Hope School Board votes 4-1 to start process of modernizing its school year calendar
In a called meeting this afternoon which took place in the Hope Public School Administration Building, available to see in its entirety on the district’s Facebook page ,  the HPS Board voted 4-1 to set the district on a path toward a longer school year with up to 16 off days worked in. 

After about an hour and twenty minutes of meeting time, School Board Member Bubba Powers made the motion to “approve the alternative calendar with the ability to apply for a start time waiver and the understanding going forward that the administrative staff along with PTC and the entire district staff meet and make a modifier what changes they believe in presented to the board.”  

Member Jimmy Courtney seconded. Then Board President Alvis Hamilton called for a vote by hands raised. Linda Haynes, Powers, Hamilton and Courtney voted to approve the motion. Kathryn Dickinson voted against.  The motion carried 4-1. 

The motion and the vote came after a talk by Superintendent Jonathan Crossley that explained the options for the next calendar year presented before the board and the level of support for the change shown in a survey of parents of students in the district and members of the district’s staff.  He took questions from board members.  Following this came a presentation by Jill Self, president of the Personnel Policy Committee (comprised of certified staff) and a question and answer period. 

After President Hamilton called the meeting to order, Superintendent Crossley explained that three options for a future school calendar had been discussed. The first, the traditional model, would start no earlier than Monday, August 19th and likely end June 4th. This model follows those of the past. 

Because of more recent trends toward rethinking the school year,  Crossley said, including the adoption of four-day week models among others by nearby schools and discussion among HPS staff over the past three years, two options have been proposed, which are called hybrids, because they are a melding of ideas favoring year-round school calendars with the traditional model but include more off days along with the usual holiday and teacher conference off days. 

The two hybrid options discussed would include either starting the school year Thursday July 18th or starting it July 25th. A recent poll with 504 parents of students of the district responding showed that the traditional model was favored, but that the votes for one of the two options added up to more than those for the traditional option. The two hybrid options split a majority vote. 

Meanwhile, Crossley mentioned what he called a third way and what the board members and Self called an “alternate,” which, in Crossley’s words, “provides more flexibility but maintains a traditional calendar.”  This was a calendar he has drafted in the past few days which incorporates more off days and would involve requesting the state board of education to allow a waiver so that the district can comply with required contact time of students with teachers by number of hours rather than days. Crossley said he had presented this option to a meeting of the PPC but not to entire faculty and staff of Hope Public Schools yet. 

The PPC recently took a vote among the HPS staff, finding that 58 percent favored the July 25th starting date.  Self, in her presentation said recovery from learning loss during the summer was the leading educational reason for changing the calendar. “The traditional calendar is not working.” She cited a high absentee rate among students and staff and said the hybrid options would likely provide relief from the grind of long periods of time in the academic calendar when off days are not available, especially between Labor Day and the November Thanksgiving break. Later in the meeting she said she interpreted the vote as not necessarily endorsing a particular hybrid calendar but certainly opposed to the traditional calendar. 

Self pointed out in her presentation that the division of courses into three-week-long units made a transition to a different calendar easier than it would have been otherwise. She said the members of PPC are “comfortable making changes in smaller increments instead of all at once,” but even if the board voted to make a change toward a hybrid calendar immediately, the members would “still make it work.” 

After Self finished, Hamilton said what caught his attention was the potential reduction in absenteeism. Self responded that for many teachers, who might have as many as 140 students, the difficulty with long hours at school that often include involvement with after-school activities and grading at home which often can claim an entire Sunday, the hybrid models may alleviate stress and burnout. She added that the PPC didn’t favor a four-day week, which Nashville School District has recently adopted, because parents didn’t favor it. 

Much of the time in the meeting was taken with discussion of the difficulties of making the change considering the many auxiliary stakeholders likely to be affected.  The question of how children of parents with no childcare options during the parents’ work day would be accommodated arose early, for example.  Superintendent Crossley said that during the 14 to 16 days off, at least 300 such students can be brought to campus. “We have the benefit of having magnet funds and enrichment funds to be able to expand enrichment, tutoring, those sorts of things for those days.” 

Crossley acknowledged that changing toward a hybrid model and shortening the summer off period would pose difficulties for the HPS business office as it must “close the books for the school year” and make necessary hires for the next year in a shorter period of time. 

School board and past president Linda Haynes asked about the disruptions caused to students who are seeking degrees or taking courses at University of Arkansas Hope Texarkana while they are also enrolled in high school. Crossley said he had spoken to UAHT officials and that while the college would not change its calendar unless the entire University of Arkansas system did so. He said he believed much of the problem is already solved for the students who spend their day at UAHT’s Hope campus, but for students who have classes at both Hope High and UAHT, or classes at UAHT and extracurricular activities at Hope High arrangements would have to be made in talks with UAHT officials and consultation with Maurice Henry, HPS’ Transportation and Maintenance Manager. 

The 4-1 vote by the HPS board was on a motion that allows Superintendent Crossley to request the waiver to count instructional time by hours rather than days but allows the ultimate academic calendar for school year 24-25 to be determined later in negotiations between Crossley, the PPC and other stakeholders and then presented to the board for final approval. 

Crossley and board members indicated wanting to hear from parents before finalizing the decision on the structure of the school calendar. The next regular meeting of the HPS school board is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 18th at the HPS Administration Building at 117 Second Street.