5/28/2013 1:27:00 PM Board wrestles with school calendar
By John Griffith
Putting together a school calendar is always one of the most challenging tasks facing school administrators.
"This was by far the most input we have had in calendar setting process in years," said Superintendent Jim Golden as he introduced the proposed 2013-2014 school calendar to the school board for approval.
A committee involving more than 30 teachers and staff met for several retreats at Golden's home to work out a calendar.
Instead of getting the anticipated quick vote of approval, what followed was more than two hours of lively and often impassioned give-and-take. In the end, the board and assembled teachers and staff agreed to form a new ad hoc committee whose charter would be to come up with a final calendar recommendation for approval in a special board meeting this week.
The time pressure to agree on a calendar comes from the administration's need to make job offers and organize schedules for events for the next school year - now possibly starting in August. For staff, parents, students and local businesses, setting dates for vacations and summer jobs becomes an issue.
Three years ago, the board attacked the ongoing school calendar challenge by setting some specific criteria, and then plugging in school requirements to fit these overall criteria. At that time the board committed to publish a rolling three-year calendar with key dates (start, vacations and end) clearly noted.
The key parameters at that time were set to be: The first day of school was to be after Labor Day; a full-week Thanksgiving break; a one-week spring break; graduation and the last day of school before rodeo weekend (always the second week in June).
Some of that changed in the proposed calendar.
The calendar developed by Golden's committee still started after Labor Day, but it allowed for a two-week spring break (favored by most teachers). Graduation was the second week in June. That offered the first challenge to board approval of the calendar.
After considerable discussion, graduation date was moved back to June 6. Then the group questioned the gap between graduation and the last day of school. There was also a lively debate over a one-week vs. a two-week spring break.
The board discussed dropping the start-after-Labor-Day requirement. By starting the week before Labor Day, the graduation date and last day of school moved back to June 6 and June 13 respectively - and this pleased almost everyone. But the early start date presents its own challenges.
Board member Andrew Gorayeb suggested moving the 13-week trimester from the last trimester to the first trimester and inserting in-service days in the middle of each trimester to allow catch-up and collaboration time for teachers.
Theresa Slavkovsky of the Family Access Network (FAN) pointed out that a two-week spring break presents childcare challenges for families where both parents work. Golden countered that a bigger challenge is childcare for the 10-week summer vacation.
Several of the teachers in the audience noted that students are much more eager to learn at the beginning of the year, and that an early start was much preferred to a late finish.
Sisters High School (SHS) Principal Joe Hosang and Board Chair Don Hedrick supported Golden's initial proposal. They spoke in favor of honoring the considerable hours that Golden's committee had invested in putting the initial proposal together.
Others felt that removing the start-after-Labor-Day restriction completely changed the decision criteria, and maintained that a new effort should be made to optimize a solution.
The ad hoc committee that was formed as a result of these discussions faces a complex and challenging task with significant time pressure focusing their efforts. The committee is made up of two board members, the principals of SHS and Sisters Middle School, lead teacher Barb Kamrath from Sisters Elementary School, two teachers and two representatives of the classified group, including Slavkovsky.
One thing for sure: No matter what 2013-2014 calendar is adopted, someone is going to be unhappy with the result.