Survival Strategy

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What works in fighting            school calendar change

Experiences around the nation show that a group, even a small group,  of  well-organized and well-informed parents can effectively influence school calendar decisions.         

This section offers  information and advice from  grassroots groups and individuals  successful in  stopping or containing  the year-round calendar  in their communities. This is a three-part section:

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10-Point School Calendar Survival Strategy

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How to Run an Effective Grassroots Group

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What Worked for Grassroots Groups

10-Point School Calendar Survival Strategy

1) Form a group. 
The fight is tough and exhausting. You will need help and, most of all, moral support. Even two or three people working together can be an effective team.

2) Get informed.
The most effective ammunition is good information.  

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Learning what state laws, if any,  govern and fund school calendar change. (Your school legal office or school facilities office  should have that information.) It  could  make a difference in your strategy. Some states are now  requiring school districts consider or study the year-round calendar before  considering new construction.

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Learn all you can about the year-round calendar.  There are now  many Web sites with resource lists and credible sources of information about the experiences and research on the year-round calendar. (See: Resources.)

3) Prepare information packages.

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Do a five- to six-page overview summarizing the issues, the available research  and experiences in communities that tried calendar change and returned to a traditional school year. Include attachments of supporting newspaper clips, research reviews, Web site lists, etc. You don't have to re-invent the wheel.  Use as a guide reports prepared by others, which are now available on the Web sites built by grassroots groups around the country.

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Distribute these to school board members, teachers, community leaders, lawmakers, taxpayer groups, chamber of commerce officials, newspapers, and, of course, parents.

4) Map out and launch a public information campaign.

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Make contact with the local media: Speak with the education reporter, editorial page editor, city editor or producer of  radio or TV talk shows  and news programs.

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Coordinate a steady flow of letters to the editor. Keep them under one page (double-spaced, type-written); focus  letters on different issues (child care concerns, costs to taxpayers, academic detriments, family hardships, etc.). 

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Build a Web page with detailed information and links to other Web sites with opposition information.

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Print yard signs, bumper stickers, buttons, pamphlets to distribute. Be sure to include your Web site address.

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Draw up an ad to put in community papers. 

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Organize door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods to spread the message and collect signatures for a petition in opposition to school calendar change. 

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Hold an information meeting. It may be necessary to do this away from school property so you can have full control of the meeting and the agenda.

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Do phone banking to get the word out.

5) Develop contacts with decision makers.
Get to know your school board member (s) and state lawmakers and representatives who are involved with school calendar issues. Keep them informed of opposition efforts and the research that shows calendar change is a bad idea.

6) Monitor school board meetings and  workshops.

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Get to know the decision-making process of your school board. Get copies of the  school board meeting agenda prior to each meeting to monitor for school calendar action. 

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Make sure someone from your group is always present at meetings where calendar decisions are made. 

7) Keep a professional demeanor.
No matter how difficult the fight, avoid heated dialogue and a confrontational tone. The opposition will seize on any opportunity to portray you as a trouble-maker and irrational parent/citizen.

8) Demand facts and figures

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Put pressure on school board members and school calendar proponents to supply the research to back the benefit claims of calendar change. (There is no credible evidence to back those claims).  

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Ask for feasibility studies on costs, then check them for accuracy. (There are no credible studies to show calendar change offers substantial savings.) Demand to know how much more money school administrators and their staff will make by implementing a year-round calendar.

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Demand test score information using like socio-economic groups and other  comparison controls that back claims of academic benefits of school calendar change. (There is a dearth of credible data to show academics improve).

9) Offer alternative solutions to calendar change.
Present a list of alternatives to reconfiguring the school year: If the issue is overcrowding, suggest portables, longer school days, school redistricting. If the issue is academics, suggest  tutors, in-school and after-school special assistance, Saturday classes, curriculum changes, teacher training. Compare these interventions to the costs of school calendar change.

10) Seek  allies.

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Visit with the owners of business  impacted by school calendar change and their associated business groups and trade organizations. They are likely to give you financial and other support for  your calendar fight if you ask for it.

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Seek alliances/association with other grassroots groups. 
Keep in touch (e-mail is great) and share information with others in nearby communities or states where there has been active opposition to school calendar change.  These groups can be a valuable source of information and moral support. They also can provide you with reports that can serve as a guide for your own.

