The first Grand Ledge School Board meeting of the month attracted about 100 community members, as many were concerned with the proposal to switch from a traditional school year calendar to a proposed “balanced” calendar.
The new calendar would have a shortened summer break and longer scheduled instruction breaks throughout the school year.
Jonathan Shiflett, president of the Grand Ledge School Board, said that, if enacted, this calendar would be utilized by all schools in the Grand Ledge School District, which has 5,240 students.
A presentation about the calendar and student achievement within Eaton County was given by the Eaton Regional Education Service Agency.
Although the board members were allowed to ask questions during the presentation, the public was not.
This sparked complaints among the crowd.
After the presentation, the board allowed public comment. Each person had no
more than five minutes to speak. Fourteen people voiced their concerns with the proposed calendar.
Out of the 14 who spoke, only one person said that they were willing to support the calendar, but that the community wasn’t provided enough information on what a calendar like this would entail.
Dr. Michael Schafer, a 1989 Grand Ledge High School graduate and father of three children who attend school in Grand Ledge, said that decisions like this will “affect the district for years to come.”
“Reasonable people make reasonable decisions if given enough information,” he said at the podium.
Many spoke about how the proposed calendar would affect students’ ability to get summer jobs, negatively impact student-athletes’ schedules and make it difficult for families to spend time with one another.
Lindsey Grostefon walked up to the podium with a large, colorful binder full of her research about the effectiveness of the proposed calendar. She said that it was abnormal to have so many members of the community at the meeting.
“The calendar for a school district is important,” she said. “We wanted the board to know that we felt it was important, so we wanted them to see community members, to see parents, to see teachers, just to let them know that we’re invested in this decision.”
Grostefon teaches special education in the Grand Ledge School District and said, “The majority of the research that I’ve done, the assessments that I give, the students maintain or improve their academic success over the summer.”
Grostefon said that what is being proposed isn’t actually a balanced calendar.
“This is not a balanced calendar,” she said. “The district, the administration, is calling it a balanced calendar, but it’s really an extended calendar. So, they want to extend the school year.”
The calendar would have roughly two-week breaks for Thanksgiving, the winter holiday and Spring Break, and school would begin in late August, according to the presentation.
Kristy Merignac, parent of four children in the Grand Ledge School District and a Parent Teacher League (PTL) member, said that having so many people in the community at the meeting was unusual.
She said that the community was not made aware of what the calendar would entail and that what the board is proposing is actually an extended calendar rather than a balanced calendar.
“I feel like they keep talking about transparency, and there is none; transparency and communication,” she said. “They have this board meeting and they said they are not going to discuss it, they’ll hear us out, but there’s no discussion.”
Merignac said that the superintendent sent out a letter in 2015 regarding the balanced calendar.
“Only 51 percent of parents favored the plan (for the balanced calendar) after they read and evaluated the arguments both in favor of a balanced calendar and against it,” Merignac read from the letter. “When asked again, it slipped to 48 percent in favor of the plan.”
She also said that a survey was sent out a couple of years ago that asked whether or not parents would be interested in learning more about changes in the calendar.
“Sixty percent said no, 40 percent said yes,” she said.
Merignac said that having the modified calendar could negatively affect students’ ability to learn in the classroom.
“I have a kid who has severe anxiety about going back to school,” she said. “If you had a two- week break every six weeks, I’d be carrying him in crying every day for the first week we go back to school, and he’s in second grade. I don’t think they’re listening to parents on this issue. If they did, they would send out a survey.”
After the public had the chance to speak, each of the board members had the chance to wrap up the meeting.
All of the board members thanked everyone for coming.
Ben Cwayna, who was appointed to a vacant trustee position two weeks before, was sworn in at the beginning of the meeting.
“I thought everyone was here to see me sworn in,” he joked at the end of the meeting.
Shiflett also said that the amount of people at the meeting was “significantly more than usual.”
In regards to the calendar proposal, Shiflett said that it has been discussed among the board for a while now.
“It’s been an ongoing process for the last several years, actually; having these conversations about the calendar with the union, because we have to negotiate the calendar with them,” he said. “I know that we’ve been in this round of negotiation for, I want to say, like two months, maybe longer.”
Shiflett said that the next step is to continue having discussions with the union and among the board members.
“I’m so happy everybody came (to the meeting),” he said. “One of the downsides to community service like that is that people generally aren’t involved, so when people are involved, it makes it better.”