February 23, 2021 9:51:28 AM
Columbus Municipal School District adopted a traditional school calendar for the 2021-22 school year after a five-hour recess board meeting held Friday at the Joe Cook Elementary School auditorium.
Going into Friday's meeting, a recommendation by Superintendent Cherie Labat to adopt a modified school year that would have reduced summer break and create three-week intercession periods in the fall and spring appeared to have the support of the board.
Instead, the board voted down the proposal by a 3-2 margin after members listened to comments from the audience, many of them teachers, during the marathon session. Most of those who spoke urged the board to reject the modified calendar, under which the 2021-22 school year would have started on July 15 and ended on June 8, 2022.
Board members Yvonne Cox and Telisa Young, along with board president Jason Spears, voted against the modified calendar motion while Fredrick Sparks and Josie Shumake supported it.
The board then voted unanimously to approve a traditional school calendar that would start classes on Aug. 6 and end the year May 24, 2022.
Labat, who has been advocating for the change in the school calendar since November, was clearly disappointed in the change of momentum to reject the modified calendar, while acknowledging the concerns of the critics of the modified calendar.
"Just from listening to the people who came up, I sense their frustration," Labat said shortly before the board's vote. "But I think the frustration is about more than about the calendar. COVID has taken a toll on your teachers and there's a tremendous amount of stress. One thing that resonated with me is that in a time of uncertainty, people want certainty. I think that (the modified calendar proposal) is viewed as an attempt to take away something that is normal."
Even so, Labat said, adopting a modified schedule is an effective way to close learning gaps that have plagued the district for years.
"Do we want to focus on issues with students being three grade levels behind? I do," said Labat, who said the two intercession periods would allow teachers to more regularly mitigate learning gaps rather than rely on summer school sessions.
"I don't want to be on the back end in trying to mitigate those learning gaps by waiting until the summer," she said. "As a superintendent, I know that learning loss is real. Students getting a more balanced schedule and instruction throughout the year will help close the achievement gap."
Spears said he felt the board still supports the idea of a modified schedule despite Friday's vote. He can see it coming up again for the 2022-23 school year.
"I think myself and everybody on the board favors (the modified schedule). But as we listened to so many people who raised valid questions that we really didn't have concrete answers to, we said, 'Maybe we should give this a little more time for Dr. Labat and her staff to address some of those questions," Spears said. "I could see us going to a modified schedule for the 22-23 school year with a more detailed plan."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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