Editor, Commonwealth:

I enjoyed the editorial column, recently reprinted in The Northside Sun, in which Tim Kalich talked with Mr. Don Magee, educator for 32 years and former principal at North Pike High School near McComb, about his suggestions on how Mississippi school systems could improve themselves (“The school view from inside,” March 7).

In particular, I was taken with Mr. Magee’s idea that schools revise their traditional calendars and be open “year-round ... on a quarterly system, in which students and staff would get about two weeks off between each quarter, rather than the three- month interruption” in the summer.

The idea of “year-round” education is not a new one, as I encountered it early in the 1990s as a member of the Jackson Public School District board. At the time, I considered it the single-best policy change being suggested for our country’s K-through-12 educational system.

Mr. Magee’s plan is that while schools would be open the current state-mandated 180 days, “classroom time would be shorter ... with academics ending at 1 p.m. ... and extracurriculars would start after that.”

I realized 30 years ago that the present school calendar made no sense. I am told that it was designed a century ago, when children needed to be free in the summer to work in the fields. Teachers have often referred to the period as “the long three months of forgetting.”

Fortunately we can look to the experience of the Corinth School District, because that district made significant changes in its public school calendar five years ago. Today Corinth students are in school every month — just a few days in July — of the year. You can see their 2020-2021 calendar at https://bit.ly/2ZnezTE.

And like all Mississippi schools, their children are in school 180 days.

Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress has said, “We need to look at innovative curriculum models, calendars and other educational programming. We think we can structure schools differently and have more positive outcomes.”

In 2018, Corinth schools had a 95% graduation rate, which was fourth highest in the state, trailing the Math and Science School, the Enterprise District and the Mississippi School for the Arts.

Former school principal Don Magee is right in suggesting innovation in school calendars for our public schools. (And let’s add private schools.) When the traditional nine-month calendar was put in place, technology, as we know it, was not a word. The schools were not air-conditioned. There was no mass transportation.

Changing the school calendar would cause huge disruption for established institutions and practices. Think about family vacations during the months of June and July. Or teachers furthering their education in the summer. Day care. Sports activities during the summer months. It would not be easy. But Corinth seems to have done it during the past four years, and other Mississippi towns and cities could do the same.

Educator Don Magee has seen public education in Mississippi for over 30 years, and his ideas on the school calendar deserve the attention of all parents, educators and policymakers.

Tim Medley

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