School committees hope to vote on calendar – December 20

In a few weeks, the combined school committees for Northborough and Southborough will meet hold another discussion about the 2018-19 school calendar. This time, they hope to take a vote.

In October, a special meeting was scheduled for the committee to address potential changes to the school calendar. An invitation was issued to the community, and it was answered – by one demographic. Several Jewish parents showed up to reinforce the importance to their families of continuing to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The word “observe” was in great use by speakers explaining that they don’t “celebrate” the holidays. Distinguishing them from other holidays, speakers testified that they aren’t meant to work, read, or study on those solemn days. 

Due to lack of quorum for the Regional School Committee*, committees decided not to delve into results of the district’s surveys. They deferred discussions to take place at individual committee meetings. The intent was to come back together for a vote at the next combined meeting, December 20th.

At November’s Southborough School Committee Meeting, members spoke about the passion of commenters at the combined meeting and the disparity of survey results.

Apparently only 12-26% of surveyed respondents preferred keeping the holidays. 

Referring to the 12% as solidly in favor of keeping holidays, member Keturah Martin extrapolated a significant number of district students.

Member Jerry Capra followed that the numbers don’t indicate how strongly people who responded felt about the issues. He pointed out that no one from the majority position attended meetings to lobby for eliminating holidays. 

Member Paul Desmond thought result discrepancies may show most people don’t feel strongly one way or the other. 64% said they want to eliminate the religious holidays. But, in answering the previous question, 49% said they wanted the calendar to stay the same as last year. 

Marybeth Strickland said the calendar was created in 1990 and reflected the face of our community. Since then, our face has changed. She wondered if by allowing the Jewish and Christian religious holidays we would have to add holidays for other religions if a family asked for it.

Capra pointed out that no one from the district has lobbied for new holidays through the surveys, meetings, or emails to the administration. He believed if the families ask in the future, the administration would address it the next time the school calendar came up for vote. (The committees vote on the calendar annually.)

The following week, the Regional School Committee’s discussion covered the regional breakdown of where schools do and don’t observe the holidays. It turns out that Northborough is on the border of a regional difference. Most schools to the east, towards Boston observe the holidays and most to the west and south don’t. Member Lynn Winters believed that reflects the difference in Jewish populations of the region.  

At both committee meetings, Superintendent Christine Johnson noted that the only real common pattern in survey comments was concern about Professional Development days. The administration is working on potentially moving two of those to before and after the calendar year.

In the meetings, Johnson also acknowledged that school half days in September contribute to the start and stop that many object to. Strickland observed that this year was better than a past year that had parents up in arms. She recalled a year when the schools didn’t seem to do any coordination of the half days.

This year was considered an improvement. (Note, there were still six early dismissals spread across schools prior to Thanksgiving this year. That’s in addition to the five days off for holidays and Professional Development days.)

Strickland supported Johnson’s position that curriculum nights related to the half days are important to families and the schools.

Because many of the half days are specific to certain schools, they are not listed on the district’s calendar. Therefore, they also were not included in the “drafts” shared with community for feedback through the survey.

* The “Superintendency Union #3” committee also lacked quorum. But that is less of an obstacle as that committee’s role is to act with the Regional Committee as the bosses to the Superintendent. (That committee is comprised of three members from each Town’s K-8 committee.)

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