Note: This story was last updated at 11:30 p.m.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday approved a new balanced calendar for the 2015-2016 school year. The balanced calendar, which is different than the traditional school calendar, gives students about nine weeks of classroom instruction at a time. This will be the first time that Oak Ridge has had a balanced calendar.
The school board approved the change in a 4-1 vote on Monday. Board member Jenny Richter was opposed.
A separate motion to outsource substitute teachers died with little discussion.
The vote on the balanced calendar came after input from three community members who were opposed to the change from the traditional calendar, which is now being used at most Oak Ridge schools. The board discussed the calendars for nearly an hour before the vote.
Board member Dan DiGregorio reminded peers that “things are just different” now, with more pressure and higher expectations for students than “back in our day.” He suggested that the breaks allowed by the balanced calendar would prevent students from “burnout” by the end of the school year in May.
Board chairman Keys Fillauer agreed with DiGregorio by mentioning that “education has become full time” for today’s students.
The balanced calendar will allow “intersessions” during the three two-week breaks in the school year. These intersessions will replace summer school, and the number of students permitted to attend will depend on the number of teachers willing to work. The calendar dismisses students in early June for a seven- to eight-week summer break.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Marczak said that he has worked two intersession and two summer schools, and he prefers the intersessions.
The first member of the community to speak, Joe Stevens, was concerned about the impact of the balanced calendar on the local community and outside activities.
“Children need to be outside in the summer,” he said. “Not everything is learned inside the classroom.”
While the board did not directly respond to Stevens’ concerns, they did agree that school sports would not be affected by the change from the traditional calendar. For comparison, it was mentioned that school sports in Maryville and Alcoa have not been affected by their balanced calendars.
The other community members who spoke on the issue were parents. They expressed concerns about the ability of parents to care for their children throughout the breaks that the balanced calendar would bring. They were also skeptical about the accuracy of the two surveys that were conducted.
Marczak agreed that the change will have an impact on the community, but he said that the new calendar could save the district up to $125,000, especially by reducing transportation costs.
All of Oak Ridge Schools will adopt the new calendar during the 2015-16 academic year.
The balanced calendar was endorsed by a majority of Oak Ridge parents and school staff in two separate telephone surveys in February and March.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.
See the balanced calendar here: 2015-2016 Balanced Calendar
See the traditional calendar here: 2015-2016 Traditional Calendar