Ron Caniff, superintendent of Kent ISD, says he did what 20 local superintendents asked him to do when he filed for a waiver in January with the Michigan Department of Education to start school before Labor Day. The ISD had asked for a waiver last year too, but withdrew it after discussions with the state dragged on.
But this go-round, when the authorization came through, superintendents didn’t quite expect it so fast. They went back to their communities to take their pulse. The result: 15 of 20 districts opted for the early start, while the remaining five stuck withthe Tuesday after Labor Day, bound by multi-year collective bargaining agreements or summer construction projects.
While this year’s start dates are scattered, “All superintendents certainly understand and recognize the benefits of the common calendar and start date,” Caniff said. Those able to do so will try to align their calendars next year, but there is not yet “100 percent agreement” on the best start date, he added.
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The three-year waiver impacts approximately 109,000 public district and charter school students. Caniff outlined the main rationale for a pre-Labor Day start:
- Align Kent ISD school calendars with districts’ partner colleges and universities for dual enrollment or early/middle college opportunities. All traditional districts have a least one student participating;
- Meet the state’s 180-day, 1,098-hour of instruction mandate, plus provide increased learning time for those taking state assessments, national exams like SAT and Advanced Placement tests in the spring.
- Coincide semester’s end with the holiday break in December rather than administering final exams in late January;
- Coordinate schedules for students enrolled in the Kent Career Tech Center and similar collaborative programs;
- Summer’s over anyway for high school students in band and fall athletics who are already back and practicing.
- Lastly, in a nod to tourism, districts with pre-Labor Day starts are taking Fridays off in August, giving parents the opportunity for long weekends.
Tech Center Up and Running
Despite districts’ varying opening days, classes began Monday for some 3,000 students in four Kent ISD campus programs: Kent Career Tech Center, Kent Innovation High, Kent Transition Center and MySchool@Kent.
“We’ve communicated that school starts Aug. 21 in every way possible, except carrier pigeon,” Tech Center Principal John Kraus said. “We are doing relevant instruction the first two weeks of school.”
For the students who don’t drive themselves to campus, district high schools will operate a shuttle bus to and from the ISD campus. If some students simply can’t start until their local districts began Sept. 5, the ISD will work with students one-on-one to remediate or to provide safety instructions that they missed, Kraus said.
“Nobody is going to put a student in a situation where they have not completed required safety training,” Kraus said. “Whether it is knife skills in culinary or ladder safety in construction, we’re committed to teaching our curriculum and won’t compromise on safety.”