 

How to Organize  
  and Run an Effective 
Grassroots Group

     ...from Worthington, Ohio

The following  tips and  advice come from Patti Benninger of Worthington, Ohio,  who was a co-coordinator of a grassroots effort that successfully countered aggressive year-round calendar proponents.  You may contact Patti at (614) 885-9436.

SOME EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES USED BY 
WORTHINGTON, OHIO, PARENTS  
TO OPPOSE THE YEAR-ROUND CALENDAR

1) Form a school calendar monitoring committee.

Determine if one of you can sit on the school committee that is discussing the calendar.
     Stay on top of developments at school meetings. Our Worthington committee had been meeting for three years to discuss “alternative use of time” and at the end of the third year, the committee started focusing only on the year-round calendar.  
    
We found out about this committee in spring l999, and called a committee member in the fall and asked to attend the meetings.  Most school committees should be open to the public.  Read about the “Government in the Sunshine Law” as it applies to public access to school meetings or committee meetings.  
    
After monitoring these meetings for three months, we determined ALL members (except the new members who we organized) were in favor of the year-round calendar, so we kept attending the monthly meetings.  We were always outnumbered, and at the last few meetings there were only three parents opposed to it that could continue the commitment. 

2) Form your own community meeting.

If the school meetings have been structured to give the “pro” view, organize your own community meeting to present literature and presentations for the opposition. 
    Announce the meeting. We had an initial community meeting attended by 50 people.  Announcement of the meeting was made in flyers delivered to area  homes. A local  printing company  donated the printing.  
     Keep a mailing list.  At that first meeting, we
started a mailing list  to keep people updated as to the next school meetings, committee discussions and upcoming school board meetings.  This mailing was used for calls to request letters to the editor, etc.  
     Keep the media informed about opposition activity.
Contact  the reporter for your community newspaper  that reports school news and ask him/her to attend.  Continue to keep in touch with this reporter so that he/she can attend other meetings or write articles for the paper.  Our community newspapers “This Week in Worthington” and “Worthington Suburbia News” were extremely helpful.  But don't expect the paper to report only your side of the story.
Just make sure they know your side of the story, and that you can back your claims with facts.

3) Organize a LETTERS TO THE EDITOR campaign.

Keep a steady flow of letters to the editor supplied to your suburban newspaper and the city paper. 
     Get letter writing commitments. If you just ask a group of parents to write letters, the commitment isn’t as strong.  We made individual calls to people on our mailing list and scheduled weeks in which they could write letters, so there was a constant and consistent flow of  letters over a long time period.  Many people said “I’m not a good writer, etc.”,  so we needed to encourage them.  (Send your e-mail request for samples of letters that our group wrote to: bussardre@aol.com).

4) Get students involved.

Ask students who are opposed to the calendar to write letters to the editor in the community newspapers or to school board members. 
     Get students to speak at school board meetings. Try to find some students who are willing to come to the school board meeting and speak in the public comments section.  School boards usually react favorably to student comments.  If some students aren’t comfortable speaking,  someone could be designated to  read theirs and  comments from other students.  I read a student’s letter in one of those public comments segments.

5) Get teachers' unions involved.

Contact the teachers’ union and discuss steps for approval of this calendar. 
     Our teachers’ union president said that it would impact a lot of contractual items if a school changed its calendar.

6) Send out a bi-monthly newsletter.

Bi-monthly updates are critical.
     We sent bi-monthly updates to those on our mailing list to keep them interested and committed so that we could rely on them to attend the school board meetings.

7) Arm yourself with research and resource information.

Read and organize literature which opposes the year-round calendar. 
     We kept two main file boxes of literature.  Collect and compile facts to counter information and arguments by year-round  calendar proponents.

8) Make information and Web site resource kits.

Sharing information is critical.
     Choose a few articles, which describe the disadvantages of the year-round calendar and make  information kits, which can be mailed to parents if they call with questions.  Refer people to appropriate Web site addresses.

9) Monitor school board agendas.

Don't let the calendar issue sneak up on you. 
     If your school board makes the agendas for upcoming meetings available (ours were available the Friday previous to the meeting), start monitoring these agendas.  Sometimes it was not “public knowledge” that the calendar topic would be on the agenda.

