Possibilities for 2015-2016

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Merry Christmas to all! I write this just after the last class day of the second quarter. It may seem early to be considering the next school year, but in our school start-up last year, we learned the value in early preparation. Easter will be here before you know it!

As a small school, Columbia enjoys certain advantages over schools with more inertia. There are some education practices with advantages, which are hard for larger schools or entire districts to implement.

District 21 has been considering the possibility of a full-year schedule, as other places have tried. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The disadvantages are generally inconveniences that arise whenever a family must harmonize different schedules. The main advantage is academic: it avoids the loss of learning that takes place every summer, requiring a month or more of teaching in the fall just to catch up.

A full-year schedule is not really year-round. There is a 6-week (or so) summer break, as well as a slightly shorter break around Christmas. The two remaining breaks are about two weeks long — long enough themselves for a family vacation. Overall, students also have more school days through the year, but without the dreaded hard transition from a long summer. Students and their families can look forward to a generous break after each quarter.

The academic advantage has been observed in other countries and in a number of American schools that have already made the switch. It’s been supposed to be part of the reason that students in public education do well in places like Japan. There are both proponents and detractors from the idea, but since every school and every student has different challenges and gifts, the question boils down to whether it makes sense in a given environment.

The most difficult disadvantage for us is ironically something not even found at Columbia Lutheran School: the inertia of schools like District 21 and St. Mary’s. While we are able to make a change like this without as much hardship as they might face, we are also affected by the inconvenience of their contrasting schedule. Families with students in two different systems have to adjust and compromise. This is also true with students in multiple District 21 schools, but it will always be another, similar challenge to harmonize the Columbia Lutheran School schedule. Furthermore, extracurricular programs in the community have the greatest incentive to accommodate the District 21 schedule, and may be ignorant of Columbia Lutheran School.

The question then turns back to our flexibility. Can CLS be flexible and creative enough to take advantage of a full-year calendar, while also helping our student families to manage the scheduling challenges? There are ideas we could use in the summer quarter that would allow students and their families to accommodate the demands of certain extracurricular activities, and retain some sense of “summer vacation” while still progressing academically. One example is something that has been used year-round at a classical Lutheran school in Roswell, New Mexico. School meets for 2 or 3 days each week, with longer take-home assignments for the intervening days. Parents are asked to attend a weekly session so that they can stay up to date with the progress of their students, and make sure the work is well done. Another possibility would take advantage of the longer daylight hours, starting the school day later (or earlier) to allow another part of the day for other activities.

There is little doubt that a full-year schedule would further distinguish the excellence of our classical academic program, and be a significant benefit for our students. But as we reach out to the community with the hope of attracting more students, will our neighbors also recognize the importance of this distinction? If they are not willing to consider it or learn about it, then it may be an idea before its time, even at Columbia.

The CLS School Board has been considering this from the very start. We didn’t begin with a full-year schedule because of the time constraints we faced in the CLS start-up, and to allow our families a more gradual transition. The change seems to be a very good one, and it deserves serious consideration. The time to make this decision and set a plan in place for marketing is now upon us. Please pray for our school, and come, help our school board with the planning process.

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