What issues are involved in setting a school calendar?

Yesterday, the Superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools in Colorado summarized the major issues involved in setting a modern school calendar. In an op-ed in  PostIndependent.com, Rob Stein contradicts the common assertion that the that traditional school year with a summer vacation was designed to assist with work on farms.

You know the myth: We still have an agrarian calendar that allows kids to go to school in winter and work in the fields during the summer. But think about it: The busy times for agriculture are during spring planting and fall harvest. If we really had an agrarian school calendar, we would have two breaks, one in planting season and the other for harvest. Midsummer, when days are long and there is less work to do in the fields, would surely allow kids time after school to tend crops.

In reality, our current school calendar is actually a byproduct of urbanization. With the rise of industry in the 19th century, more people crowded into cities. Urban areas were unpleasant places during summer: horse manure and primitive sewage systems, combined with heat and population density, made them stifling and disgusting. Upper and middle classes would escape the urban heat for country getaways. So schools, which at that time were not universally attended (the first state to legislate compulsory attendance was Massachusetts in 1852; the last was Mississippi in 1917), shut down for summer vacation.

He notes that schools can now serve students during the summer and that the academic year is too short:

According to the National Center on Time and Learning, students should have at least 1,440 hours of school per year — that number makes more sense when you realize that it equals 180 school days times eight hours per day. However, very few schools around the country have that much time in session. Most states require 180 days of school per year; Colorado is one of only five states that requires less than 175 days. Roaring Fork Schools have more days per year than most districts in Colorado at 174, as well as slightly longer days at about seven and a half hours. Factoring in early release Wednesdays, our students still spend about 200 hours less per year than recommended.

He advocates investing in full-day kindergarten for all students. He also says it is a worthwhile to provide more extended-day and extended-year enrichment opportunities for low-income students.

He also notes that teenagers need more sleep and could  benefit from a later start to the school day. “This is challenging because transportation schedules, after-school activities schedules and schedules for students who care for younger siblings are all forces of resistance for a later start.”

Stein also points out that teachers need time for planning, collaborative planning, and professional development. “Though parents may be inconvenienced by shortened school days on Wednesdays and professional development days throughout the year, that professional learning time for teachers pays dividends for their children’s learning,” he asserts.

 

 

Fort Pierce Library offers program for early dismissal days

In Florida, TCCPalm reports that the Fort Pierce Library is offering an after-school program on early dismissal days:

Middle school students looking for something different on early dismissal days can stop by the Fort Pierce Library to hone their S.T.E.M. skills with games such as Prime Climb, Escape Evil and Qwirkle.

Early release dates for 2017 school year are: Jan 25; Feb. 15; March 10; April 5; May 24; and June 1 and 2. The Early Release Day program starts at 2:30 p.m.

Rapid City schools might end early dismissals

The Rapid City school district is studying how to eliminate early dismissals on Wednesdays while still providing professional development for teachers. In 2012, this South Dakota school district started dismissing students an hour and a half to two hours early on Wednesdays.

“But the early-release day has created its own problems for parents, educators and district officials in the last few years,” the Rapid City Journal reports. “The logistics of transporting and keeping students occupied and safe once they get out of school early on a midweek day had proven difficult for some parents.”

Superintendent Lori Simon has created a task for of teachers and principals to discuss possible alternatives. Simon is opposed to the current early dismissal policy, citing its negative effect on attendance:

“Wednesday is usually the best attendance day for schools, and that used to be the case for us in Rapid,” she said. “with the early-release Wednesdays, we are seeing it have a very negative impact. It’s now one of our worst attendance days.”

Rapid City schools already suffer from some of the worst attendance in the nation, and fixing that problem has been one of Simon’s top priorities since she took the helm in July.

