School Committees to talk calendar changes 10/25 (Still time to answer survey)

by beth on October 5, 2017

This month, district school committees are continuing to talk about changing the school calendar. This time, the combined committees will focus on potential changes to the holiday schedule for next year.

In preparation, the district has been surveying parents. The survey being used this fall is different than the version shared last spring. So even if you responded then, you may want to take a minute to respond again before the October 13th deadline.

And a minute is about all it should take. This version is short and sweet with only 6 questions. Only two of those relate to the school calendar:

  • How interested are you in changing the current school calendar? (very, somewhat, or not at all)
  • Do you prefer (choose one)
    • A student calendar that mirrors the current 2017-2018 student calendar
    • A student calendar that includes legal holidays, traditional December, February and April vacations, and eliminates all cultural and religious observances
    • Other (with a field to comment)

The first four questions are just about demographics (which town you are from, parent/teacher/community member, school level of children, etc.).

You may be surprised that there aren’t questions related to school breaks this time. That’s because the district has split changing the calendar into a phased approach. Issues related to religious and school holidays are the focus for the coming year.

Superintendent Christine Johnson has been taking a cautious approach to changes, with lots of communication. It’s clearly based on what she observed in the months prior to her promotion from Assistant Superintendent.

In his final year as superintendent, Dr. Charles Gobron brought a proposal to eliminate school holidays to the school committees. There was an outcry from the religious (especially Jewish) community over requiring students to choose between their faith and education. Gobron retracted the proposal based on the community reaction.

As Gobron forewarned, the number of students who practice faiths other than christianity or judiasm has increased. With that, questions of fairness about choosing between faith and education have been re-raised. The school committee is now grappling with how to fairly handle the issue for other religions. One idea they are floating again is to level the playing field by eliminating all religious holidays.

At that time Gobron had studied school changes, he expressed personal concerns about interruptions early in the school year, “when learning is optimal”. If the policy doesn’t change, the timing of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would call for three holidays next September (including Labor Day). That would mean the first five-day week of school wouldn’t start until September 24th.

On the other hand. . . Yom Kippur didn’t impact the calendar this year since it began over a weekend. But, the schools chose to interrupt what would have been the first five-day week with a K-8 early dismissal on September 14th.

That half day pushed the first full week of school for K-8th graders this year to September 25th. So, interruptions may not be a pet peeve of current administrators.

After next year’s calendar is resolved, expect the district to launch another survey about changes. That one is likely to focus on the timing, number and length of school vacation breaks for the 2019-20 school year calendar.

The discussion of the 2018-19 calendar is scheduled for the Combined School Commitees meeting, 7:00 pm on October 25 in the Algonquin Regional High School library.

Updated (10/5/17 10:46 am): I forgot to include the survey link!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 North Sider October 5, 2017 at 11:09 AM

Make February break a 4 day weekend. President’s Day off, tack on Tuesday for professional development, and give us a 3 day school week that helps get the kids out sooner. Especially in New England where we need to account for potential snow days that already push the school year out.

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2 resident October 5, 2017 at 12:45 PM

Do professional development prior to the start of school, and at the end of school and stop having erroneous days in the school year. I think we still need a full week for February break to give the schools a chance to clean up and air out from all the illness that goes around. Leave the holidays as is since it has been that way forever.

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3 SB Resident October 5, 2017 at 2:08 PM

Do you have any data that shows that schools need a week “to clean up and air out” or is that an old wives tale? I can’t get much from google, but always heard that most germs either don’t last the weekend or can last for months. I also always thought all the travel done during the breaks is part of the problem.

I don’t really care that much about the holidays, but never thought “it has been that way forever” to be much of a good argument for anything.

The half days, random prof days and non federal holidays are the worst for working families. There are just too many families with two working parents to have such erratic schedules, it’s a nightmare. Longer summers where consistent childcare can be arranged would make the schedule so much easier.

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4 Frank Crowell October 5, 2017 at 3:44 PM

You mean “professional development days” for teachers to be done over the summer? Make it easier for hard working taxpayers? That is way outside the realm of possibility, but I like the way you think.

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5 resident October 6, 2017 at 8:26 AM

Yup! I mean come back 5 days before the start of the school year and stop plopping those days in the middle of the year or attaching them to long weekends/Thanksgiving, etc. It would seem like a win/win but I am sure the union would be all over that. In any job, you have to go with what you are told to do by the boss. I have never seen such a democracy that these teachers walk all over the administration – and we allow it!

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6 beth October 6, 2017 at 9:50 AM

In the defense of the school system, my understanding from watching school committee meetings is that the midyear professional development days aren’t about giving teachers a longer summer break.

Administrators have explained that professional development days within the year allow them to begin initiatives before the year starts, and check in and build on them as the year progresses. It has seemed to be especially important as use of technology in the schools has become a bigger part of teaching. That’s not just tech used by the kids, but also how the schools track and share work on curriculum initiatives, etc.

The tacking on of Professional Development days to holiday weekends is clearly meant to allow families to take vacation days for long weekends, etc.

That said, I have always been empathetic to working parents on this issue. (Working from home, it’s not an issue for me.)

I think if having those days within the school year is important enough to the school system – maybe the days should be included during the mid year school vacations. But I doubt that would go over with teachers.

7 jim October 6, 2017 at 10:50 AM

I suggest eliminating the February vacation. It doesn’t make sense to have a vacation one month after the holiday break and it does create logistical nightmares for working families.

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8 em October 6, 2017 at 10:53 AM

Teachers hate professional development days just as much as parents. And they have zero say over the scheduling of them or the topics. The idea that teachers are trying to put one over is absurd. Ask any teacher.

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9 Frank Crowell October 6, 2017 at 12:28 PM

I am sure the teachers hate them as much as we do that is why attendance is taken. Anything that makes the school year more continuous the better.

There are meatier issues for the school administration and school committees to focus on (which is probably why this topic has come up). The biggest one being reducing per student cost to the Hopkinton level. That way we would have more money to waste – I mean spend on open space or buy more “historical” buildings. Or maybe we would decide to reduce taxes (talk about out of the realm of possibility).

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