Uploaded: Wed, Nov 10, 2010, 8:54 am
Angry parents derail school-calendar vote
For next year, families can expect a schedule like this year -- with first-term finals undecided
A Palo Alto school district plan to shift first-semester final exams to before the December break starting next year was -- literally -- shouted down by a group of angry parents Tuesday night.
For next year, families can expect a calendar with an August 22 or 23 school start date similar to this year. A teacher-dominated Calendar Committee will be asked to recommend whether first-semester finals should be scheduled in December 2011 or January 2012, before or after the winter break.
Tuesday's near unanimous pushback from parents who crowded the Board of Education chamber derailed a final up-or-down vote on Superintendent Kevin Skelly's proposal to move to pre-break finals.
While most of the five board members made it clear they favor pre-break finals as a factor in easing student stress, they were unwilling to accept the trade-offs necessary to achieve pre-break finals while maintaining roughly even-length semesters.
Those trade-offs require a school-year start date in the third week rather than the fourth week of August; an end date for first semester that pushes uncomfortably close to Christmas Day; a winter break that flows into January, after many parents must return to work; and a May 31 end date to the academic year that would leave many families scrambling for hard-to-find child care in early June.
The alternative would be school-year start and end dates and a December break similar to today's, but a first semester as short as 80 days and a second semester as long as 100 days.
While some parents, and a few students, Tuesday focused their protest on the prospect of finals in the busy pre-holiday period, many complaints revolved around the earlier school-year start and end dates and the spillage of winter break into January when many parents must go to work.
Elementary school parents also complained the calendar shift proposal had been poorly communicated to them.
At one point in the meeting, Board President Barbara Klausner had to restore order after parents jeered Skelly's statement that, "We can discount comments in that a Facebook survey is biased or isn't right, but we need to recognize there is a vast majority of our students who feel we need to have finals before winter break."
The teacher-dominated calendar committee will be asked whether teachers could adapt to imbalanced semesters in order to achieve pre-break finals while retaining current family schedules. The alternative would be a "rollover" calendar for next year, with first-semester finals in January 2012.
Skelly said he will return to the board at its next regular meeting Dec. 7 with a recommendation from the Calendar Committee for next year.
In the course of Tuesday night's discussion, all five school board members indicated they could support a 2012-2013 calendar with pre-break finals if the ancillary sticking points -- school-year start and end dates and placement of winter break -- could be resolved.
■ Nearby schools: Pre-break finals no problem
■ Skelly proposes shift to pre-holiday final exams
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:45 pm
A Mom: "Paly Student,
Unlike finals, college apps do not have to be done the last week of December. No excuse for anyone to wait until mid-December, much less make the rest of the grades K-11 revolve around their procrastination."
I would just like to point out that I am already done with 7 of my 10 applications, but that this is no the case with most or virtually all other students I know. The average student in Palo Alto now applies to 12 colleges (this was mentioned at the school board meeting), which usually means ~10 essays as well as much paperwork. Most students I know, spend at least 100 hours completing all of their applications. Also, if there are any issues with one's application OR teacher/school forms, it will be much harder getting in touch with TAs, teachers, and advisors during that time. Getting into college is much harder than it used to be and it is something that EVERY student (who plans to matriculate in one) will need to face at some point. Yale SATs 50%ile (1976) 670, 690 (2010) 800, 790 (among matriculants.
I am also confused by the second part of your comment. It is quite evident, from most of the thread as well as the opinions voiced at the school Board meeting, that K-8 are generally not in favor of this decision and that there is little evidence showing that 9-11 are actually in favor of the change giving the ramifications it will bring about.
I know you will probably respond that they could have pre-break finals, if they (1) had unequal semester lengths (2) moved all projects to january, but (1) as I have already said, Palo Alto has many more semester classes many of which are taking by most students and some of which are required. This is not the case with most other schools. If you propose that we change this (2) students will still start the projects over winter break even if they are assigned in January. The Rube Goldberg project took our group approximately 60 hours (each) to complete and is a project that virtually students taking Physics know will be assigned. Even if it is assigned in January, most people will start it over winter break. Also, this project, as well as the projects in classes that were assigned over winter break, took the place of finals. If they are move to January, the teachers who assign these projects will start giving finals in December instead OR cram the project over the month of December which would be disastrous. I use just one example, but this is the case with many of the other classes (english essays...)
Also your comparison with Harvard has little relevance, as Harvard no longer requires teachers to opt out of finals. Instead, they must opt to have finals. This was done to lessen the importance of finals and the stress associated with them. All this calendar discussion has done, IMO, is make finals seem even more stressful and necessary.
"If finals are in December, some of those other activities will shift, too."
Winter season sport tournaments will not shift, holiday performances will not shift (as they cater to the Palo Alto community and not just the schools), publication deadlines might shift (but the pressure will still be there), math/science competitions will still be there, SATs will still be there, college apps will still be there (and no, not all students are perfect and finish them by December). Wait until your kids are in high school, and see what it is like staying until 3AM five days in a row to get homework and all other added demands done. This is the reality for many Juniors/Seniors in December. I do not want my friends staying up until 5AM everyday in December so that they can get everything done and collapse as soon as break starts.
Please listen to the kids that spoke at the Board meeting yesterday. They were insightful, articulate, and professional. I have talked to nearly 50 students about this at school, and those opposed to it have much stronger reactions than those for it. MOST people for pre-break finals are very ambivalent and told me they would be fine either way, while those against it have very clear, direct concerns.
People complain that moving finals to before the break would only help high schoolers, but the truth is that it would hurt many high schoolers.