The Kerrville Independent School District board of trustees wrestled with its calendar for the 2023-2024, and there was a twist in the conversation — the calendar’s impact on one of Kerr County’s legacy businesses.
The impact is on the county’s numerous youth summer camps, which have seen their ability to serve children across the state shortened by early August start times.
Britt Eastland, a member of the family that owns Camp Mystic, a girls’ camp in Hunt, told the board of trustees that an Aug. 14 start date presents a challenge for the camps because not only does it affect their campers’ ability to attend but for the camps to provide staff.
“Our revenue comes down to kids being able to come to camp, and also we rely on staff,” Eastland said. “We have a combination of high school and college-aged kids that are staff at our camps, and so when schools are in session, it makes it really challenging to staff, camp nurses, and our cafeteria workers.”
Kerrville became a district of innovation in 2018, and the Texas Education Agency allows these districts flexibility with its school calendar. There are other areas of flexibility, including:
- Educator certification.
- Teacher contracts.
- First and last day of school.
- Length of the school day.
- Class size.
- Certain purchasing and contract requirements.
And initially, according to Eastland, the district’s start time was on the fourth Monday in August. However, the district’s Faculty Community Advisory Committee recommended the Aug. 14 start date for 2023-2024. The calendar discussion was just a part of the broader discussion about renewing the District of Innovation plan with the state, which KISD has worked on for the last several months.
However, the issue of the timing of the start of school and its impact on one of Kerr County’s signature businesses was of concern to the trustees.
“From a summer industry perspective, is cutting a day, a week in August versus adding a week in May any different there,” asked Trustee Dr. David Sprouse.
“I would say that’s a huge difference for camp families,” Eastland responded.
But the ongoing challenge for camps like Mystic is that many districts have innovation exemptions, including Ingram ISD, to their calendars, meaning earlier and earlier start times in August. Those start times have shortened the camp year to 10 weeks or less.
After a lengthy discussion, trustees accepted a plan for the next school year to start on Aug. 14 and finish on May 24, 2024. The one caveat to the calendar is that schools will close on Monday, April 8, 2024 because of the solar eclipse, expected to bring thousands of visitors to the Hill Country, which is in the direct path of the eclipse and the four minutes of darkness.
Trustees get a look at district math progress
The trustees got an idea about where the district stands with math performance in grades kindergarten through eighth. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there were some signs of slippage, but the shutdowns have helped erode performance. That’s at least the theory.
KISD is using a new assessment tool to measure improvements across a broad range of mathematic offerings.
“It is one assessment that we can give our students from kinder all the way through Algebra 2,” said Heather Engstrom, KISD’s assistant superintendent of curriculum. “It’s something that is specific to the needs of this student, and it is not a linear assessment. So it is very intuitive and precisely measure the progress and growth for each individual student.”
Engstrom and her team found that students in kindergarten through fifth grade were seeing growth in their math performance, but that weakened in sixth and seventh grades.
In sixth grade, about 47% of students showed limited growth, while seventh grade had 45% of its students in a similar situation. Eight graders, however, saw growth progress, with 67% falling into that category.
“We want 100% of our kids to grow,” Engstrom said. “That is always our goal. It takes a while sometimes, and so right now, you can see some very levels have had tremendous success and some great levels.”
Much of the work to improve the math scores is related to a state grant that provided a data analyst who assesses learning initiatives. One of the district’s initial findings was an inequity in classroom learning materials. For instance, one class may have manipulative tools to explain fractions to the entire class, but another may have to share.
Engstrom said addressing and solving those inequities is essential.
“We are working with our teachers and administrators specific to these base grade levels to ensure that we’re using the right materials and we have the right supplies,” Engstrom said. “We’re working on our interventions for our students as well.”