Start date, February break up in the air
BOE hears school calendar proposals
By Kathryn Schiliro
Ten of 17 of the school system’s Calendar Task Force members presented two proposed school calendars to the Morgan County Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, then fielded questions.
The group, tasked with putting together the school system’s calendar for the next two years, began meeting in January and got together on three occasions prior to their BOE presentation Monday. Those involved in the task force came at the recommendation of each school’s governance council and included teachers, parents, administrators and community members. They considered such things as the dates the state uses to determine how many students are in the system (there are two per school year; this is how the state determines the system’s funding amount), standardized testing schedule, athletic calendar, national holidays and attendance trends, according to Assistant Superintendent Sarah Burbach, who spearheaded the task force.
The first proposed calendar puts the first day of school as Aug. 1, a week-long fall break from Oct. 7-11, a week-long Thanksgiving break from Nov. 25-29, winter holidays from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, a week-long winter break from Feb. 18-21, a week-long spring break from April 21-25 and the last day of school as May 23.
The second proposed calendar puts the first day of school a week later – Aug. 7 – and includes the same week-long fall break from Oct. 7-11; a three-day Thanksgiving break from Nov. 27-29, unlike the first proposal where the Thanksgiving break was a week long; the same dates for winter holidays, Dec. 23 to Jan. 3; no winter break; a long weekend March 13-14; the same spring break from April 21-25; and the same end date of May 23.
This is the second time school system administration has used this method in building the school calendar. In 2009, a task force met to determine the school calendar for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.
Opinions have been voiced that school shouldn't start until after Labor Day – namely because of the heat and cost of air conditioning schools – which comes this year on Sept. 2. But the standardized testing calendar influenced the task force's decision on this matter.
"We have so many standardized testing dates set on the national and state level," Burbach said. "After Labor Day, our kids have lost a month of instruction... Our children are competing with students across the nation [for standardized testing scores], so that month becomes significant."
More on Standardized Testing and the Calendar
"The present calendar really puts mental and physical strain on them (students)," one task force member told the BOE, regarding standardized testing and the current school calendar.
With the stress of preparation for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) and the actual taking of the CRCT, two days off is not enough for students to recover, one parent said about the long weekend in April following testing.
"I think they need the weeks off."
Some of the teachers also shared that they prefer whole, week-long breaks to less-than-a-week breaks because it seems students know a break is coming and don't focus well. The teachers continued to say that they've found themselves re-teaching what they taught prior to the break. In the current school calendar there are eight partial weeks; the task force got that number down to two– long weekends for Labor Day (students are off Monday, Sept. 2, 2013) and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (students are off Monday, Jan. 20, 2014).
One of the task force's parent representatives also brought up the point that she pays for daycare by the week, so if the break is for less than a week, she's still paying for the five days. She would rather pay a high school-aged babysitter than daycare when all that's needed is someone to watch her child for a day or two.
Winter Break in February
Speaking about the February break – which is part of one of the proposed calendars but not the other – teachers of older, middle school students also brought up the point that, because their students are old enough to stay at home alone with no supervision, the students' schedules often get off and it takes about two days back at school for students to get into the swing of things again.
A parent who happens to teach in another county told the school board she's seen that having the break in February decreases student and teacher absenteeism. Going from the winter holidays to April's spring break without that week in February doesn't benefit teachers, who will take "mental health days," or students, whose parents are apt to let them miss school anyway if there's a winter trip planned.
Further, the parent said that not having a calendar that meshes with the calendar of surrounding systems and schools "messes up those of us who teach in different counties."
No one in Morgan County's Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) area takes a February break, Burbach said, but many metro school systems do.
The BOE tabled the proposed calendars for 30 days in an effort to garner more public comment. Interested parties – teachers, students, parents, community members – are encouraged to submit their comments in writing to the BOE office. The calendars are available on the school system's website: morgan.k12.ga.us.
Bear in mind that the BOE has yet to determine whether furlough days will be necessary for the upcoming school year and, if so, where those days will fall.
Printed in the February 14, 2013 edition