PAUSD is in the second year of a calendar cycle, which, for the first time, places finals before winter break. The school board favors keeping pre-break finals, but voiced concerns over some adverse consequences for students with the current pre-break finals calendar, as covered in a Palo Alto Weekly story last week.
The school board members identified three issues to address: the early August start (which is out of sync with work schedules, vacations, athletics and camps), the December overload (seasonal performances and traditions, college applications), and too much being crammed into May (AP testing, athletics, end of year activities, finals, and graduations). The ideal calendar would mitigate these issues by having: pre-break finals, late August start, winter vacation in the last two weeks of December, school dismissal the week following the week of Memorial Day, and equal length semesters.
The calendar advisory committee presented six possible calendars to the school board.
One of these calendars actually meets all of these criteria over the next three years, Calendar F, with a separate, self-standing January unit. Finals would be scheduled pre-winter break, but the semester would end in January. Concern was expressed by some school board members that this calendar would not provide the desired "work free break" after finals because the semester would continue over the break. Currently, all year long classes continue past first semester finals, but work carrying over in these classes has not been a problem.
There are two other calendars, which were not presented, that could also meet all of these criteria over a multi-year period: trimesters or traditional semesters with a post-Labor Day start. Trimesters have the added advantage of a work free spring break. The post-Labor Day calendar would push finals into February, far from winter break, and give a work free February break.
It is unclear which calendar the administration will present to the unions this week for approval. Dr. Skelly suggested Calendar B, which has a shorter summer, and does not address a number of the concerns expressed by the school board. Calendar B starts two school days after the current pre-break finals calendar (the following Monday instead of Thursday), but still early, at least a week and half earlier than our traditional calendars. In school years 2015/2016 school would end right after Memorial Day, perpetuating the May crunch. In 2016/2017 finals are late in December with a week of winter break pushed into January, out of sync with work schedules. And, the semesters of Calendar B are more unequal in days than the teachers think will work.
Our community is currently in a unique situation with an unprecedented amount of information leading to an understanding and consensus as to the calendar attributes that can best support all of our students. We owe it to our students to focus the district's efforts on developing a calendar that meets these criteria. Some of these calendars will require closer study, and effort and creativity to implement, but that should not eliminate them from consideration. There is an opportunity to design a calendar that best supports the academic and social emotional needs of all our students, and that goal should be paramount.