WCA is changing its annual calendar in the 2020-2021 school year and going forward. We caught up with Head of School Johnny Graham to get a little more information about the change, why the leadership chose to make those changes, and what the changes will mean for families at WCA.
Q. What were the factors that played into the decision to make these changes to the schedule?
A. Virginia’s changing graduation requirements that were announced in 2017, coupled with a need for more weekly community periods and life skills development time, prompted the schedule adjustments.
Q. First, let’s talk about the start date of August 17th. WCA has always headed back to school early, but this will represent a return to school a week prior to normal. What is the reasoning behind that change?
A. We are shifting the overall calendar to enable our school to finish classes heading into the Memorial weekend. Once we have that schedule fully installed, then families know that June and July will be the two months that comprise the majority of their vacation period.
Q. Public schools do not generally start until after labor day. (although a new law passed by the Governor now permits schools to start earlier, and many are expected to consider that). Why would we start so much earlier than them?
A. It is not uncommon across the country for private schools to have schedules and a calendar that differs from that of public schools. For us, we feel that there are benefits to starting school earlier and ending school sooner as well that our families and staff will appreciate. We also have differing professional development objectives than public schools to consider.
Q. We’ve also noted Upper School orientation is on the prior Saturday (August 15th). Is that a mandatory event, or is that more for students to get a chance to meet teachers, get their locker assignments, etc.?
A. It’s both. The reason we moved it from a Friday to a Saturday is due to some parental work schedules during workdays. It needs to be mandatory because that information is too important to miss. There is paperwork that needs to be completed before class start, open registration items that will need to have the details finalized, etc.
Q. This past year’s seniors had a one-week mandatory seminar for college prep the week before school started. Given the already early start, will that be a requirement again this summer? Or is the fact that we have had weekly preparatory sessions for underclassmen all year going to eliminate that requirement?
A. They won’t eliminate the requirement, but Dr. Pam Rambo has done a great job of working with current juniors/rising seniors this year, so there will be less information we need to get out to families. Dr. Rambo is also having a full slate of College Planning Bootcamp sessions all summer. When I arrived in late June last year, and Pam came in late July, we had to get the entire senior class on the same playing field, because they weren’t at that time. That’s why we organized it the way we did. There will still be a College Advisement boot camp, but it won’t be on such a tight squeeze, because we have done a lot of that work during the school year. The decision of how mandatory the planning sessions will be will probably be treated more individually based on the fact that we know where individual students are.
Q. Moving down the schedule, we see that there is a Monday day off following Thanksgiving break for Faculty development, effectively giving everyone a ten-day Thanksgiving break?
A. Yes, and for a few reasons. Going into the 2020-2021 school year, we plan on having international boarding students, and the typical practice is to have that extra day for those students traveling to have a sufficient break like their day school counterparts. Additionally, as part of our International Baccalaureate transition, that Monday at the back end of the break will serve as a professional development day to have the necessary training as we move forward with IB.
Q. Further along, we see the MLK Day of Service school day. Will that be a full school day, and what will be the goal of that day?
A. The goal of the Martin Luther King Day of Service is to honor a man through our building up of the community. According to his own words, ‘Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.’ Americans have a debate every year – ‘this is MLK Day, I should be home, I get to chill and have a good time,’ while there are others like me who say ‘this was an extraordinary individual who served and lost his life at the age of thirty-nine. How better to honor the man by having a day of service where we give back to the community, whether it’s helping Habitat for Humanity or whether it’s helping a local food bank or visiting a home for the elderly?’ We are just going to do that because, as a Christian school as well, we are called to serve.
Q. And finally, at the end of the year, significant changes….we have a separate set of exams for seniors and a commencement ceremony far earlier than in past years?
A. That’s another reason for starting the school year earlier. I don’t think it’s a big secret that the longer the school year goes for seniors (who already have been accepted to colleges in many cases), the less engaged they become. It’s also not fair to the underclassmen in the upper school, because they have to finish out the end of the year with exams and press their foot on the gas pedal and finish the drill. Seniors tend to have disciplinary problems in the last month of school, they’re just thinking about graduation and checking out. This class won’t be the first to have done it; it happens every year. So I have always graduated seniors a week early, and it’s decreased the disciplinary consequences that have gone out to seniors, because they’ve graduated, we’ve celebrated them, and they have their own time.
It also slows down the award ceremonies and final weeks for the underclassmen because now the juniors will get to walk the hallways similar to the way it will be when they come back in August and on down the line. So it is a really nice transitional time. Graduation in 2021 will be on May 22nd.
With this timeline, underclassmen get to attend commencement as well, and they should attend that so that they envision the achievements, the excellence, the celebration. It’s also a retention piece for our families. We want the families to hear all these excellent colleges students have been accepted to and stories that the seniors have, and to have students reflect on their achievements and think about that for the future.
Q. What do you feel the overall impact of the schedule will be?
A. The impact will be marginal in the long term. Of course, this year, it will result in a shorter summer break. However, next year there will be an earlier start to the summer. There’s something about having that Memorial Day weekend, having that long weekend to start your summer…in exchange for five earlier days in August, you get 9-10 extra days of summer if you include that long weekend. And it’s not just about the students. The staff, they work so hard, they get that ability to take that long weekend and the next week completely off to unwind; the teachers, the staff, the leadership, everyone, to take a chance to breathe and relax.
And that just about covers it all. Graham also noted that (behavior-dependent) the seniors likely will have a proposed senior trip or retreat that final week to help them spend some last time together and bond before commencement.
We remind all parents that the full year calendar is located online by using either the calendar button (or menu selection on mobile) or calendar side button on any page of the website. The official school calendar is also on Google Calendars and the myWCA app and may be imported into anyone’s calendar.