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District to explore early start

Medford students may start school a week early next year to help boost test scores.

The Medford School District plans to gather parent, student and teacher input on the idea during November parent-teacher conferences.

Superintendent Brian Shumate presented the plan to the School Board during a work session Oct. 23. The proposal by the district's calendar committee recommends a start date of Aug. 27, 2018, the week before Labor Day. School would also end a week early, midway through the first week of June 2019.

The schedule shift would provide more instructional days before standardized tests and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing.

“We’re all about strategies to boost achievement,” School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick said in a phone interview. “So if we can put in an extra week of instruction that helps kids perform better in these higher-level classes, then that’s a strategy that should be employed.”

Starchvick also echoed a point brought up by Shumate in the work session, that two of the top-performing schools in the Rogue Valley ― Ashland High School and St. Mary’s School in Medford ― operate on schedules that begin before Labor Day.

The change keeps the same number of instructional days in the year, in keeping with current teacher contracts. Although 2015 revisions to Oregon statutes use hours to measure required instructional time for students ― 990 hours per year for high school students and 900 hours for all other students ― Medford School District’s schedules break down into days. Both schedules include 175 days. The Oregonian reported earlier this year that this was the average number among schools across the state.

Board member Jeff Kinsella raised the concern that students would begin attending classes for four days and then have four days off for Labor Day weekend.

Kinsella, a former elementary school teacher, said this pause might be disruptive. Starchvick later said she thought so, too, especially for younger students.

“But overwhelmingly I thought Dr. Shumate had great points as far as the (third) quarter ending before spring break," Kinsella said. Students would no longer have to take their finals immediately after a week’s vacation.

Shumate stressed during the meeting that public input would play a major role in shaping the final decision about the calendar.

“If it’s not the will of the community, I’m fine,” he said.

The board does not have a strict deadline to confirm the school calendar, but Starchvick said the sooner, the better, so that families and teachers can plan ahead. The School Board confirmed the current school-year calendar last April.

Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled the week of Thanksgiving.

— Reach reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

District to explore early start