10) Make sure your group and its views are included in any calendar presentation.

If a calendar presentation is to be made to the school board, meet with the appropriate administrative contact to request that a member of  your group be on the panel. 
     We met with our superintendent a few times when it was clear that the calendar committee would present only the “pro” view.  He agreed to let us present the “con” view.  If we had not been included, the board would have heard a ONE-SIDED DISCUSSION.  Also, consider including an outside presenter with an educational expertise to present to your board.  Our group hired a superintendent from Hunt, Texas, to add additional information, which effectively disputed  year-round proponents' claims.

11) Communicate with school board members.

Encourage members of your group and those on your mailing list to write or call school board members to register their opposition. Group coordinators should keep in touch.
     Prepare a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of school board members to give out at community meetings. 
   
Have group coordinators call the school board members a few times to ask if they need more research , as the school committee may give only pro-year-round.

12) Attend school board meetings.

Attend any school board meetings in which the calendar will be discussed.  Organize parents to speak in your public comments section. 
     This was one of our most difficult tasks, as some people are insecure about public speaking.  Encourage them to write our their comments to read; emphasize that a short message is better than none.    
    
We called each person on our mailing list and asked for a definite answer to “Will you make 3-5 minutes of comments….” and then made reminder calls close to the date of the meeting.  We were very lucky to have about 30 parents give comments at the end of the presentation meeting, and we recruited about l0 additional parents (and some alumni parents) to speak at a subsequent board meeting.  
    
THE ATTENDANCE AT THE BOARD MEETING IS VERY IMPORTANT.  In our case, we did not know that three news stations would be at the presentation board meeting until an hour before the meeting. Because we were organized and in force, we made an impression on the entire community via the coverage.

13) Be available to work with the media.

Agree to have a spokesperson interviewed by any reporter.
     The co-coordinators of our group were interviewed by a reporter from  a local TV station. (She called and asked to come to our house the day of the school board calendar presentation meeting).  We were very nervous, but decided it was important to “get  the word out”.  No matter how insecure you are about this publicity, it is very important to get this exposure. 

14) Consider doing your own survey of teachers or parents.

If the school keeps referring to their surveys of teachers and parents concerning the school board calendar, either ask for a review of the actual surveys or do your own survey. 
     We found out that the survey results that our school conducted had skewed results. 

15) Network with other grassroots groups.

Keep in touch with parents from other districts that have discussed the year-round calendar to share information and get ideas for additional strategies. 
     There are now many websites formed by grassroots groups and individuals who can put you in touch with other nearby communities. There is strength in numbers and in the  knowledge that you are not alone in this fight. Your groups might even want to form an alliance.

16) Above all:  DON'T  GIVE UP HOPE!

Keep your cool.

    
There were many times when we were very discouraged, but we kept talking to people and conducted ourselves in a civil and orderly manner. The superintendent complimented  us on our professionalism and "doing our homework."
      Don't listen to those who may say the approval of the calendar change is a "done deal,"  which we were told repeatedly.

What Worked
  For Grassroots Groups

. . . some  ABCs of fighting calendar  change

A is for Auburn  
In 1998, a grassroots group in Auburn, Ala., conducted what was perhaps  the  most creative and effective anti-year-round calendar campaign to date. First, they armed themselves with a  well-research opposition report compiled with the help of  several Auburn University faculty members, who  also were parents with children in public schools. It included an extensive review of the research by Christopher Newland, professor of psychology. 

They built a website http://www.auburn.edu/~enebasa.  They chipped in $10,000 for a war chest to get their message across, which included hiring a plane with an anti-year-round banner to fly over a major football game at Auburn University. Bumper stickers and yard signs were made and distributed. Parents went house to house to talk  with anyone who would listen about the fallacies of school calendar change.  Here are some tips  from members of their group.

Bumper Stickers & Yard Signs

From: kempfsc@mail.auburn.edu (Stephen C. Kempf)
     
"We had our signs and bumper stickers made locally. Any print shop should be able to do it. You might ask local politicians where they get their election signs made. That was the sort of sign we used, i.e. a cardboard sign that slips over a wire frame that can be easily pushed into the ground.

