Superintendent comments on school calendar puzzle

Mallory Moats

It’s a never-ending week in the middle of February. The weather is dismal (cold but no snow), and homework assignments are piling up like missed spam calls. However, at the end of the week there is a light enticing students and teachers onwards: a three-day weekend. These days off are an important part of planning the Rolla Public School calendar.
“I want to build a calendar that gives breaks during the school year and allows people to refresh and recharge,” said Craig Hounsom, RPS superintendent. “We try to figure out how to stick those in at key points to allow that to happen. We all know that when you’re coming up on a break, it’s kind of fun to look forward and see that you’re getting a break from school, so trying to put those [breaks] in enough throughout the school year that people can enjoy those times is really important to me.”
Hounsom is the chair of the calendar committee which is made up of teachers, students, principals, parents, and board of education members.
“The calendar committee meets and talks through [planning the calendar],” said Hounsom. “Then, they propose a draft calendar that is sent out to everyone in the district to look at and make comments. [The committee sees] if there’s any changes that come back, and then finally, the draft calendar with any changes that were made goes in front of the school board, and the school board is the one that approves it.”
Some of the loudest voices on the calendar committee are the students. A recent Missouri law pushed the school start date back. In response, the committee considered having the semester end after Christmas Break.
“When the students heard that, they were pretty loud that that was not good for students and they didn’t want to do that, so that really ended that conversation, when that was the student feedback,” said Hounsom.
Another big factor in deciding the calendar layout is the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) rules.

“The second loudest voice is just the DESE regulations,” said Hounsom. “They leave very little wiggle room in what your calendar can look like. There’s just not a lot of variation if your goal is to finish the [first] semester before Christmas and also finish school before Memorial Day in May, which everyone seems to really want.”
DESE requires schools to attend a certain number of hours each semester and each year. However, RPS goes more hours than required.
“If you factor in all the snow days, there are a certain number of hours that you have to build in, so you wouldn’t have to make all of them up,” said Hounsom. “We have built in days… so that it can capture all of those possible snow days within the dates that we’ve set… I would say as a school district, we do believe in going more than just the minimum number of hours that DESE requires. So part of that’s also a value judgment based on our history and the number of hours we’ve always attended.”