MCPS considers next school calender

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Posted January 21, 2023 | By Allen Barney/

The Marion County School Board on Tuesday will vote on a proposed calendar for the 2023-24 school year that represents some a changes to the current calendar, notably the return of one-hour early release days.

Posted on the Marion County Public Schools Facebook page shortly after a work session on Thursday, the instructional calendar, referred to as Draft E, is the culmination of weeks of work by district officials who relied on hundreds of comments from parents and guardians as well as district employees.

Here as the details:

  • The 2023-24 school year will start Aug. 10 and end May 24, 2024.
  • Winter break will begin on Dec. 20, staff will return to work Jan. 3, 2024, and students will return Jan. 4, 2024.
  • There will be 32 one-hour early-release days, all on Wednesdays. The first is Aug. 16 and the final would be April 24, 2024.
  • There will be four teacher workdays: Oct. 16, Jan. 3, March 18 and May 28.
  • Spring break will begin March 9 and end March 18 for students.
  • There will be a mid-term break day April 19, staff does not have to work.
  • There will be no school on Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day.

The calendar is the work of a a committee including Board Vice Chair Nancy Thrower, Area Superintendent Dr. Annie Hembrook and Stephen Ayres, Director of School Choice and Student Records for MCPS.

An initial draft included bringing back early release days every Wednesday for professional development of instructional staff, starting winter break on Dec. 21 (four days later than the 2022-23 school year), students not returning from winter break until Jan. 9, and ending the school year on May 29, which is after Memorial Day.

In recent years, the school year ended before the holiday; May 26 is the final day of the 2022-23 school year.

The draft was sent out for comment from community members, district employees and parent/guardians. Between Dec. 13 and Jan. 3, 163 pages of feedback/comments were received.

The item that drew the most attention was the return of early release days every Wednesday.

One parent/guardian said, “Early release every Wednesday would be a disaster for working parents. It is already hard enough to coordinate pick up as it is, but weekly early release would be very hard.”

Another parent/guardian had a different take: “I love how Wednesday would be early release, it gives the kids something else to look forward to rather than just Friday.”

A school district employee stated, “One hour is not enough time for ‘Professional Development’. Early release days should go back to the ‘half-day’ model and be scheduled for Fridays. This would make more sense and lessen the burden on parents who will have to deal with child care issues. A 4-day work week for students and a five-day schedule for teachers (with 1 to 2 Fridays of PD) would also be preferable to the current proposed schedule.”

Other respondents suggested moving the early release days to Monday or Friday; moving to a four-day week for students while allowing instructional staff to plan or do professional development on the off days; and moving the end date for the year back to before Memorial Day.

An initial draft was presented to the school board on Jan. 5. After reviewing the responses, the board directed the committee to bring three new options to the Jan. 17 Special Administrative Briefing and Work Session.

Here are the committee’s proposed drafts:

  • Draft A
  • Early release for professional learning and collaboration every Wednesday until April 10.
  • Winter break starts Dec. 16, five days earlier than the original draft.
  • School year ends May 23, six days earlier than the original draft.
  • Instructional staff returns from winter break Jan. 2, students return Jan. 3; both are six days earlier than the original draft.
  • Draft B details
  • Early release every Friday for professional learning and collaboration.
  • Shortening Thanksgiving break by two days, Nov. 22-27.
  • Winter break starts on Dec. 17, staff returns Jan. 2 and students return Jan. 3.
  • School year ends May 23, before Memorial Day.
  • Draft C details
  • Early release every Wednesday for professional learning and collaboration.
  • Full week of Thanksgiving break, Nov. 18-27.
  • Winter break starts Dec. 16, instructional staff returns Jan. 2 students on Jan. 3
  • School year ends May 24, before Memorial Day.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ayres explainined the goals of the committee.

“Our priorities included putting students’ needs first regarding instructional time and earning credits while providing teachers enough time and space for consistent professional learning and collaboration,” he said.

Ayres proposed a new option, Draft D. This moved the one-hour early release to every Monday, through April 8. Thanksgiving break was left as a full week off, winter break still started on Dec. 16 and the final day of the school year would be May 24.

Thrower alluded to how important the calendar is to the community and how useful it is to have open commentary or feedback from stakeholders.

“The instructional calendar drives everything and since we’re the largest employer in Marion County, it’s appropriate for everyone to have the opportunity to weigh in,” she said.

Thrower, a former teacher, explained the rationale for the early release days.

“These early release days are designed to provide the appropriate professional learning opportunities. How that has looked over the years is another conversation, but that is the intent of those days,” she said.

Thrower said she and others are not fans of early release days, but she realizes instructional staff need help.

“What I learned through the process is that we need something more and we need something different. We need time, our teachers and people who work directly with our kids need time,” Thrower said.

Board member Lori Conrad said she received a lot of negative feedback about the early release days.

“For me, us getting out an hour early, the most important piece of that is were providing valuable professional learning and we are in touch with what our teachers need,” Conrad said.

“What I’ve heard from every teacher and administrator that’s contacted me is they don’t have an hour of instruction time to give up,’’ she said. “So, if we’re going to do this for professional learning, it needs to be extremely valuable.”

Board member Eric Cummings said the board needs to be flexible with discussing each aspect of the early release days and that the goal is to please as many as people as possible.

The board came to a consensus that Wednesday would be the best day to have early release based off of feedback from stakeholders.

“I am still in the mindset of not being in favor of a one-hour early release but…prove me wrong,’’ Campbell said. “We do it for a year and we do it on Wednesdays.”

All five board members agreed with keeping Thanksgiving break at a full week off for staff and students.

“We heard loud and clear that having a week off at Thanksgiving is something that community members, teachers and parents want,” Campbell said.


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