School's in, and it's changing in Rochester

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

While most students in Michiana are enjoying their final days of summer break, some are already hitting the books. School started today in Rochester. For the first time Rochester schools are on what they call a "balanced calendar."

In exchange for an earlier start (August 6th) and later finish (June 4th) Students and teachers will get longer breaks throughout the school year.

School officials think the change will have many benefits.

“Essentially kids are happy to come back to school, but they get tired of it after a while, so now you have the opportunity several times throughout the year to begin again,” said Rochester Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Howe.

Three times to be exact. Students will have two week breaks in the fall, winter, and spring.

During each of the breaks, the second week, called the intersession, will be used to help students who are struggling with their work.

“During intersession time the kids will come in, and they will learn what they're going to do as everybody comes back in, and hopefully that will give them the opportunity to shine,” Howe said.

Howe said the intersessions can be viewed as a substitute to summer school; and that she hadn’t seen any data that summer school made much of an impact in catching students up in grades K-8.

The extra time also opens the door for long field trips, or special courses.

“I think teachers can use their interests and hobbies, and maybe bring those in and share them with students. It' just doesn't happen in the regular school year,” said Rochester High School Principal Dan Ronk.

Rochester parents were able to offer their input at public meetings last year.

“People voiced their concerns, and we went out to see is this a problem, how do you handle this? I believe we were able to accommodate just about everything that came up,” Howe said.

And if they decide those problems weren't addressed, they can speak up when the 3-year test run of the schedule is over in 2010.

“That's what this is, a pilot, so we will study this every year and send out surveys at the end of every year to determine if this is making an impact and doing what we wanted it to do,” Howe said.

School officials say this was the best option they found to address the concerns they've heard from parents...specifically attendance, remediation, and enrichment.

When deciding what schedule to use, administrators looked at many school districts in Kentucky who have similar schedules. They say Lanesville - in Southern Indiana - is the only other school district in the Hoosier state that currently uses a "balanced calendar.”

But the new schedule isn't all that's changed at Rochester High; this is also the first year for what they call "New Tech High."

It's a program that takes all 9th grade students and gives them a new set of curriculum based around new technology.

Using new computers partially funded by grants, the students will be learning in a project-based environment.

Teachers say the program should make classes more interesting for students, and better prepare them for the real world; by keeping up with recent technology.

In preparation, faculty members visited the flagship school for the teaching model: the Napa School in Sacramento, California.

“You're amazed at the quality of student work, and how skilled they are at making presentations, interacting with adults. It's a whole different culture than what we're used to,” Ronk said.

The program is starting with just the freshman students this year, but administrators say once it's implemented to all grades, (in four years), it will cost more than $1 million.

They say a large chunk is a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and some money will also come from the district's general fund.

To find out more about the New Tech High program, visit the Rochester Schools homepage below.

Rochester Schools Community Calendar 2007-2008

6 – First student day

3 – Labor Day, No students, staff

3 – Staff development, early dismissal
5 – end of 1st 9 weeks.
8-12 - Fall Break
15-19 - Fall intersession
22 – Regular classes resume

6 – Staff development, early dismissal
22-23 – No School (Thanksgiving)

6 – Staff development, early dismissal
21 – Half Day, end of 2nd 9 weeks
24-28 - Winter break
31 - Winter intersession

1 – New Year’s Day
2-4 - Winter intersession
7 - Regular classes resume
29 - Staff development, early dismissal

18 – No School, President’s Day/
26 – Staff development, early dismissal

14 – End of 3rd 9 weeks
17-21 - Spring Break
24-28 - Spring intersession
31 - Regular classes resume

3 - Staff development, early dismissal

26 – Memorial Day

4 – Half day for students, end of 4th 9 weeks
6 – Graduation
9-13 - Intersession

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