"Ours looked like the typical red Stop sign with 'STOP YRS' in the middle, "Stop Year Round School" printed below the sign, and the address of our web site. Another idea would be a 'No Smoking' sort of symbol with the cigarette in the circle replaced by YRS with a slash across it, 'NO Year Round School' printed below it, and your website address. 

"We also had bumper stickers made up with our symbol, the 'STOP YEAR ROUND SCHOOL'  statement and web address. These were made up with the new adhesive that allows the bumper sticker to be removed later on without damage to the bumper finish. 

"These sorts of things, of course, cost money. We were fortunate in Auburn to have a number of supporters with deep pockets. You
might check with any summer recreation businesses in your area (e.g. water parks, summer camps, etc.). They might be willing to help out since YRS will have a financial impact on them.

"One last thought, before you set-up signs in yards or put stickers
on bumpers, be sure to ask the property or car owner if it's OK. You don't want bad publicity from disgruntled people who didn't want signs in their yards or stickers on their bumpers. Lots of us spent many weekends and evenings canvassing neighborhoods and asking people if we could put our signs in their yards. This actually turned out to be very helpful to our cause, and since most people said 'yes' it made our community very aware of
the large majority of people who were against YRS. It also gave us a chance to talk to parents and other citizens who really didn't know much about year round school and needed some education on the issue."

Strategy in a nutshell

From elton@Eng.Auburn.EDU  (David Elton): 

Asked his advice to those fighting calendar change, here's the response from David Elton, an Auburn University professor who was a central figure in the successful defeat of year-round school in Auburn City Schools: 

"My advice: Get the facts first, and be sure you want to fight YRS; be very vocal in public meetings; get the newspapers on your side, advertise, spend money, make a lot of noise; always use a lot of facts; hire Billee Bussard. Be prepared to be very public in your campaign."
(Note: Billee Bussard is ready to assist anyone, especially those who subscribe to the SummerMatters newsletter, which is $25 a year. See "About Us" for subscription details.)

B is for Broward County 
A well organized and determined Broward County, Fla., grassroots organization fighting the expansion of year-round school  in the early 1990s, kept hammering away at the broader social impact of year-round education and school calendar change.  The result: For nearly a decade, the year-round school movement has been contained and confined to a few schools in the county. 

The Broward Education Planning Initiation (BEPI) Program Options Committee:  

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Compiled information from around the country about the detriments of the year-round calendar and presented their comprehensive package of research  to school board members and community leaders. 

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Turned out in force for school board meetings and workshops on school calendar change. 

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Worked with municipalities which passed resolutions against year-round education.  

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Found expert witnesses against the year-round calendar and arranged for the school board to pay for the travel and other  costs of these experts to come to Broward to share their experience and knowledge. 

On September 14, 1993, the  committee  issued a formal "Memorandum  on the Social and Community Impact of Year-Round Education."  It focused on the  following: 

Lack of Community Support - Survey  results  showed  overwhelming opposition to the year-round calendar.

City Resolutions Against Year-Round Education - Names were provided of a number of  Broward County cities opposed to  implementation of YRE because of resulting  increased taxes, declining real estate values, community desirability and  quality of family life issues.

Family Unity - Arguments were made to show the  year-round calendar will make it harder for families to spend time together.

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"Many... parents have jobs where vacation arrangements are fairly well established, and cannot always take off at the unusual intercession times of a multi-track calendar."

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"Many ...residents have families in other parts of the country. 98 percent of the U.S. is NOT on a year-round calendar. The children of family members from other parts of the country will be in school when Broward families visit them. The children of the Broward families will be in school when the out-of-state friends and relatives come to visit them."

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"Many vacation spot around the U.S. have their best offerings and weather during the summer months. Off-peak is frequently less desirable because of the inclement weather. Accommodations, entertainment and general atmosphere are scaled down during the off-peek season and don't achieve the same affect. Some resorts even close during the off-peak season."

Court Ordered Visitations - "Many courts have established legal visitations that take the school calendar into consideration. There is no track that allows for children to spend the summer with their non-custodial parent. Forcing single parents back into court to renegotiate visitation rights is extremely intrusive. It also results in additional legal fees to the parents involved."

Social Fragmentation - "With neighborhood children on different tracks, the cohesiveness of the neighborhood is disrupted."

