The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a new nonprofit news organization, collaborated with news outlets across the state, including the Sun Herald, to produce this series on the lack of education funding in the state and its affects.
The Corinth School District has made a dramatic shift in its academic calendar, and Amy Craven’s son, Nick, prefers the new schedule.
“My son doesn’t seem to get as burned out on school and enjoys the challenging classes,” Craven said of the Corinth High senior.
The district is in its third year of operating a modified school calendar, which gives students periodic breaks throughout the year instead of a long summer. The idea is designed to both give students extra help throughout the year and to reduce the “summer slide” in which children may forget what they learned the previous year.
The hope is also to better engage students, and at least one measure indicates that might be working.
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For the class of 2018, Corinth schools’ graduation rate of 94.8 percent led northeast Mississippi and was fourth in the state behind the Mississippi School for Math and Science, Mississippi School for the Arts and Enterprise School district. Corinth was also fourth in the state with a graduation rate of 66.7 percent for students with disabilities.
The flexible schedule is one of several creative approaches the district has taken advantage of with its District of Innovation status from the the Mississippi Department of Education. It also uses a Cambridge International Curriculum that is separate from the standards used by the vast majority of the state’s districts.
“The Cambridge workload can be demanding, so the nice long breaks are great to help get recharged,” Craven said.
District officials believe “we should explore alternative methods” to improve educational opportunities, said Superintendent Lee Childress. That includes “looking at innovative curriculum models, calendars and other educational programming. We think we can structure school differently and have more positive outcomes.
“We want all children to be college and career ready and to function in a global, knowledge-based society. We think what we are doing is working, and we have evidence to show it.”
Lessened ‘summer slide’
State leaders haven’t always been as supportive of the innovative approach, however. Even though the state agreed to allow the district to teach a different curriculum, it has continued to test Corinth’s students based on the curriculum used by the rest of the state, rather than on what Corinth is teaching.
That resulted in the district earning a “C” grade this year, a grade the district has said is unfair. Its appeals, however, have proven unsuccessful.
Corinth’s unique calendar basically provides for a shorter summer with a three-week fall break and about a two-week spring break while also providing normal holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Our family has enjoyed being able to travel during October and March,” Craven said.
Some students call it a “year-long calendar,” but in fact it is a “modified calendar.” Regardless of what it is called, students are in school every month of the year, but just for a few days in July. In the end, students who are not in remediation or enrichment are in school the same number of days —180 — as other schools.
Corinth High School junior Alexander Watkins agrees that the modified school calendar “benefits students.” He said the longer breaks in the fall and spring let students “calm down from the rush of school.”
Providing that time to breathe is exactly what the calendar is intended to do, said Childress, who called it a time for students to “recharge” so they will come back to school “ready to learn.”
Just as the longer breaks provide students time to rest, the shorter summers make sure they do not get too complacent and forget what they learned the prior year. This is often referred to as the “summer slide.”
Childress said there has been much research on the “summer slide” and that the district is seeing less of it since the summer was shortened. The shorter summer allows the students to hit the ground running with less relearning when school starts back, he said.
Watkins agreed the shorter summer of about six weeks as opposed to 10 lets him come back to school with knowledge still fresh in his mind.
And the schedule has not negatively impacted his vacations, he said. In fact, the longer spring break allowed him time to go to the beach.
But some students receive remediation during the fall and spring breaks. The biggest advantage of the modified calendar is that it provides the opportunity for “real-time remediation,” Childress said.
Traditionally, remediation is done through summer school after the school year is over, and it covers what was not learned. Waiting that long to provide remediation can cause gaps in student performance to grow, Childress said.
With the modified calendar, the students can get the needed remediation in March and October instead of waiting until the year is over and falling further behind.
For example, if a kindergarten student is struggling with colors, shapes and letters, it is better to help the child master those skills earlier in the year so he or she will be successful.
Since remediation is now offered during the school year, summer school no longer takes place.
In addition to remediation, the schools also offer enrichment activities for students during the fall and spring breaks. The school district provides the transportation, and the cafeteria is open. Athletics also continue during the breaks for students such as Watkins, who plays football.
The decision to adopt the modified calendar was based on data and research. Childress added that the community and the teachers were involved in the decision-making process. He credits the teachers for selling the modified calendar to the community.
They saw the “detrimental effects” that delayed remediation and the summer slide were having on student skill gaps, he added. The Corinth School District is the only district in the state offering the modified calendar and plans to keep doing so, he said. Officials from other districts have paid visits to explore it.
The Corinth calendar is basically broken down like this:
The last day of school is around June 7, and then the students go back July 29 until the last Friday in September, which ends the first quarter.
They have three weeks off and start back Oct. 21 and take the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
They go back in early January until a two-week spring break in March.
After the spring break, they come back and finish the year.
This story was produced with the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that seeks to hold public officials accountable and empower citizens in their communities.
National Center for Education Statistics released 2019 data from Nation’s Report Card, National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Mississippi was the only state to see improvement in 3 of the 4 subjects.