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Estacada investigates new school calendar

Estacada’s school calendar may look different next year.

A recently formed committee has been gathering information about different school calendars, including a four-day week and year-round schedule. It has surveyed community members about possibilities and was scheduled to discuss them with the School Board at its meeting Wednesday, Jan. 13.

They hope to bring a proposal to the school board and the superintendent in February.

“We’re gathering insight, getting thoughts on student learning outcomes and feedback from the community,” said Scott Sullivan, curriculum and instruction director for the Estacada School District. “We’re hoping to maximize student learning — we’re looking at different options to do so.”

It is not definite that the calendar will change. If the district decides to move away from the traditional five-day school week, options include a four-day week or year-round schedule.

The committee was formed in order to involve the community and staff in the process.

“Usually this is done behind closed doors, but we wanted to make it as transparent as possible,” said Sabrina LaLonde, human resources coordinator for the district. “We want to create dialogue around this.”

A year-round schedule would consist of shorter breaks throughout the school year rather than three months off during the summer.

“Research shows that a year-round system benefits low-income students and that has significant bearing for us,” Sullivan said.

This is particularly relevant for the 2,745 students in the Estacada School District. Census data released in 2012 showed that 21 percent of Estacada’s residents had income below the poverty line — the highest percentage in Clackamas County. Sullivan estimates that 55 percent of Estacada students are poor, based on the number of students receiving free and reduced school lunches.

Research has that a year round model reduces learning loss during the summer months, often a significant issue for low-income students. Studies have shown that low-income students make similar learning gains to other students during the school year, but the achievement gap between the two groups widens during summer breaks.

Low-income students are also less likely to participate in summer learning programs.

Research has also indicated that low-income students benefit from a year-round calendar if the school includes opportunities for extracurricular learning during the breaks. Sullivan said a year-round school calendar in Estacada would have them.

In the four-day-per-week model, there would be no school on Monday but more time in school the rest of the week. One benefit of a four day week would be providing more time for professional development for teachers or medical and other personal appointments for staff and students.

In Estacada, Sullivan said, the four day week would double the amount of professional development time for teachers. Under the current schedule, teachers have one hour of professional development per week. In the four-day week model, they would have eight hours every two weeks.

“It would be a great way to increase (professional development) without losing student contact time,” Sullivan said.

A study by Montana State University and Georgia State University found that math scores of elementary students improved after their schools switched to a four-day week. Additionally, studies showed longer class periods in the four-day week model allows a more in-depth focus on subjects.

Four-day school weeks are not new in Oregon but are used in smaller, more rural districts. Nearby, the Corbett School District switched to a four-day week 17 years ago and Superintendent Randy Trani wouldn't have it any other way.

“I would recommend to nearly any school district, as long as the poverty level isn’t so high that you’d be taking calories away from them,” he said. “If the majority of student are on free and reduced lunch, I wouldn’t recommend it, but other than that, it has lots of benefits.”

The length of the school day varies by grade, but Trani said it typically lasts from 7:55 a.m. to 3:36 p.m. There is no school on Monday.

He sees family scheduling as a significant benefit of the four-day week model.

“For families planning, the consistency is better,” he said. “With the exception of Thanksgiving, all of our weeks are four days. When you have random days off, it makes it difficult to plan for childcare.”

“It increases morale,” he said. “You have the ability let families plan easily — you don’t get that as much with a five-day schedule.”