmas break and a shorter summer break.
Since then, he’s talked with at least 45 parents, around 40 of whom have been in favor of the idea. The children he’s spoken to are OK with the calendar, too — after he explains that it doesn’t mean they get no breaks at all, just different ones.
“I don’t think the old traditional calendar is necessarily giving us the outcome that we need,” said Smith, when it comes to academic achievement. However, he says he isn’t “100 percent sold” on the idea of a balanced calendar, either — little good research exists on whether it really helps children learn more or retain what they’ve learned, and few schools in the area have done it.
Maconaquah Elementary School in Bunker Hill is the closest school to have moved to a balanced calendar, according to Delphi superintendent Ralph Walker.
Walker said he sees both pros and cons to switching Delphi to a balanced calendar.
While it would give students and teachers a much-needed break to recharge, helping to avoid burnout, it would throw a wrench into current shared-services arrangements.
“That’s one of the problems of going to a balanced calendar, we share with other schools,” said Walker.
Delphi shares vocational and special education programs with other area school districts, he said, including North Miami schools.
Changing the school calendar so drastically “would cost us at least one vocational program that we would not be able to share with Twin Lakes anymore, and it would just make the special ed programs more difficult,” he explained.
“Now of course, our kids could just be on their schedule — we could work around it — but it would make a little bit more difficulty.”
On the other hand, it would allow an extra week at the end of each nine-week period for remediation if a student needs it, said Walker.
Smith said some parents had asked him how the school sports schedules would be affected by a balanced calendar.
Families trying to arrange for child care, or teenagers looking for full-time work over the summer, might be frustrated by a balanced calendar, too, suggested Walker.
“We’ve had feedback on both sides,” he said. While board members have said most feedback they got was positive, the eight or so calls Walker has received at the school corporation office have conveyed mostly negative responses.
Board members and the corporation staff will keep polling parents informally until January 2013, when they next expect to discuss the balanced calendar idea. Incoming board members, to be elected next month, will take over the discussion then.
The intervening weeks will also allow other board members to gather more data on how the balanced calendar has worked in other corporations.