Cedar Rapids school board adds days off, keeps spring break

Changes will affect 2014-15 calendar

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Spring break will remain as scheduled for the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

Following a strong urging from Superintendent Dave Benson, a board vote at Monday’s meeting did not include discussed changes to the week off, set for March 23 through 27, 2015.

“We need to look at that a year out before we would move it,” the superintendent said.

That was good news for Heidi Becker, president of Washington High School’s Patrons of the Performing Arts. The booster organization’s annual show choir fundraiser, Mo Show, is slated for March 14, 2015. During Monday’s public hearing on the proposed calendar changes, Becker said that moving spring break to March 16-20 in order to be aligned with Kirkwood Community College would “destroy” and essentially cancel the show choir invitational.

“I am relieved,” said Becker, whose son will be a junior at the high school in 2014-15, following the board vote. “We’re just very happy that the school board paid attention to what the parents were saying.”

Becker, who said she’d support the alteration in the future as long as the board provided the public with timely notice before it took effect, was one of four people to speak during the public hearing on the calendar. None offered support for rescheduling spring break.

According to a summary from Board Secretary Laurel Day, 51 people reached out to the district via email and Facebook about the proposals, with the majority relating to spring break. Twenty-seven of 49 Facebook commenters voiced support for leaving spring break untouched, citing financial commitments to trips that have already been planned for the original break, as well insufficient notice for the change — while 13 supported rescheduling spring break to mirror other area school districts and colleges. The remaining comments, Day said, were neutral.

Benson said administrators will consider scheduling future spring breaks to fall in line with the calendars of the three public universities, Kirkwood, Coe College and Mount Mercy University.

The 2014-15 calendar did not escape edits.

On Monday, board members unanimously approved removing six scheduled staff professional development early release Wednesdays — October 8 and 22, November 5, April 15 and 29 and May 6 — and consolidating them into two full-release days for students on Friday, Oct. 24 and Friday, May 8.

Benson said the recommendation reflected suggestions from area residents and members of the district’s School Improvement Advisory Committee. The district’s decision to measure the 2014-15 school year in hours instead of days, in accordance with a change to Iowa Code, opened the door for the change which may expand in the future.

“What this does, is it lets us pilot what we’re going to do in 15-16, which is take those half days and turn them into full days,” said Board Vice President Allen Witt. “Parents and teachers can give us feedback.”

Benson said administrators will look at potentially eliminating all early-release Wednesdays and shifting to a schedule consisting solely of full-day professional development sessions.

Tania Johnson, president of the Cedar Rapids Education Association, spoke against the change during the evening’s public forum and called it “not the best way to do business.”

“Teachers can handle the changes for the 15-16 school year. There is time to prepare and plan,” she said. “This shows a lack of understanding of what facilitators and leaders do.”

Johnson argued that research shows professional development is most effective when it is more frequent, a sentiment Deputy Superintendent Mary Ellen Maske echoed.

Johnson also noted that collapsing those 2-hour sessions into full days isn’t as seamless, and rather is more work intensive, than it appears. As a representative of the teachers’ union, Johnson called for community members to work with educators even though the calendar change may be more convenient for families.

“Education is hard work and we need to make sacrifices to do what is best for our children,” she said.

Johnson voiced concerns about how the change will affect the pay of hourly employees such as paraprofessionals. Benson said the amendment is an exchange of hours and not a reduction but he is willing to work with staff whom might be adversely affected by the change.

“If there are unintended consequences that affect an employee group, we stand ready to meet with that group and address those consequences,” the superintendent said.

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