Fairfax adopts 2016-17 school year calendar

Last night the Fairfax County School Board passed the School Year Calendar 2016-17. Following a motion by Elizabeth Schultz (R- Springfield), the board made the sensible decision to eliminate a proposed early dismissal day on Friday, December 16, 2016; which would have been a rather excessive addition to the length of Winter Break, already an ample of amount of time—two weeks. Schultz mentioned that it might not be necessary to substitute a different early dismissal day, but went ahead with her proposal, which passed, to have such an early dismissal on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

When I have more time, I will cover some of the interesting points raised in the discussion. For instance, which decisions should be codified in regulations? Ilryong Moon (D-At-large) noted that several of the existing calendar traditions that were under debate last night are included in the regulations:

In years in which the presidential inauguration occurs, all students and employees have Inauguration Day as an additional holiday.

Thanksgiving vacation consists of Thanksgiving Day and the following Friday. That Friday is given as a holiday in lieu of Veterans Day.

Fairfax County 2015-16 School Calendar is approved

On March 26 the Fairfax County School Board approved the 2015-16 school calendar which sets Tuesday, September 8, as the first day of the school year and Thursday, June 23, 2016, as the last day. There are 180 days in the calendar; apparently this will be the new normal for Fairfax County. In previous years 183 days were scheduled so there would be extra days in the event of snow days.

The press release announcing this decision stated that the 2015-16 calendar “was developed with input from a number of teacher, parent, and community stakeholders.” The only “parent” group participating in this questionnaire was the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. These groups were given the choice of two versions of a 180-day calendar. Clearly there is room for further discussion in future years on the topic of the optimum amount of time in the school year.

On the bright side though, elementary school students will continue to benefit from not having weekly early dismissals. The school board deserves credit for the major accomplishment of having eliminated Monday early dismissals, starting with this current school year.

Steven L. Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told the school board Thursday that FCPS management and labor continue to solve serious problems in a collaborative manner “so parents, teachers, and students all end up better than before’…we set a model for others to achieve success.” As an example he cited “Full day Mondays that help students learn, protect teacher planning, and fix calendar issues for parents.”

There will be seven days when all students are dismissed two hours early: October 30; November 25; December 18; February 4, 2016; April 21, 2016; and June 23, 2016. Student holidays are planned for the following:  teacher workdays on November 2; February 5, 2016; and April 22, 2016; a staff development day on January 19, 2016; and school planning days on October 9; November 3; and March 28, 2016.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed a motion to give students the day off on Veterans Day. Steve Hunt, a former school board member, testified in favor of this proposal. Speaking on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469, Hunt said that this should not be just another school day. “I know that there are schools that have special events. It is my hope that much like Martin Luther King’s Birthday or President’s Day those events will continue on a day other than the actual holiday.”

Steve Martinez also supported the amendment, but said “it does not go nearly far enough to fully recognize the 11th of November as a holiday for FCPS, as it should be.”

I have been addressing the issue related to Fairfax County Public Schools not recognizing Veterans’ Day, a Federal & State holiday, as a school holiday (i.e., day off) on the school calendar for over 3 years now. I am passionate about this matter since Veterans’ Day is the ONLY holiday which occurs during the school year that is not recognized with a day off for everyone…students, faculty & staff…by FCPS.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) also supported this amendment, which failed by a 10-2 vote.

Winter break is scheduled for December 21 through January 1, 2016, and spring break will be held March 21-25, 2016.  Makeup days may be used to ensure 990 hours of instruction during the 2015-16 school year.  Missed days, delayed openings, and unscheduled early dismissals are considered in the calculation of these hours.  State code requires school districts to make up the first five missed days of school, and then requires only every other day of missed school to be made up.  FCPS asserts that it has the equivalent of 13 days (78 hours) built into the 2015-16 calendar. If a 14th day is missed, no makeup is required by the state.  If a 15th day is missed, April 22, 2016 will be considered a makeup day.

Fairfax announces revised procedures for emergency school closings

Fairfax County Public Schools has published revised regulations for emergency school closings, or delays, or early dismissals.

