By Harold C. Ford
“We always talk about our kids being our most valuable resource, so let’s act like it.” — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver at Brownell STEM Academy assembly upon delivery of donated air conditioners Aug. 20
Flint Community Schools (FCS) launched its newly adopted balanced calendar for the 2019-20 school year on Aug. 7, the first day of school for its students.
“We had a tremendous first day of school,” according to Derrick Lopez, FCS superintendent. “Unsurprisingly, kicking off the school year of any school district can provide challenges,” he noted in an email response to questions from East Village Magazine (EVM).
One of the challenges was building climate, not the social variety, rather the kind mitigated by heating and air conditioning. On Aug. 20, FCS announced that classes would be cancelled at its junior high the next day, Aug. 21 because of high temperatures.
“Flint Junior High School is closed due to high temperatures, as the District works to mitigate climate control issues in the building,” read a statement from the district’s public relations firm. “The ventilation issue is unique to the Junior High, and does not present the same concern for other buildings in the District.”
Flint Junior High School is now housed at the former Northwestern High School campus on Flint’s north side. Classes at the junior high resumed Aug. 22.
AC donations to benefit Flint students:
While a “ventilation issue” may be “unique” to its junior high building, high temperatures are in fact a wide-ranging challenge for the district. On the same day that FCS announced the one-day closure of its junior high, it accepted the donation of a dozen air conditioning units at Brownell STEM Academy.
“See how our community always works together for its students,” said Shalonda Byas, Brownell principal, as she accepted the donation. “A lot of times people focus on the negative perceptions,” she said, adding, “This is the norm. See how our community always works together for its students.”
“All year long we’ve had some challenges,” Byas told EVM. “Sometimes in the wintertime it may be a little too hot, sometimes cold. In the summertime, it gets too hot.”
Students had been visiting Byas’ office to take advantage of her AC unit. “Now I can have my office back,” she said with a smile.
“We’ve been proactive about it,” Byas continued. “We try to take control of the situation, keeping the lights dim. We have calming classrooms; we stay mindful and play classical music that keeps us in that positive mind frame so that we’ll think cool thoughts.”
Chris Martin, pastor at Cathedral of Faith Ministries Church of God in Christ in Flint, spearheaded the effort to acquire AC units for Brownell. “We must pull together as never before to make sure that our children are able to learn in environments that are conducive to learning,” he said. “Brownell today, the rest of the district tomorrow.”
Five of twelve buildings
“Five buildings have classroom units or central air,” Lopez stated. “We are actively pursuing donations of additional units for the remaining seven buildings.”
“We are thankful for the units that have been donated so far,” he said. “While these are temporary solutions, the district has identified a long-term solution by way of a self-funded renewal, which will supply the needed resources for long-term climate control.”
Balanced calendar brings need for climate control:
FCS adoption of a balanced calendar meant an earlier start of school on Aug. 7 and a greater need for climate-controlled buildings conducive to learning. Flint’s high temperatures average 80 degrees in August, according to U.S. Climate Data and most any other weather reporting service. Temperatures above 90 degrees in August are not uncommon.
High temperatures in buildings without climate control and hundreds of bodies have the potential to be unbearable. Numerous reports cite the need for climate control planning with the adoption of a balanced school calendar. A few examples:
- A weighty 2010 report on balanced calendars, Balanced Calendars Pros and Cons, prepared by the Vancouver (Canada) Board of Education, noted the following con: “Absence of air conditioning in older schools.”
- Yet as Melissa Kelly notes, writing in the Aug. 2019 edition of Thought Co., concluded: “Many older school buildings do not have air conditioning, making a year-round schedule impractical.”
One veteran FCS teacher who declined to reveal her identity, wrote EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson on Aug. 20 with the following comments:
“The union agreed to it [balanced calendar] because we were told ALL buildings would have air…Now we are sitting in HOT classrooms with not many kids!…Neithercut had AC units installed this summer, paid for by the district, but they don’t have the power to run them all…so none of them work!”
An attempt by EVM to elicit a response from Karen Christian, president of the United Teachers of Flint, was unsuccessful.
Beecher, first district to adopt balanced calendar, planned ahead
The first school district in Michigan to adopt a balanced calendar was the Beecher Community School District (BCSD), Flint’s immediate neighbor to the north. Beecher, with a demographic profile very similar to Flint, implemented its first balanced calendar in the 2013-14 school year.
But prior to the implementation of its balanced calendar, Beecher voters passed a $2.2 million bond proposal in May 2013 to proactively provide funding for upgrades to climate control systems in its buildings and athletic facilities on a 50/50 basis. The proposal won with 68 percent of the vote and was supported by major BCSD constituent groups including parents, teachers, and school officials led by then-Superintendent Josha Talison.
“I believe it was extremely important to pass the millage to provide AC in the schools,” Talison told EVM. “Without this capital outlay upgrade, the lack of air would have been used as an excuse not to implement this innovative calendar change. Also, with the unpredictable temperatures in Michigan, it (helped) to have air conditioning in the schools.”
Talison, now the superintendent of Ecorse Public Schools, still favors a balanced calendar some seven years after its adoption in Beecher. “I still support the balanced calendar concept,” he told EVM. “I think the balanced calendar aids in the elimination of summer learning loss for students in rural and inner city environments.” That view has plenty of support,starting close to home.
Emerging research supports balanced calendar for low-income youth
While the data seems less certain about benefits for middle- and upper-income youth, an emerging preponderance of evidence and opinion seems to support the advantages of a balanced calendar for low-income youth.
“The work we have done over the last few weeks has reaffirmed the need for the balanced calendar model,” Lopez told EVM. “The balanced calendar is a change of thinking about the way Flint Community Schools operates in order to meet the needs of our students and families.”
In an April 2010 article titled “What Research Says About…/Year-Round Schooling” published by Educational Leadership, Tracy Huebner writes:
“Research indicates that summer learning loss is a real problem for students — especially for economically disadvantaged students. In one study, Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson (2007) found that low-income students made similar achievement gains to other students during the school year; the widening of the achievement gap between the two groups occurred over the summer.”
Worthen and Zsiray (1994) and Cooper, Valentine, Charlton, and Melson (2003) … did find support for the following conclusion: Year-round education may be particularly beneficial for students from low-income families.”
A 2016 report by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) titled “Top 10 in 10 Years; putting Michigan on the map as a premier education state” recommends “consideration of a balanced calendar approach” to “reduce the impact of high-risk factors, including poverty, and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students …”
Flint joins long-emerging trend away from traditional calendars
“Year-round school in the United States is neither a new concept nor an unusual one,” according to Kelly. “Educators began experimenting with a more balanced school calendar in the early 1900s, but the idea of a year-round model didn’t really catch on until the 1970s.”
In an Oct. 2014 Education Week article titled “Popularity Grows Anew for Year-Round Schooling,”Madeline Will wrote: “The number of public year-round schools increased by 26 percent, to 3,700 from 2006-07 to 2011-12…”
To start school prior to the Labor Day weekend, school districts are required to request a waiver from the MDE. The number of waivers is growing annually as reported by Lori Higgins in the Aug. 15, 2018 Detroit Free Press. According to Higgins, “The number of waivers has grown from 26 for the 2012-13 school year to about 150 for the upcoming school year 2018-19.
Banner photo of donated air conditioning units at Brownell STEM Academy by Harold
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.