Community Sports - "Community sports programs are greatly affected by a multi-track calendar. With 20 percent of the children on vacation at a given time, there can be no consistency in the teams."

Religious Organizations - The year-round calendar will make it difficult for children to participate in vacation Bible schools and other organized church educational events where a quorum of students is needed. 

Employment - Some parents take jobs based on school calendars, day care arrangements and employers who will accommodate parents during vacation breaks.  An employer will find it more difficult to work with a school schedule with numerous breaks throughout the year. Employers with summer jobs will be less likely to employ students  or parents of schoolchildren who can't work the whole season because of the year-round calendar.

Child Care - The year-round calendar swells the number of latchkey kids.

Increased School Taxes - Because year-round education costs more the outcome will be either increased takes or education curriculums that are cut, shortchanging children.

Increased Municipal Taxes - Parks and Recreation - Recreation programs incur higher costs of operating programs to accommodate the 20 percent of multi-track students who are off-track or are on intercession breaks, and ultimately those higher costs are passed on to the taxpayer.

Increased Municipal Taxes - Crossing Guards - The budget for crossing guards is increased 25 percent under a multi-track calendar that expands school days and school capacity, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers.

Truancy, Juvenile Crime, Gang Activity - "Information on the relationship between intercessions, truancy, gang activity and juvenile crime rates varies from one multi-track location to the next. However, the same concern exists here as does with Double Sessions. Whether the figure is 20 percent out of school, or 50 percent out of school, when students are unsupervised there is a concern about neighborhood vandalism and gang-related activities."

Real Estate Values - "Less than  2 percent of our nation's schools are on YRE. Most families are very reluctant to move from a traditional district to a YRE district. Even though the YRE community may have accepted the concept through intensive marketing of the idea, those moving form the other 98 percent of school districts have not had the inclination to do the same. A YRE community is not commonly viewed as a desirable community in which to buy a home."

Business Community - "Camps, recreational facilities, seasonal businesses, and retail businesses are all affected by the change in school calendar.  Businesses anticipate the summer vacation syndrome and have built their activity levels and marketing around that assumption. There is a cyclical nature to many business activities."

C is for "coming soon. . ."

O is for Others 
We've asked those  in other communities  to offer  advice and insight on ways to stop school year reconfiguration.

Educate the education policymakers
From a parent in Pell City, Ala.

"To fight this battle of YRS in each and every town, it is very important to have each and every school board member, plus city council members receive information explaining the negative side of YRS. 
"It doesn't take an army of citizens to inform the local school board of all the negative points or to help them  immediately recognize that there is something questionable concerning the pro-YR hype if they have all of the information at hand in simple language."

Pass out business cards with web site address
From a teacher activist in Toledo

"We had business cards printed up with our web site address on it. They are very easy to carry and pass out."

Learn about The Delphi Technique
From a parent in Tacoa, Ga.

"I didn't know anything about YRS, so everything I read
was helpful. All of the links on the Internet and the
studies that point out information that  the National Association For Year-Round Education  left out of its  research was helpful. The NAYRE studies were quoted a lot in our meetings. 

"The Delphi Technique information on Wes Walker's page (http://www.geocities.com/weswalker99/) was especially helpful. After reading that I felt like I was somewhat prepared for the "information"  meetings and how they would be conducted.

"I always kept a hard copy of e-mails that were sent
and received from the administration. At one point,
words were being twisted, and when I pulled out the
actual e-mail that was sent, the proponents  had to rethink their
strategy.

Get the Daddies Involved
From a parent in Arkansas

"When we started our fight, we got kudos from an editorial writer employed by the local paper for being so business-like. We always had agendas at our 
meetings, copied and available to hand out at the door. We never had 
"gripes" we were always calm and voiced our CONCERNS.

"We realized early on the impact that daddies had to our cause. Get the 
mommies together and the board thinks you've got "mommies with too much time on their hands" (that's a direct quote from our old super). Bring the 
daddies into the fold in numbers and watch them sit up straight. My husband 
was an outside auditor for a Fortune 500 company. We brought him in to look at the financial records of the district. It made a much bigger impression that 
having "the mommies do it."

 

This page last updated August 30, 2001