The 2020-21 calendar adds 10 minutes to the end of each school day, shortens the school year by three days and lets students out before Memorial Day. The last day of school will be Friday, May 21, 2021.
District leaders said the 2020-21 calendar is a result of community feedback and will offer more opportunities for student instruction and enrichment.
The results are expected to help teachers in classrooms and create a consistent calendar moving forward.
“How [the 10 minutes are] used for social and emotional learning, intervention and enrichment will be something that happens across the board,” said Clarence Williams, FISD executive director for support services.
An earlier finish to the year will likely lessen behavior issues often seen in the days between Memorial Day weekend and the end of the school year, said Jordan Carlisle, a third-grade teacher at Sonntag Elementary School. By that point in the school year, she said, students are done with end-of-year testing.
“We’re pretty much done teaching what we’re required to teach; the kids kind of know that,” she said.
Williams said other elementary teachers have voiced similar opinions, and instructors of all levels are looking forward to a tighter timeline between end-of-year testing and the start of summer, he said.
“The more time after state testing, the more things turn to chaos,” Carlisle said.
School principals at all levels will decide how the added 10 minutes a day are used.
Paul Bednar, an FISD high school and elementary school parent, said he hopes for more time in the classroom.
“More time they can spend in the classroom absorbing some things [to] spend less time trying to do homework—that can be a big benefit,” he said.
A study conducted in 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences found adding instruction time increases student learning regardless of how detailed the instruction is. This study was not conducted in FISD.
Extra instructional minutes could be of particular benefit to elementary school students, Carlisle said. While this year’s brain break pilot program, which required a 10-15 minute break be taken during the school day, was beneficial, it resulted in less time being available for instruction, she said.
Brain breaks may not take up a lot of time, but Carlisle said those 10-15 minutes could be used for group or individual instructional help for students.
The longer school day will provide more focus on social and emotional learning, which comes from brain breaks, FISD Assistant Communications Director Meghan Cone said.
In early November, the school board initially suggested two calendar options, including adding five minutes to the start and end of the day and keeping the school hours the same.
The board was not in favor of starting the school day earlier, resulting in the proposal to end the school day 10 minutes later.
Williams said at the time that 10 extra minutes at the end of the day could negatively affect extracurricular events. The district has since determined that if added, those minutes would have little negative effect on extracurriculars and athletics, he said.
“There’s still some discussions around start times for games,” he said. “We should be just fine.”
Some parents have asked why the added minutes could not differ by level, FISD Communications Director Jamie Driskill said. Adding 10 minutes at the end of the day, according to Driskill, must be consistent at all levels to allow FISD to maintain a triple bus routing system next year.
Triple bus routing—or one bus picking up and dropping off elementary, middle and high school students—is a significant factor affecting school start and end times for FISD, Cone said. FISD began employing this system in the 2011-12 school year as a cost-saving measure.
FISD will still be able to conduct triple routing next school year, Williams said. Buses will simply leave 10 minutes later.
Each year, when the district decides on the school calendar, community members ask why students are not released for summer before Memorial Day, Driskill said. The 2019-20 school year ends May 28, 2020—three days after Memorial Day.
“That’s just been a chorus we’ve heard over the years,” he said. “I think that was some of the driving factor.”
Because the date of Memorial Day can vary, FISD wanted a school calendar that continued over time to release before Memorial Day, Driskill said. The approved 2020-21 calendar does this for the foreseeable future, he said.
One calendar option proposed to the FISD board would have ended the year before Memorial Day and maintained current school hours. But that option would not have continued to let students out of school before Memorial Day in future years.
“We wanted that consistency, and we wanted parents to know we’re going to get out before Memorial Day regardless of where that day falls on the calendar,” Driskill said.
The 2020-21 calendar has three fewer school days than this year’s calendar.
Teacher feedback indicated extra days of summer will take some pressure off new teachers by creating a break between new FISD teacher inservice in July and the beginning of regular teacher duties, Williams said. FISD hires 500 to 800 new teachers each year, he said.
Even with three fewer days for students, teacher contracts will have the same start and end dates, Williams said.
Summer school will also begin earlier as a result of the new calendar. Specific dates are still being decided.
Debbie Bates, parent of an FISD middle schooler and an FISD high schooler, said next school year’s May 21 end date will make it more convenient for her family to vacation.
“It’ll be nice to be able to go away the last week of May and kind of beat the summer rush with people vacationing,” she said.
Creating the calendar
Scheduled state assessments, mandated staff training and required minutes of instruction are all considered when building a school calendar. Texas school districts are required to deliver 75,600 minutes of instruction per year.
FISD has flexibility with the school year’s start date because it is a District of Innovation—a state designation that gives the district options similar to those available to charter schools.
The recommendation for the 2020-21 calendar came from two advisory committees that included parents, community members, district administration, principals and teachers, Driskill said. Meetings have been held since August to discuss the calendar.
“It was several meetings, plenty of dialogue,” Williams said.
These committees looked at the pros and cons of a school calendar from a student •learning standpoint, Williams said. •Small groups and campus discussions are all a part of the vetting process, Carlisle said, who was on one of the 2020-21 calendar committees.
“It just seemed best for kids,” Carlisle said of next year’s calendar.