By Sally Absher

Year Round School. The school-wide meetings are underway regarding a proposed Year Round (or “Balanced”) Calendar. The list of meetings can be found here: Note that many of the meetings are already over, and participants are being told that this is their “only chance” to weigh in on the idea.

The meetings follow the same Delphi Technique of “dialogue to consensus” used to sell the 10-Year Plan and the KCS Strategic Plan. A facilitator presents an overview of the topic, and then the attendees are divided into small groups to “dialogue” on the pros and cons of various ideas. The facilitators in each group “guide” the discussion, hoping to arrive at the predetermined outcome. The individual groups “vote.” And people leave, thinking they have contributed to the process.

According to several in attendance in the Halls area last week (which took place on the same date as the middle school/high school band concert), they were asked to vote for the current calendar, a 9/2 calendar, or a 9/3 calendar. The results in one group were: nine for current, three for 9/2, zero for 9/3, and in another group: five for current, three for 9/2 and zero for 9/3. So that is what 20 of the 400,000 people in Knox County thought about the options. Hopefully many more people will weigh in.

The biggest concern voiced is why this is even being discussed now. KCS has offered NO information on the cost, NO information on what, if any “intervention” will be offered, and for whom, and NO peer reviewed research that clearly shows a benefit for the majority of students under year round school.

Most people agree that they’d like to see the return of the week-long Fall Break. Beyond that … it depends. But don’t be complacent. The Superintendent hopes to bring this to vote as early as May or June of this year. And his loyal supporters, both principals and certain BOE members, are doing all they can to grease the skids for an easy passage. Don’t let this be another vote under the guise of “if we pass it they will fund it.”

And funding will be a HUGE issue. Metro Nashville tried for several years to pass a 9/2 calendar. They finally compromised on a modified 9/2 calendar, with a one week fall break and two weeks for Christmas and spring. Giving up that one extra week of break in the fall saved MNPS $20M.

Karen Carson – Blaming Teachers for Year Round School? Last week, Fifth District BOE member Karen Carson had a busy Sunday. First she appeared on WATE’s’s “Tennessee This Week”, and then was in-studio on the George Korda “State Your Case” radio show, along with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Alvez, to promote McIntyre’s proposed year round calendar.

First Carson said, “I don’t have a position on it yet… I want to be compelled to make that move.” But later she said, “I think the four factors that I look at are all going to interplay. For me, if a majority of teachers say they don’t want it, that’s going to influence me greatly…but if a majority – 70 + percent of teachers say this is a good thing for kids and for teachers, and it’s revenue neutral, or revenue doable, and the academic research shows it’s a plus, and 48% of the parents say its good – so 52% say no – I would probably go with it.”

Carson appears to be triangulating this issue so she can say she “did it for the teachers.” If a plan passes that is not popular with parents, it sets the teachers up as the scapegoat. The opinions of teachers are extremely important. But so are the opinions of parents, taxpayers, and greater community. We will all be impacted to one degree or another.

Dr. Alvez admitted that the “research is somewhat mixed in terms of academic improvement.”  When asked about cost, she answered, “It depends on the implementation.” Ah yes. The devil is in the details.

It also depends how the questions are asked. Maryville is usually cited as a District where “everyone” loves year round school. But a caller from Maryville had numerous complaints about the calendar, and said “I’ve seen those surveys, and never is there an option on the survey for the traditional calendar.”

Standardized Documentary. BOE members Gloria Deathridge and Karen Carson may not have heard about the growing resistance to high stakes standardized testing and National Opt Out movement, but they are quickly becoming a minority. On March 7, SPEAK sponsored a showing of the documentary film “Standardized: Lies, Money, and Civil Rights. How Testing is Ruining Public Education.”

Approximately 60 interested parents, teachers, and community members filled the meeting room at the Bearden public library Saturday afternoon. Many stayed to participate in a round-table discussion following the movie. Learn more about the National Opt Out Movement in next week’s Focus.

If you missed the showing and are interested in seeing the film, you can stream it online ($4.99) or download it for $12.99 here:

KCS 2015-2016 Budget Preview. Last week’s mid-month marathon BOE meeting lasted over five and a half hours, and included a presentation on the Middle School Study; a discussion of the preliminary FY 2016 Capital Improvement Plan, and a preview of the preliminary FY 2016 General Purpose Budget.

The budget calls for a nearly $16M increase in funding over the 2014-2015 budget, which Dr. McIntyre said represents a 3.7% increase. Because KCS has relied heavily in recent years on grants and other funding sources that are ending, the preliminary budget includes a number of curtailments, cuts, and yet-to-be-determined reductions.

We are sure there will be a “robust” discussion of various options in the months to come. At the top of the list, of course, is Doug Harris’ perpetual solution of a tax increase to give the schools $40 – 60 more in funding (so he can give it away to charter schools and private schools via vouchers?)