SSISD trustees Thursday evening approved an amended 2020-21 school calendar that pushes the start of classes back from Aug. 18 to Sept. 1, and extends school hours on all campuses and all grades.
Reasons for Calendar Changes
This year will be different just as the spring semester was unique due to COVID-19. New guidelines released by Texas Education Agency and UIL since the July 13 meeting factored into the new calendar as did the need for additional training and planning time for teachers and the need to make the most of the days students are in school, as the COVID-19 situation could mean fewer days for the district, campus or individual students.
“This year, we’re uncertain of the days we’ll get students so we added time so the time we do get them is more valuable,” Superintendent Michael Lambsaid of adding 15 minutes to elementary students’ days.
Lamb, at the July 13 school board meeting, outlined the plans for the 2020-21 school year and reported that the requested calendar amendments would likely designate staff development and work days on the calendar approved in the spring as well as June as makeup days. This would meet the requirement to include about a month of days in case school has to close down for an extended period of time due to illness. Administrators on July 13 also anticipated sending out commitment letters to parents by July 23, asking them to select either an in-person learning option or a Virtual Academy learning option for their students by Aug. 4. However, administrators held off sending those letters until July 24, after the amended calendar was approved so that all information would be as current as possible. Parents can log into their Skyward Family Access account (or click here) to select their preference for their child as well as information about each option
Parents are asked to select a learning option by Aug. 4, but per state rules, will be allowed to change their mind through Aug. 18 – 2 weeks for school starts. Additional communication will be posted to the district website, including activities students and families can engage in to get their students mentally ready to return to class on Sept. 1. Those who can are asked to please make their decisions by Aug. 4. Those numbers will be used to determine the number teachers and staff needed for different classes and programs, and allow for space and adequate planning/training.
After preparing for the upcoming teacher work days, including shaping a schedule for the various required and needed curriculum and planning meetings, administrators saw a need to add in additional time for teachers to attend mandatory district wide training as well as curriculum and assignment planning to be ready for all of the known and potential changes the 2020-21 school year could present due to COVID-19 or other illnesses.
With the state allowing schools to start as late as a full week into September, the district opted to add 10 staff work days before school starts so that all teachers and staff are prepared as best as possible for any changes due to illness or other. That means providing about a week for campus and team planning, as well as classroom preparation and to allow teachers to begin contacting parents to make the start as easy a transition as possible. This should prepare Virtual Academy teachers so they can hand out devices on Aug. 28-29. This will also allow teachers to be involved in decisions for procedures and safety planning for their campus.
While not all teachers will be involved in the Virtual Academy, there is every likelihood that all teachers will have to be involved in some online teaching. For instance, if a regular school student tests positive or is exposed to someone who has COVID-19 which would require the student to be off campus for more than a couple of days, the student would need to do online learning. Because of the way the Virtual Academy is structured, the student would still be a regular in-person learner who receives instruction online. The student’s teacher would be in contact with the child and the student’s family through digital instruction so the student can complete class assignments from home and not fall behind the other students in their class or in their work assignments.
All teachers will receive training on strategies to better plan to do in-class lesson digitally, including specials teachers such as physical education, art and music, while engaging students should the school have to shut down for a few days or weeks due to COVID-19 or high numbers of illness such as the flu in students and staff. Teachers also have to be ready to help students, should their parents decide to switch learning styles after the first 9 weeks, transition into the other learning option.
Adding 10 staff days also changes grading periods, and work time planned during each, requiring some adjustments to the calendar as well. The STAAR testing schedule is unchanged, however. Districts are being strongly encouraged to move to strictly online STAAR testing. The district will be adjusting class pacing to better meet students’ academic needs, including administering an online review assessment at the beginning of the year for some grade levels to get those students ready for online testing.
Due to recently released UIL guidelines, SSISD had to revise sports schedules, particularly those for football and volleball for practices, scrimmages and games. The district opted to put 2 of the staff development days planned during the fall on days that the football team has long trips, adjusting for changes in games versus Frisco and Crandall in September and October. Officials are still awaiting additional guidance from UIL regarding band activities.
The current plan, which could change pending changing requirements from the state level and changes in the COVID-19 situation, is for teachers and staff will have 10 extra days added, Aug. 18-21, Aug. 24-28 and Aug. 31. That will push the start of classes for students back from Aug. 18 to Sept. 1.
To make up the difference in lost student days at the beginning of the school year without extending the school year, Lamb proposed that the school day be extended. The school day will be held from 7:50 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. Monday-Friday, from all students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, with an 8 a.m. tardy bell.
The late start also changes the grading periods, which means the first semester won’t end until Jan. 14. The 9-week grading periods will now be Sept. 1-Oct. 29, Nov. 2-Jan. 14, Jan. 19-March 26 and March 29-May 26, provided schools do not have to make up days in June.
However, in the event makeup days become necessary, the following would be designated as potential makeup days: Jan. 15, Feb. 15, Feb. 26, April 2, April 12, May 17, May 27-28, and all weekdays in June.
Staff work day are currently planned to be held Sept. 25 and Oct. 16, instead of Sept. 18 and Oct. 12. This would allow staff to participate in training and preparation activities, scheduled on long football trip days so fewer students and staff will have to leave classes early to make the road trips for football games. Oct. 29 and Jan. 14-15 will also be staff days, adjusted to allow for training between grading periods.