By Linda Kor–
Winslow School District officials have found a way they believe will help both students and teachers have a more successful school year. With the start of the 2012-13 school year, the district will be going from its regular school year schedule to what is called an “intersession” schedule.
With this new schedule, the students will still have 180 days of schooling, but will begin the school year two weeks earlier than usual on July 30, with an additional week added to both the fall and spring breaks.
There are primarily two reasons for the change. The first is to provide optimal opportunity for struggling students to keep up with their peers.
“We want to do things smarter, not harder,” explained Superintendent Doug Watson. “Students go through the first 13 weeks without a break. With an intersession schedule they will be able to attend at nine week intervals.”
According to Watson, studies show that students have less academic regression and more retention of information with a shorter summer break. “This is especially apparent in students from a low socioeconomic background when it comes to math and reading. When it comes to students from a high socioeconomic background, they actually improve in reading,” he explained, adding that a majority of the student body in the district comes from the former.
With the fall and spring breaks going from one to two weeks, the district intends to use the first week of each of those breaks to provide remedial education for struggling students and perhaps offer camps for music, art, athletics or other interests for students. “We have people in the community who are willing to offer workshops in career and vocational training, adding things that we can’t do in the regular school year,” stated Watson, noting that those camps would likely require a fee to attend.
The hope is that by offering remedial education during the school year, Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) scores will be higher. “Waiting to provide remedial education at the end of the school year does nothing to help students with their AIMS, we want them to succeed during the school year,” explained Watson.
Another reason the intersession schedule is preferred by the district is that teachers will now be evaluated on how successful their students are on the AIMS tests, something that wasn’t a factor in teacher evaluations in the past. If students fail on AIMS, it could affect teachers’ salaries, or whether they keep their jobs.
While the district works to provide for the needs of its 2,250 students, Watson emphasized that parents play a critical role as well.
“Parental involvement is key to education. In elementary schools participation is good, but as students head into the junior high and high school years, parental involvement slacks off. I’m not sure why, maybe parents just see their kids as more independent,” said Watson.
In a move that reflects the economic conditions of a majority of the families it serves, the district has opted this year to provide free breakfast and lunch to every student in the district. “We fell a little short of the ideal number to do that, but we decided to go ahead and feed them all. It just works out better,” said Watson.
With many schools looking into the option of the Grand Canyon Diploma, an arrangement that allows students to graduate after the 10th grade, Watson doesn’t see the Winslow School District going in that direction. The diploma is being offered to allow students who have met their core curriculum requirements to pursue technical, vocational or junior college degrees after the 10th grade, but it’s also a way for the state to cut funding to schools. “That’s really not a viable option here. We may have a few students every year who would want to take advantage of that, but there’s not a lot of college options here and we provide training through the school,” the superintendent explained.
The district is also taking advantage of an energy saving grant that is allowing it to switch out old lighting, creating an increase in efficiency of 95 percent. The classrooms are now outfitted with sensors that adjust the room temperatures according to whether they are occupied and lighting is also automated. The savings attributed to these measures is estimated at $125,000 per year. This upcoming school year will also see all the schools with air conditioning with the replacement of old heating and air conditioning units at Bonnie Brennan Elementary School. That school, which is now a magnet school with 250 students enrolled, is also keeping up with technology with computer notebooks utilized by each of the students.
With these improvements, Watson hopes that students and teachers will improve test scores, and the district will save money and provide the best possible environment for the students it serves.