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2 Dozen Dallas ISD Campuses Still Debating Alternative Calendars

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It's decision time for parents at roughly two dozen Dallas ISD schools.

The campuses are considering alternative calendar options to give students a chance to reclaim academic ground lost to Covid-19.

"Covid slide is real," says Sandra Barrios, Principal at Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary in Dallas. "And it's not just about right now, we're looking at the impacts of the long term."

In January, DISD's board of trustees approved a $100 million intervention effort called, Time to Learn.

It gives parents at interested campuses three alternate calendar options-- from beefing up summer programs to the popular intercession calendar, which extends the year with five extra 'intercession' weeks spread throughout the school year.

"So for us it made sense to go in and to do something that was out of the box," says Barrios, "and give our students that extra bit of knowledge that they needed. Especially with the intercession calendar, we're able to do a lot of small group instruction and individualized instruction so our kids could mediate that learning loss that has occurred."

Barrios says online learners seem to be struggling more than those that returned to campus-- more evidence, she says, that the social emotional aspect of school is as critical as the academics.

"She missed the classroom, she missed being around other children," says Lowe parent Laura Reed, who says she has seen her kindergarten daughter regress during the past year. "She was just very withdrawn and just academically--like certain things that I would think that she would already know... I just felt like she was just falling behind. And I didn't want that for her."

So Reed is applauding the district for offering campuses more resources-- and giving parents options on how to access them. 95% of Lowe parents responded to the district survey asking which of the alternative calendars would best fit the campus community.

"We want to give those families the opportunity to weigh in on big decisions, like when do we come to school, and how long is that school year," says Derek Little, DISD Deputy Chief Academic Officer. "So even though we're basing it off of interest, we're doing so with the long term vision and that is likely going to set it up for the most success for our students."

The majority of DISD campuses will continue with a traditional calendar. But it was important, says Little, to reassure parents that the learning struggles are real-- and that the district is committed to providing support.

"We want to be frank with our families and say the pandemic has had a severe, lasting impact on student learning," says LIttle. "So our district stands ready to do everything we can to curb that and keep our students on track. And part of that are these calendar changes, and for the schools that are considering it, we fully believe that it can greately accelerate student learning and result in a lot better outcomes for the students at that school."

Teachers and staff input was also gathered about the changes. Open transfers are also allowed if the calendar adopted at a campus is not a good fit for a teacher or student. The final piece, according to district leaders, is the input from parents. So if you're sitting on a survey at a campus that has yet to make a decision, DISD has a message.

"Do it today, we really need to hear from you," says Little, who adds that the district would like to make a decision on the calendars by spring break so campuses can start planning for next year.

"I'm so optimistic about what it can bring to students' learning and their experiences," says Little. "I'm very proud of the 32 schools that have already confirmed that they are making this change, and I'm really hopeful that all or most of all the remaining 25 will do the same."

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