Vincent wins calendar fight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 2, 2005

A near capacity crowd applauded the actions of the Shelby County Board of Education recently when one calendar for the entire school system was rejected and Vincent was allowed to continue with its year-round schools.

School Superintendent Evan Major said following the meeting that he would propose two calendars next year similar to those finally approved on Feb. 24.

But the vote of board members was not unanimous, and Vincent supporters heard from Dr. David Nichols, who highlighted the shortcomings of Vincent students at both the elementary and high school levels.

Meeting at the central office in Columbiana, the board first voted to reject one school calendar for the entire school system that had been proposed by Major and tabled at the board’s Jan. 27 meeting.

When the question was called for the one traditional school calendar at that meeting, Dr. Lee Doebler and Dr. David Nichols voted, &uot;yes.&uot; Board members Anne Glass, Peg Hill and Steve Martin voted &uot;no.&uot;

This time, board members voted to approve a separate &uot;traditional&uot; calendar for the rest of the school system and a year-round calendar for Vincent Elementary and Vincent Middle/High.

The calendar for the rest of the system was approved with Nichols abstaining. Glass, Hill, Doebler and Martin voted to approve the calendar.

The year-round calendar for Vincent was approved on a 3-1-1 vote with Nichols casting the lone &uot;no&uot; vote and Doebler abstaining.

Nichols told those gathered for last week’s meeting that Shelby County Schools is the only system in the state with separate school calendars. He also said Vincent is the only year-round school in the state. The one exception, he said, is not a true year-round school.

Nichols said the calendar should be based on what is in the &uot;best interest of the students – not teachers or principals.&uot;

He quoted state board of education statistics showing that Vincent Elementary and Vincent Middle/High lagged in various grade level testing in the county.

And, he said, &uot;Calendars don’t improve schools.&uot;

Nichols also pointed to the example of one school in the state in which 83 percent of the students were on free and reduced lunch and still scored 94 percent on writing and 97 percent on reading.

&uot;It can be done and will be on a regular calendar,&uot; he said.

Nichols said in fall 2004 at Vincent Elementary, 43 percent of third graders could read at third grade level and 57 percent could not … the lowest of all third grades in Shelby County.

He said at Vincent High School in 2002-03, 64.1 percent could not write at seventh grade level.

Nichols pointed to other results in which he cited Vincent scores as lowest in the county.

While Nichols said he knew the emotion of Vincent supporters, he said, &uot;I’m not the bad guy. I don’t want one of your students to leave that cannot read and write.

&uot;It’s for the children. I don’t see that a calendar will make any difference.&uot;

Vincent High School Principal Gary Minnick agrees that academic accomplishment cannot be laid at the feet of a school calendar.

However, Minnick said, during the time Vincent has been on a year-round calendar the exit or graduation exam was changed from an eighth grade level to an 11th grade level.

Of tests that have been given consistently since the year-round calendar was introduced, Vincent schools have seen an increase in scores by more than 70 percent, he said, indicating these were truly the only comparisons that could be made.

He explained the 70 percent increase is the case if one takes results from the two years before the change in calendars, the two years after the change and the nine years since.

The only consistent test area before and after the Vincent schools went to a year-round format has been the fourth and eighth grade SAT, he said.

Minnick said of improvements shown, &uot;(The SAT scores) say the calendar is working.&uot;

But Minnick said at the least, the year-round calendars help students and teachers feel fresh and there are fewer discipline problems.

He also said one thing Nichols did not mention was that Vincent schools have been 100 proficient in every measure of the federal No Child Left Behind standards.

He further stressed that in the past two years, Vincent schools have shown an increase in proficiency of 307 percent in the seventh grade Alabama direct assessment of writing from 15 percent to 61 percent.

Minnick said of the calendar debate, &uot;I would rather take statistics off the table.

&uot;I recognize that other people are not going to take statistics off the table. And therefore we will do everything in our power to help our students achieve. Kids are not numbers. They are people,&uot; Minnick said.

Following the school board meeting, Major said he has not changed his mind philosophically about the need for one calendar.

&uot;We recommended two calendars because it is something the community believes in and the feeling of accomplishment and self esteem it gives to the community, parents and students is very important,&uot; Major said indicating he would not fight this fight again next year.

&uot;I will make a recommendation we have two calendars next year very similar to the ones we have now,&uot; he said.

Glass offered thanks to everyone who worked on the calendar committee. She called the decision over the one calendar versus the two separate calendars a difficult and passionate situation