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Director's Dispatch: 2020-21 Calendar

In December, the ISD Board of Trustees approved the start and end dates, as well as major vacations, for the 2020-2021 school year. The first day of school will be Thursday, August 13 and the last day of school for students will be Wednesday, June 9. The dates for the major vacations are as follows:

Fall Break - October 10 to 18, 2020

Winter Break - December 16 to January 5, 2021

Spring Break - March 13 to 21, 2021

The Board and Administration will revisit the 2020-2021 calendar in the spring to approve the various professional development and parent-teacher conference days.

Creating the school-year calendar with a diverse community like ISD can be challenging. Some parents want a later start to the school year, other parents want ISD to follow the calendar of the French schools, and others want the school to take all of the Senegalese holidays. The Board discussed the academic calendar over two different meetings and reviewed other options before approving this calendar. The Board has committed to look at different options for the 2021-2022 school year this February to determine if they want to make more substantial changes to the school calendar.

Below are some of the questions I am frequently asked regarding the school calendar.

Annual Calendar: Frequently Asked Questions

How is the schedule created?

The standard for International and American school calendars is 180 days. The administration proposed the start and end dates. Next, the major holidays and school vacations are placed on the calendar. Once these are accounted for in addition to 180 instructional days, the end date is established. The calendar is then discussed by the Board over two meetings and then approved.

Why does the school start so early?

The school moved to an earlier start date (the second week in August) when ISD became an International Baccalaureate school offering the IB Diploma Program for students in grades 11 and 12. In grade 12, the students will sit for external exams based on a schedule determined by the International Baccalaureate organization. The exams begin on May 1 and run for three weeks. In order to provide the students with the maximum number of instructional days as well as enough time for review, it is common for schools to start in the second week of August. The schools that start later can put their students at a disadvantage as compared to other IB students.

The administration reviewed the school calendars of a number of international schools in Africa and found that most of them were starting school in the second week of August.

If the IB students need to start early, why do all the other students have to start at the same time? Why not have the middle and elementary school students start two weeks later?

There are two reasons - family and teacher schedules. Most of our families have multiple children. While one may be in the IB Diploma Program, there may be one, two, or three others who are in the lower grades of high school, the middle school or elementary school. If the schools had different start dates, they would also have different end dates. This would require the families with multiple children to be in-country up to one month extra to accommodate for the different start and end dates.

Also, our IB teachers teach other high school students, and in some cases, middle school students. Having different start and end dates would increase the number of workdays they have, which would be in violation of our existing faculty contracts.

Why does the school take so many holidays?

Our community is very diverse with a range of nationalities, cultures, and religions We honor the major holidays of our families - Tabaski, American Thanksgiving, Mawlud, Easter Monday, Korite, as well as the major Senegalese holidays, Independence Day and Labor Day.

The school establishes school vacation weeks spread throughout the year to allow our students time to rest and recharge. Our goal is to place them at roughly the quarter marks of the school year. We have five weeks of vacation, one in the fall, three weeks for the winter break, and one in the spring. For comparison, Lycee Mermoz takes eight weeks of vacation during the year, two in the fall, Christmas, winter, and spring.

Why does the school not close for all Senegalese holidays?

There are many disruptions to the school calendar. To minimize the number of disruptions, we chose not to honor all of them. These decisions are made after conversations with our community.

Why are there so many half-days?

The school uses half-days, often on Fridays, for two purposes - parent-teacher conferences and teacher professional development and planning.

The partnership between the school and parents is a critical part of our school. The parent-teacher conferences provide the parents dedicated time with the teachers to learn about their children’s progress and what can the student or parents to do help the child improve.

The half-days that are used for professional development and planning are an important tool in helping the school continually improve. Some of these days are used to provide teachers with professional development on new instructional strategies or ways to support students. Other days are used to give teachers from all three schools (elementary, middle, and high) time to meet to discuss curriculum and make decisions about new programs. These meetings are not possible during the school day and many teachers are involved in after-school activities and sports, which prevent the meetings from happening then.

Could the parent-teacher conferences be after school?

Some schools do hold parent-conferences after school. However, the quality of the teacher feedback and reflections is very different at night compared to during the day. It would be very hard on the teachers to teach 7 hours, coach a sport, then have the proper level of energy to engage with parents for two to three hours at night. The current schedule improves the overall quality of feedback the teachers can provide to the parents.

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