Lehmann’s first-hand experience makes him pitchman for alternate calendar

Column: 
February 23, 2018

Jody Lehmann, Principal at École Gravelbourg School, said the idea of an alternate school calendar is hardly news in his community, suggesting that it has been a win-win situation for all involved. 

Anyone out there who might want to receive some first-hand practical knowledge about the inner workings of potentially adopting an alternate calendar might want to spend a few minutes talking to Jody Lehmann.

Prairie South School Division Director of Education Tony Baldwin refers to him as “the franchise” when it comes to such matters. That’s easy to understand when you consider Lehmann was there on the ground floor 16 years ago at École Gravelbourg School when they went this route.

Now in his 30th and in all likelihood final year as an educator, Lehmann points out that it’s been almost split down the middle: 14 years in the more traditional calendar and the last 16 with the alternate model.

He is an unabashed proponent on what the alternate calendar has meant for his school in particular, with the added proviso that any schools contemplating it need to do their initial homework.

“We stuck to the plan right from day one. We were very conscious to protect instructional time so that there wouldn’t be any lost days, and we stick very closely to the curriculum. We are still very protective of that.

“From a personal standpoint, I was still teaching senior science when we went to this schedule,” said the current-day principal. “I found it easier to get through the course because the students were more focused and so we could accomplish more.”

Recalling how the notion was initially received in the community, Lehmann said although there was some initial apprehension, that soon dissipated once people had time to become familiar with the frequent four-day weeks during the school year.

“When we took the initial vote in the community, it was 74 percent in favour. The next year it was up to 92 percent and people loved it. I think if we were ever to take it away there would be a riot,” Lehmann joked.

Acceptance in the community was complete once the local business community realized people would not be gone for the weekend since people still had to work primarily five-day weeks and would not adversely affect them. It did, however, offer more flexibility for families, which was a big plus in a rural agricultural community.

“It’s been an easy sell all around and we’ve literally had no pushback after the first six months,” Lehmann observed. “It’s a way of life now and we have a whole generation of students and families who have known nothing different, so going back isn’t something that is a factor.”

Particularly for educators like Lehmann, it has been the validation of several significant studies conducted on the matter, as there has been no indication that student achievement has been affected.

According to Lehmann, the model is particularly well-suited to a rural setting, noting, “there are more moving parts in an urban setting, although I don’t think it has to be limited to a rural setting; it just makes sense in so many ways but I guess it’s kind of a rural model.”

Interestingly, as an administrator at a French immersion rural school, Lehmann freely admits this has been a great recruiting tool to attract new teachers.

“It’s a card we put on the table right away and we have found that teachers very much love it. There’s some more time built in for prep time and overall it’s a win-win situation.”

Lehmann said when he meets administrators from other school divisions, there is considerable interest in the model. He is also advocating others to at least give it a chance to see if it’s a fit in their respective jurisdiction.

“All I can say from my experience is that it’s a really good model and it just makes sense in so many ways. It’s not like we roll up the sidewalks in the town when we have four-day weeks. In so many ways this matches what happens in the real world, and so we’re preparing our students for some of what they will experience when they are finished with
high school.”