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Greg Upham

Billings School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham speaks to the Board of Trustees during a school board meeting in April prior to his hiring.

The prospect of a week-long spring break for Billings Public Schools is on ice for at least another school year.

Trustees approved the 2019-2020 school calendar at their Monday meeting, using a similar structure to recent years.

The district’s calendar committee, which recommended the schedule to trustees, took a hard look at major shifts that would allow for a week-long spring break — something a community survey showed strong interest in.

Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Wednesdays created additional problems.

“Based on how the holidays fell, we did not have the aptitude to build that into this particular calendar,” committee member Christi Beals told trustees.

She also cited the district’s ironclad graduation date on Memorial Day weekend.

“The single biggest issue with the calendar is we’re locked into the Metra,” trustee Russ Hall, who sat on the committee, said.

All three high schools cycle through the Metra in one day, and the district has a standing reservation for the weekend.

Hall said that he favors a different venue that would provide more flexibility. But even with a different graduation date, other issues loom.

“It has been a journey on this committee,” Beals said.

“We went round and round and round,” Hall said.

Trustee Janna Hafer, who previously chaired the committee, said that she gets it. Superintendent Greg Upham called the committee’s work “laborious.”

Building a school calendar deals with dozens of issues, and each is a domino that knocks down others if it’s moved.

There are testing dates, holidays, the state-required 180 days, the state-required seven professional development days for teachers, and parent-teacher conferences.

There’s the teacher’s union contract. There’s parent input. There’s educational best practices, bolstered by research about how breaks and schedules affect student learning.

“Any major changes are probably three, four, five years down the road,” Hall said.

And, in a nod to what often seems like a 50/50 split on calendar issues, “probably making no friends in the process.”

Summer

Trustee Mike Leo took that spirit a step farther with a bold endorsement of year-round school.

He blasted the current nine-month model as a construct for agrarian society that “no longer fits.”

“There are 12 months in a year,” he said. “There are working parents that experience an undue financial burden during the summer months.”

Research backs up Leo’s comments; generally, students learn better on a year-round schedule, especially those from low-income families who statistically struggle more in school than their more wealthy peers.

Upham, when presenting test score data and noting differences between schools, asked trustees to explore year-round school as an option for the future — while acknowledging it may not be a popular idea.

“I know that by saying that I should get my resume polished up and my truck gassed up,” he said.

Upham has frequently cited gaps between students entering kindergarten that can persist through school as they age, and that students need more resources — including more learning time — to succeed.

“The nine-month schedule does not coincide with their ability to move forward,” he said.

Trustees did not vote on any policies about year round school, nor are any officially under consideration. But the comments made by Leo and Upham are some of the boldest endorsements of year-round school in recent years. 

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.