 

Long weekend for Fairfax students starts tomorrow afternoon

Will Your Kids Ever Go Back to School? We’ll Tell You When. This article in the Herndon, VA Patch has the subhead: “Short day Thursday starts a VERY long weekend for Fairfax students.”

This year Fairfax shortened the number of days in the school year. Should this shortened number of days be continued next year? It would be better to plan for 183 days in the school year to allow for some snow days. It is predictable that Fairfax will have three or more snow days most years. Even though Fairfax meets the alternative state requirement of at least 990 hours in the school year, it is not overly ambitious to seek to achieve 180 days in school on average.

Veterans Day should be a school holiday

Today Veterans Day is a federal holiday. The History of Veterans Day shows how the observances have changed since the first Armistice Day on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.

It is a school holiday in the public schools in the District of Columbia, Prince William County, Arlington County, and Manassas City. In Prince George’s County, school is closed for students and parent teacher conferences are scheduled.

In Montgomery County, November 10 and 11 are early release days for K-8. Students are dismissed after lunch and parent conferences are scheduled.

In Anne Arundel County schools dismiss two hours early. There is no half-day P.M. preK/ECI or p.m. sessions at CAT centers. First period evening high school classes are cancelled.

Veterans Day is a full school day for students in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Fauquier County, Falls Church City, Alexandria City, and Charles County.

Veterans Day should be a student holiday. In 2012 and 2013 Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed making Veterans Day a holiday in Fairfax County. However, these proposals were not passed. The vote for the 2015-16 calendar will be March 5, 2015.

Update on the Fairfax Master Calendar

Revisions to the proposed master calendar for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) were presented as new business to the Fairfax County School Board at its business meeting on Thursday, July 10. The Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar at its July 24 meeting.

The most recent revision to the Master Calendar was approved by the school board on June 26; however, due to testing conflicts, two minor adjustments are being proposed:

    • Strategic Planning Day on 10/14/14 was moved to 9/29/14
    • Strategic Planning Day on 5/4/15 was moved to 3/16/15

Here is the FCPS summary of the Revisions to the Approved 2014-15 Standard Year Calendar:

The proposed revisions include:

  • Adding four strategic planning days for teachers on September 29, February 2, March 16, and April 6. The strategic planning days will be student holidays.

  • Student holidays will be scheduled on staff development days, teacher work days, and strategic planning days.

  • The strategic planning day on Monday, April 6 follows spring break, providing a student holiday immediately following the break.

  • Students will be released two hours early on the last day of the quarter and the day before Thanksgiving break and winter break. Students will be released two hours early on the last day of school instead of attending school for two hours and then being dismissed. On early release days, teachers will use the time for teacher directed time, plus job-embedded collaborative time.

In total, the revised 2014-15 school year calendar includes seven teacher workdays to offer teachers time for staff meetings and professional development, as well as three teacher staff development days, four strategic planning days, and six days with a two-hour early release for teacher directed time.

The press release states that “The length of the school year remains the same, but the number of days for students has been reduced from 183 days to 180 days.”

I am not sure what is meant by the phrase “the length of the school year remains the same.”

However, I will put this question aside for the time being and simply note the ending sentences in the press release:

By eliminating the shortened Monday schedule for elementary schools, FCPS was able to make changes to the calendar that comply with state accreditation for 990 hours of instruction. The change to 990 instructional hours also eliminates the need to make up inclement weather days at the end of the school year if fewer than 13 days are missed.

The last super short day of school?

Today is the last day of school for Fairfax County Public Schools. Students who actually attend on this day will be in school for two hours.

One extra benefit of the proposed change in the master schedule and the school calendar being considered is that the last day of school next year would be a bit more substantial. The proposal is that there would be a two-hour early dismissal on the last day rather than two hours total in the day. That makes more sense and makes it more worthwhile to transport students to and from school.

At the May 28 school board work session on the proposal, Dan Parris said, “I don’t know how it was created but we have had this two- hour day at the end of the year.” Under the new proposal, “It would be a two- hour early release.”