Will Greencastle-Antrim schools follow traditional or competency-based calendar next year?

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Families in the Greencastle-Antrim School District are being asked which calendar they prefer for 2021-22, one a traditional version and the other competency-based. The school board is scheduled to make a decision at its meeting on Thursday, April 1.

The possibility of continuing virtual Wednesdays next year came up in February, and the community "really engaged in the discussion," according to Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent. In a survey, many families indicated virtual Wednesdays during the COVID-19 pandemic did not work for their children.

This traditional calendar is one option for 2021-22 in the Greencastle-Antrim School District.
This competency-based calendar is one of two options for 2021-22 in the Greencastle Antrim School District.

At the board's March 18 meeting, Hanks explained the difference between the virtual Wednesdays held every week this year and the proposed calendar with "competency immersion days" on 11 Wednesdays.

In her presentation, Hanks gave a reminder of the school district's mission: "A community invested in empowering our students to strive for excellence to succeed in the future."

That mission is tied to the core competencies identified for a Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate developed by the Destination Design Team over the fall and early winter and adopted by the board Feb. 4.

Dr. Lura Hanks, G-A superintendent

The core competencies are critical thinking and social responsibility; creativity and innovation; literacy and communication; physical and emotional health; and general knowledge and academic preparation.

The calendar proposal also includes Competency Exhibition Day on May 11, 2022, when all students would present a "portfolio of evidence" of their growth in the competencies to families, peers and teachers.

The April 1 meeting begins at 6 p.m. Due to the pandemic, the meeting is not open to the public, but can be viewed on YouTube by following the link under "school board" on the district website gcasd.org.

The full discussion on March 18 also can be accessed via the website.

Rethinking the calendar

"What do we hope to accomplish by rethinking the school calendar?" asked a slide  entitled "Achieving our Mission" in Hanks' presentation.

The answers were:

- Improved teaching & learning — collaborative lesson design, collective expertise, reflection and adjustment; equity in experience for all students; timely and meaningful feedback; individualized student/family conferences

- Less "interrupted learning time" — Act 80 days (non-instructional); no early dismissals; more consistent, less disruptive schedule

This slide from the March 18 presentation by Dr. Lura Hanks, Greencastle-Antrim School District superintendent, shows the differences between the traditional calendar and the competency-based calendar.

The traditional calendar has 40 days interrupted, with 26 days out of school for holidays, Act 80 days and teacher in-service, plus 14 days for early dismissal. The competency-based calendar has 30 days out of school for competency immersion days, holidays and in-service days and just one early dismissal — the last day of school.

- Development of core competencies — immerse students in authentic, purposeful application of learning; nurture sense of curiosity and personal interests; shift from "finish a year" or "covering content" to "documenting a year" and "collecting evidence of learning."

Competency immersion days are intended to cultivate curiosity for topics that intrigue; align "project/performance-based" experiences; provide opportunities for specific and timely feedback; and increase opportunities for student and family conferences.

Virtual Wednesdays have been asynchronous learning, when instruction is not in real time, but available online.

More:Core competencies for graduates OK'd by Greencastle-Antrim School Board

More:Greencastle-Antrim parents weigh in on virtual Wednesdays

The schedule for competency immersion days would be:

  • 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.: Live virtual sessions to review project criteria and expectations, provide feedback and focused instruction with large or small groups
  • 9:30 to noon: Self-paced learning tasks according to "project action plan" and collaborative time for teachers to work together
  • Noon to 12:30: Lunch
  • 12:30 to 3 p.m.: Learning and coaching conferences with students and families; support sessions, live or in-person.

The intent is, over the course of a child's education, to reach the Portrait of a Graduate envisioned by the Destination Design Team through the core competencies.

The specifics of the competencies and the curriculum to go with them are still being developed, but an example is thinking skills in the critical thinking and social responsibility competency.

The proposed learning targets for children in kindergarten to second grade are: I share my ideas; I identify my strengths; I ask questions to help me understand. By high school, the skills are to construct knowledge; identify patterns; formulate arguments; and solve problems.

Some members of the Greencastle-Antrim School District's Destination Design team are shown during a virtual meeting where they talked about the five competencies that make up their Portrait of a Graduate.

Discussion

Board member Shannon Yates, who did not like virtual Wednesdays, said the community spoke and he believes the competency-based calendar "meets in the middle."

Board member Lindsey Mowen thinks the calendar is a step in the right direction, but that there should be fewer competency immersion days, suggesting a limit of one a month.

The new calendar makes sense, according to board member Scott Hart, the father of four, who talked about the difficulty of arranging child care on early dismissal days.

"I can't see much wrong with it ... it's not virtual Wednesdays," said Dr. Carter Davidson, board member.

"I think everyone would agree it would be a shame to take that we learned this past year and just go back to the way we were doing things. This could be the launchpad for something great," said board member Charles Ford.

Hanks said she has told the board she will not present a calendar she does not have 100% confidence in, and she has 100% confidence in the competency-based calendar.