Another School Calendar Fiasco?

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Editor,

Not so many years ago, without public notice and only two minutes of actual deliberation our school board voted to approve a senior staff plan to start the school year in mid-August. Public opposition forced reversal, but only after one board member tearfully revealed intense pressure from staff not to change her vote.

Dozens of frustrated parents were stonewalled by the board, as senior staff triangulated politically between the board and public.  A mature high-functioning school board doesn’t allow staff that much control in school governance and community relations.

We hoped for better this time when the board announced a “study session” on the school calendar.  A large turnout of parents came expecting merit-based discussion. Instead materials distributed, staff presentations and board member comments revealed school district commitment to a proposed plan for transition to a mid-August start date.

Jaws dropped as staff announced a school district appointed “stakeholder” committee already reached “consensus” favoring the calendar change.  The skewed stakeholder pool was stacked with several school and city public officials, only two parents, and no students! Impacted stakeholders in local arts, tourism and recreation community weren’t at the table.

Staff advocated same early start date for classroom and sports programs, ending first semester before December break to de-stress students, terminating academics in May to boost year-end test scores. All good points, but actual efficacy unknown.

That’s why parents questioned the impact of the high-school driven change on the larger K-8 student population, increasing school days during hotter peak summer climate window and seasonal traffic congestion.  Public also noted reduced family time and summer jobs, loss of back-to-school rituals in calm of post-tourist season, and lack of data on early start results for other schools.

Parents calling for opinion surveys to better gauge stakeholder support were admonished by board member Peggy Wolff, who argued survey will elicit “emotional” response expressing “personal self-interest.” Wolff asserted public lacks “facts” enabling the board to know “what is best for kids.”

For 10 years we’ve urged the board to invest in our education leadership team by sponsoring professional development at Harvard’s JFK Senior Manager’s Program, to help the board stop repeating divisive win/lose school governance.  But instead of enabling staff to do jobs they’re paid for, we hire costly consultants who give the board “facts” it wants to hear.

Meanwhile, only when asked by parents our superintendent revealed a decision on new calendar will be finalized by July.

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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  1. LB Residents:

    As a parent of an LBHS grad (class of ’16) as well as a current junior, I would like to throw my opinion in the mix. As a matter of perspective, I also have a 5th grader at TOW. I am in full support of this calendar change. I want to give some simple facts and opinions about why I support the change.

    1) The high school has approximately 40-45 percent of students enrolled in AP classes in grades 10 – 12. The AP calendar runs on an August to May schedule. These already accelerated classes must be taught at an even quicker pace to catch up before the May exams. I can assure the kids enrolled in AP classes are working very hard during that last month of summer – attempting to self teach the AP curriculum, NOT catching the last south swell.

    2). Having finals after Christmas break not only creates a disruption to the flow of curriculum, but also creates pressure for the more diligent students to study for finals DURING the holiday break. Most teachers have to spend time backtracking on the material introduced before the break when they return. Beginning a new semester after the holidays, as the new calendar allows, gives the students a fresh start with all new material and time to truly enjoy a stress free Christmas break with finals behind them. This affects ALL High School and Middle School students.

    3). During the MS and HS years, students have opportunities to attend summer enrichment opportunities at colleges or sports competitions. Many of these events are held after Memorial Day and end in early July My personal experience is as follows: My 2016 grad received 2 weeks of unexcused absences to attend the Naval Academy Summer Seminar and the USNA Soccer Scout camp – these camps were not offered AFTER LBHS summer break began. Attending these 2 events were critical to him receiving an appointment to USNA. My daughter got 1 week of unexcused absence to attend her Club Soccer Team National Championship in Oklahoma . She was the ONLY player on her club team ( ALL Orange County kids) who had not been released for summer break. Because my kids followed the proper approval channels, they were allowed to make up their work. But it created needless stress for the teachers and my kids to make up the work. These conflicts will continue to arise and become more prevalent because 90 percent of the public schools in America are on the August to May schedule. Elementary parents, if you don’t think these situations will not happen to your kids, I believe you are mistaken.

    5. To me, weather just doesn’t cut it as an excuse to not change the calendar. Over the past 2 – 3 years, It has been 95 degrees and 87 degrees on Christmas – perceived or projected weather cannot be the decision factor.

    6. I personally know many of the members of the calendar committee and can say that they studied each and every angle of the issue very carefully. It is very upsetting that volunteers who dedicated time away from their families would be accused of conspiring against the community. It is simple not true.

    7. I know this will be construed as heresy, but maybe the Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival should study the most recent tourist patterns and ticket sales and consider adjusting their start and end date to take advantage of the visitors who arrive during the month of June.

    7. The STUDENTS should be the only concern here – not the weather, not surfing the best south swell and definitely not the ” how it’s always been done” angle. Please consider the facts and make an informed decision.

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