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Summary

The Thoughtexchange identified a few areas for high agreement and brought to the forefront issues impacting working parents, including early release days, changes to the academic calendar during the year, and placement of the early release and professional development days. Overwhelming support around the following components of a calendar: 

  • A one-week break for Thanksgiving
  • A two-week break in the Winter prior to the new year
  • End school year prior to Memorial Day

The polarized themes from the Thoughtexchange come around the impacts of the calendar on working parents. Thoughts around keeping early release days similar to how they were added to the calendar in 2020-21 were not rated highly overall and tended to be more heavily favored by teachers/school staff. Parents/guardians concerned about early release days were concerned about the impact on working parents. There were highly rated thoughts that presented adjustments to early release days such as:

  • providing late buses for early release days, 
  • avoiding making mid-year calendar adjustments,
  • changing the day of the week for early release, and 
  • having fewer early release days and more full days off. 

Recommendations

  1. Build a calendar that is similar to the 2020-21 school year calendar.
    • Start the school year in mid-August and end in late May. 
    • Keep extended holiday breaks in November, December, and March.
  1. Keep teacher work/planning time in the calendar, but consider adjustments to how it was used in the 2020-21 school year. 
    • Learn more about the following items:
      • teacher work and professional development days at the end of breaks
      • start the school year on a Thursday
      • changing early release day of the week
      • fewer early release days but more full days
      • more long weekends with professional development on Fridays or Mondays, especially around holidays

Methodology

Leander ISD hosted a Thoughtexchange survey to collect preliminary data for creating the next academic calendar. The exchange, an open-ended collection of thoughts that participants can then rate, ran from Nov. 16 – Nov. 29. The 1,399 participants produced 869 thoughts and 44,671 ratings. 

The question was:

  • “What should our next Leander ISD academic calendar look like?” 

The survey was distributed in English and Spanish, distributed via text messaging using the district’s Remind system to all families and staff, as well as social media and newsletters. 

Most of the feedback came from parents. The breakdown was as follows: 

  • 72% Parent/Guardian
  • 23% Teacher/School Staff
  • 2% Student
  • 2% Community Member
  • 1% Non-School Staff

Analysis

Top Rated Thoughts – Themed

We themed the top 150 rated thoughts (or all earning a 3.7 rating or better) to understand popular or important ideas on our academic calendar. Those themes (listed alphabetically) are:

  • Consistency 20/21 (thoughts not specific to holidays but asked for consistency and to keep a similar calendar)
  • Don’t Start Too Early (start school no earlier than Aug. 15)
  • Early Release Days – Suggestions (thoughts around improving early release days) 
  • Election Day PD Day (use election day as a professional development/non-instructional day)
  • End Memorial Day/May (end the school year at the end of May or before June)
  • Keep Holiday Breaks (one week at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas/before New Year, one week at Spring, and four days around the Easter holiday)
  • Less School Days (use extra minutes to reduce the total number of school days)
  • More Long Weekends (add days off around weekends or holidays to extend breaks)
  • Other (virtual learning, recess time, and other school day items not relevant to the calendar discussion)
  • PD Days After Breaks (keep the Mondays after long breaks in Winter and Spring as professional development/non-instructional days)
  • Semesters/Grading Periods (adjust semesters or grading periods to balance weeks and end the first semester at end of the year)
  • Start on Thursday (start the school year on Thursday)

The top-rated and submitted theme in this set of thoughts was to keep holiday breaks. This contributes to recommendation 1. 

None of the top-rated thoughts were obviously supportive of or against early release days. Instead, we saw suggestions for how to alter or adjust in-year teacher planning time within the calendar (ex. moving early release days from Wednesdays to Fridays). 

The top suggestions themed “Early Release Day – Suggestions” include:

  • Staff development days/ student Holidays should occur on either a Monday or Friday. Allows families to spend this time together for an extended weekend instead of a wasted vacation day in the middle of the week for working parents.”
  • Similar to this year but make half days/teacher development days on Fridays Easier for parents to get off early at the end of the week than mid-week.”
  • “Early release days on Fridays. Because long weekend is better.”
  • “Move early release planning days to Fridays. Makes it easier for teachers to prep classrooms for the following week”

Differences

Thoughtexchange offers an analysis where it creates groups of polarized or differing opinions to create a group A and a group B. 

The three Differences charts provided in the final report show some of the divides amongst Early Release Days as there was a large group of responses that rated these thoughts highly and a counter group that rated these thoughts poorly. While one group seems to be in favor of early release days, the other favors an extended school year and more school days. 

Based on these “Differences” analysis, we recommend collecting more feedback on how you can offer teacher/staff work time AND support working parents.