30 January 2005

Forecasting

Schools and districts are interesting beasts. They rarely live in the present. It's all about the future: How will we raise scores next year? Will enrollment be enough to keep all the elementaries open? Who's retiring and when will we start replacing them?

For example, Thursday marked the end of our first semester of the 2004 - 2005 school year. And by the end of February, we will already be registering students for next fall. By the end of March, I will know how many kids will be sitting in my classes in September, along with the schedule of courses I will teach.

I also already know what the school calendar will be for the next two years.

The calendar, like most decisions, is driven by money. The way in which funding for a district is determined varies from state to state. Many use a headcount from the 20th day in order to calculate how much money a district receives: (x #students * $ = big chunk of budget). If you live in one of these states, starting in early or mid-August is no problem. If kids are still on vacation, they'll be in school on the 20th day (sometime after Labour Day). Washington, however, funds based on the average attendance for days 1, 3, and 5. This means that we have to have as many warm bodies as possible at school from the very beginning. It also means that we start late compared to nearly every place else in the U.S.

In the fall, our first day of school will be Wednesday, September 7. On one hand, this doesn't sound so bad. We get out on the 16th of June this year---and will have about 2 more weeks of summer vacation vs. last year. The bad news? We don't get out until June 21st next year, too late for most teachers to take advantage of summer programs that they need to retain their certification. A late start (after a long summer) means more reteaching of students in the fall...and less time before state and national assessments. It also means that days we teachers used to have for planning together are now gone.

Teachers and other school personnel had input on 4 possible calendars for the next 2 years. It's interesting that the school board chose to adopt the one which had the least amount of votes from staff. It seems like so many "decisions" happen that way in schools: you are asked to voice your opinion...and then it's never used. I'm sure "they" think we're appeased by at least having the opportunity to vote.

The fallout from this feeling of powerlessness will be seen, I'm sure, in the district committee I'm running in a few weeks. We are charged with determining what our district scope and sequence will be for secondary science. I am already hearing questions from teachers as to whether or not this committee is so much window dressing...have the decisions already been made by someone else? What have I been told to do? I keep reassuring them that their expertise is meaningful and they have the power to make the choices, but I also understand why they may feel like eunuchs even before we begin.

It is the time of week when I follow the pattern and look ahead. Class is back in session tomorrow and I need to make sure plans are in place. I hope to finish up the past today: there is one set of first semester finals left to mark. Maybe moving on won't be as difficult as it looks now.

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