Tulsa Public Schools explored three calendar options with varying start and end dates for the 2020-21 school year Monday evening.
District leaders hosted the second of three special board meetings this month centered on designing a plan to safely return to school while also preparing for the potential need for more distance learning in the fall.
During Monday’s meeting, TPS Chief Design and Innovation Officer Andrea Castaneda highlighted the importance of implementing a flexible and safe calendar for the 2020-21 school year. Administrators are hoping for as normal of a year as possible but are faced with a multitude of operational and health-related challenges involving COVID-19.
“If the year proves to be uneven or interrupted, one significant gift we can give to our entire community is clarity about where they’re supposed to be, where their kids are supposed to be and what’s going to happen next,” Castaneda said. “The calendar can help do that.”
She presented board members with three options, the first of which involves maintaining the current district calendar that begins Aug. 19 and ends May 21. The school year would consist of 166 instructional days, each lasting 400 minutes.
The schedule only allows for three days of training for teachers before the start of school. There also would be only 26 total days of breaks throughout the year. Castaneda faulted this option for its lack of flexibility in allowing the district to “reset” or revert to distance learning if needed.
“One way to think about this is sort of like going on a road trip,” she said. “If you’re going on a 400-mile road trip and there is not a single gas station, then you’re just going to go the whole way and hope that nothing happens. But if there’s a gas station every 100 miles, what you know is that you can stop. You can get gas. You can fix a flat. There are places where you can reliably reset.
“Our school year, to be flexible, is going to need things like that.”
With the second calendar option, the school year would begin Aug. 31 and end June 8. There would be 152 instructional days lasting 436 minutes and 36 total days of breaks.
This option is designed to be more flexible and features six “reset” opportunities throughout the school year, Castaneda said. There are also seven days of summer training in addition to intersession options for teachers.
Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said the idea behind starting the school year later for students is to front-load the professional learning days, which tend to be spread across the year. This allows teachers to better prepare for the district’s still unfinished and unorthodox plans to address health and distance learning in 2020-21.
With the potential for schools to return to remote instruction at any point in the year, Castaneda said longer school days would allow teachers to better take advantage of the face-to-face time they have with their students.
“A longer day in this case helps maximize what kids can get in the precious time that we have with them,” she said.
The third option is similar to the second, except that the school year would start Sept. 10 and end June 30. There also would be 162 instructional days lasting 410 minutes and 31 total days of breaks.
Board members are expected to vote on a calendar option during another special board meeting next Monday.