By Sally Absher

Finally, after weeks of anticipation, the Survey Monkey results on balanced calendar were released.

The PR folks at KCS have learned the trick of answering objections in advance.  In a May 11 Knoxville News Sentinel story, Dr. McIntyre told reporter Lydia McCoy that about 200 of the responses (were) taken multiple times from the same IP address, but “overall, relatively few attempts to skew the results were detected by our research personnel …”  Great, but how many attempts were NOT detected by staff?

Apparently they tracked IP addresses from survey respondents.  The Focus asked a local computer technology consultant how that works (see also We learned that IP addresses come from the router. So, one router could have hundreds of internal IP addresses but only one external IP address. The survey looks at the external IP address.

For example, there might be 200 people taking the survey at the AJ Building. They will show up with one IP address. If they complete the survey again from their home computers, that’s another 200 responses, and their cell phones, another 200 responses, and before long it adds up. Add in Principals, Vice Principals, and other Leadership Academy folks, and it could be thousands of responses.

Another problem is that the survey is not restricted to Knox County. Our consultant told us you can use proxy servers or IP spoofing to create hundreds more IPs manually. And they could have used script files and proxy servers or IP spoofing to create tens of thousands of IP addresses for “unique” survey responses. They could have easily manipulated 3/4 of the responses into their bucket.

The survey results were discussed at the May 11 District Advisory Council (DAC) meeting. After the obligatory dog and pony PowerPoint presentation by Central Office Administration, the proposed calendar models were handed out. Three calendars were included: the current, traditional calendar, the current traditional calendar with a full week for fall break, and the 45/10 balanced calendar model.

What? Then what was the purpose of all the community engagement meetings, and the survey? The only models being shown at any of the community meetings were traditional, 45-10, and 45-15.  The only calendar models included on the survey were the traditional, and the 45/10. Bait and Switch!

When did the calendar with the week-long fall break become an option, and why was it not included in the survey? (Hint – because that’s what most people prefer). This calendar would satisfy most people, only involves a change of three days, and negligible, if any, cost.

The Administration also talked about how KCS got input from After School Care Providers, but t there was no mention of the fact that “something happened” (as Russ Oaks explained at one of the meetings) and KCS neglected to send the letters out to the providers. The meetings were attended by only a handful of after school care providers, who had many unanswered questions and concerns.  This is completely unacceptable, as child care was listed as a major concern for many parents.

The response from DAC members was varied. An 8th Grade Math teacher talked about how wonderful the world was after the two-week Snowmageddon…the students were so glad to be back in school, everyone acted like little angels, eager to learn, no discipline problems, etc.  But remember, the kids were stuck in their houses for two weeks and would have been glad to be anywhere!

Another member of the DAC complained that there has been no specific information on the implementation and funding of the potential intersessions. The 8th Grade Math teacher said she gets State funds to pay her for after-school tutoring, and maybe they could use some of those funds to pay for the intersessions.  In a rare moment of transparency, Dr. Alvez said that unfortunately, those funds will no longer be available for tutoring, much less intersessions.

Speaking of specifics, Dr. Alvez said that KCS Staff will have all the details about funding, etc., at the May 18th Mid-month BOE work.  This should be interesting…we can’t wait to hear how they’re planning to fund the intersessions, given the current budget climate.

Bob Thomas remarked on the proposed KCS budget, which Mayor Burchett has already indicated will not be fully funded. It is disturbing that the KCS budget, even before the Mayor trimmed $6M, already proposes to cut 13 full time teaching positions, 12 full time clerical  positions, and 4 full time maintenance positions, as well as cuts to the maintenance budget, food budget, summer bridge program, and extended contracts. And yet they have hired more central office staff and wasted months of time, money and effort trying to push the Year Round School agenda.

Whose agenda is this, anyway? KCS said this idea was supported by over 50% of teachers in last year’s teacher survey, and that results from the 2020 Strategic Plan Insight Session survey indicate that “50 people asked for balanced calendar and 170 requested scheduling changes.”

Scheduling changes can be all sorts of things, including a later school day start for high school, block scheduling and Plan Periods for Elementary teachers.  Scheduling changes may have nothing to do with balanced calendar. We searched the comment section of the teacher survey, and only found the word “Balanced” used with “Calendar” about 20 times, and most of those were asking for more information, not expressing support.

Actually the big push for balanced calendar comes from the 2013-14 Parthenon Group study, which formed the basis of the 2020 Strategic Plan. The Parthenon Group is consulting group out of Boston, They are known for charging exorbitant fees ($1.2M) to provide education consulting services , although as a team, they lack education experience. Bill and Melinda Gates ponied up $840K for Knox County to hire Parthenon. Why are we letting a consultant group from Massachusetts tell us how to run our school system?