Festival, school calendar collide

GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central officials are weighing a 2016-17 calendar that could rain on the Riley Festival’s annual Children’s Parade of Flowers.

It’s a calendar conundrum that has school officials debating whether to do what they think is best for children and teachers at the risk of hampering a 65-year-plus tradition in which children lay flowers at the feet of the statue of James Whitcomb Riley in downtown Greenfield during the city’s biggest festival.

“It’s just a quirky year. It really is,” said Retta Livengood, school board president. “We’re probably going to have to make a tough decision on how we schedule the time.”

Planning a school calendar can be tricky, Superintendent Harold Olin said. Since 2012, Greenfield-Central has favored a balanced calendar, in which four marking periods are balanced with two-week breaks in the fall, winter and spring.

Families generally don’t want to deal with school in June and July, officials said. So, starting Aug. 1, 2016, could put fall break right at the beginning of Riley Festival, Olin said.

He has presented four options to the board — three of which put fall break during the festival. He said he favors the first option, which starts school Aug. 1, sets fall break for Oct. 3 to 14 and ends school before Memorial Day.

“We believe in the balanced calendar,” he said. “We believe it’s good to be on for nine weeks and to take a two-week vacation. It’s good for students, good for staff; it’s good for families to take a two-week vacation.”

Still, Olin understands that the community loves seeing children parade through Main Street with flowers, an event coordinated by the schools and Riley Festival organizers.

While hundreds of children have taken part in the tradition over the years, recently only third-graders participated.

“I’m very sympathetic for families that have had generations march with us (at Riley Festival),” Olin said. “That march still could happen, but it might look different.”

For example, the Riley Festival board could organize the parade, Olin said. All ages of children could voluntarily participate in the parade.

Livengood said so far she hasn’t heard much feedback from the community. The calendar was briefly mentioned at this month’s board meeting; it will be discussed further June 8, with final approval slated for July. She hopes the board can hear more from the community before making a decision.

“Education is our No. 1 priority, but having kids participate in something that’s gone on so long is a cause for concern,” she said.

Livengood said one idea is to split fall break to keep students in session during the festival. But that would change the balanced calendar just to accommodate third-graders in the parade.

Another option pushes fall break back a week, which would keep children in session during Riley Festival. But that alters the calendar’s balance.

School officials have not talked yet with the Riley Festival board about the issue.

Office administrator Linda Lowe was surprised to hear of the issue this week and said it would be disappointing if the schools couldn’t partner with the festival again for the time-honored tradition.

Lowe said it’s just too early to tell whether the Riley Festival board could organize a children’s flower parade without the help of the school district.

“We would have to talk about that, but the logistics of that would be pretty hard, so I don’t know,” Lowe said. “Our board would have to work on this.”

Another quirk lies in trying to predict when ISTEP and IREAD-3 testing will take place in the spring of 2017. Assistant Superintendent Ann Vail said she doesn’t want children out on an early spring break, which would force them to take the exams early. That could lead to lower scores because of less time in the classroom.

The Indiana Department of Education hasn’t announced the testing window for 2016 yet, let alone for 2017, Vail said.

“So unfortunately, it’s one more added, kind of unknown to that calendar planning,” Vail said.

Olin said the school board can’t wait for the testing window to be announced. Families want to know a 2016-17 calendar as soon as possible, so they can begin planning their vacations, he said.

The other Hancock County school districts have already set 2016-17 calendars. While county schools once wanted to stick with the same calendar to match schedules for students with special needs, now schools are seeking public feedback and modifying their calendars based on what their communities want.

Mt. Vernon is sticking with a traditional balanced calendar for 2016-17, while Southern Hancock and Eastern Hancock have modified their calendars. Eastern Hancock will start school Aug. 4 and have a one-week vacation in the fall. Southern Hancock will start school Aug. 1 but has split fall break to one week in October and one week at Thanksgiving.

Southern Hancock Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said setting a calendar is always a challenge and no matter what, some people will be upset.

“You’re gonna make some people happy, and there’s going to be some people who it’s just not going to work out for them,” Lantrip said. “We try to do the best for the kids.”

Greenfield-Central officials are hoping for community input. Four calendar options can be found under the “latest news” tab at www.gcsc.k12.in.us, and so far, a few parents have given feedback through email.

“Option 1 has received the most votes, but it’s very close,” Olin said. “There’s not one that just sticks out (as the) overwhelming favorite.”

At a glance

The Greenfield-Central school board is considering four options for the 2016-17 school calendar. The options are online at gcsc.k12.in.us, and the community is encouraged to send feedback to dross@gcsc.k12.in.us. All options have a three-day Thanksgiving break. Here’s a summary of the options:

Option 1

Start: Aug. 1

Fall break: Oct. 3-14 (during Riley Festival)

Winter break: Dec. 22-Jan. 4 (Wednesday through Wednesday)

Spring break: March 13-24

Last day: May 26 (the only calendar to end before Memorial Day)

Option 2

Start: Aug. 1

Fall break: Oct. 3-14 (during Riley Festival)

Winter break: Dec. 19-30

Spring break: March 20-31

Last day: May 31

Option 3

Start: Aug. 1

Fall break: Oct. 3-14 (during Riley Festival)

Winter break: Dec. 19-30

Spring break: March 13-24

Last day: May 31

Option 4

Start: Aug. 3

Fall break: Oct. 10-21 (after Riley Festival)

Winter break: Dec. 26-Jan. 6 (Christmas is on Sunday)

Spring break: March 13-24

Last day: May 31