Board Approves Revised 2019-20 School Calendar
At its bimonthly meeting on Monday, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board approved a proposed calendar for the 2019-20 school year. The calendar incorporated some revisions made by the WSSD administration in response to concerns raised at the preliminary presentation at the board’s February 22 meeting.
In detailed commentary, Superintendent Dr. Lisa Palmer described the changes made, the suggested changes not made, and the rationale for each. Two midweek professional development (PD or in-service) days were easily moved from midweek to Fridays, as suggested last meeting by district parent Ben Hall, who had pointed out the care burden that midweek half-days may impose on parents of elementary-age students. Dr. Palmer said that other PD days could not be easily moved due to scheduled activities relating to adjacent holidays. Finally in regard to the oft-heard suggestion that half-day PD sessions be stacked together to minimize half-days, Dr. Palmer reiterated that spreading these days across the year enables educators to better evaluate students, set individual interventions and goals, and review progress across time, all of which are important components of PD sessions.
Dr. Palmer said that the last day of school will still be on a Wednesday (June 17, 2020), and that midweek endings to the school year are fairly common in the recent history of WSSD and nearby districts. For 2019-20, this is dictated by the contours of the calendar, state requirements and district policy prescribing the number of school days and instructional hours at each school level, and the emphatic preference of most district families for a full week spring break.
Regarding another recurring debate — the possibility of setting the first day of school before Labor Day — Dr. Palmer said that while it won’t happen in 2019-20, “Perhaps the time has [come] where there are educational benefits of starting earlier. I think the conversation is worth having — what are the pros and cons — with enough lead time for families to be able to plan.”
In public comment, district parents Ben Hall and Liz Orye thanked the board and administration for deeply considering and addressing comments from the February 25 meeting. Hall further suggested that the District be more proactive in making available documents like the proposed schedule in advance of board meetings.
‘Innovative Design’ Fascinates
In the meeting’s focus topic, Strath Haven Middle School teacher Richard Law made a presentation that fascinated board members, much as his new course apparently does his 6th grade students. Law, a veteran Strath Haven Language Arts teacher (and a sculptor), is two-thirds of the way through the inaugural year of the new course “Innovative Design,” which he teaches to the entire Strath Haven Middle School 6th grade in trimesters throughout the school year. The course combines academic disciplines including (but perhaps not limited to) art and cultural history, graphic design and studio art, geometry and language arts, over a 12-week session in which students develop new ways of seeing and thinking about the natural and built world around them.
Law said the work in Innovative Design “builds the confidence of 6th graders in their instincts and skills,” using “intentional play” and a collaborative approach to get students to look at objects and think about function. Their work products include design projects, working drawings, and reflective writing. Law’s intention is that all students “Leave at the end of the trimester with a real sense of accomplishment,” as well as deeper understanding of the varied subject matter.
Following Law’s presentation, board member Kelly Wachtman said, “I didn’t think I’d ever want to go back to middle school. But after that, I think maybe I do.”