The hot-button issue of school calendars returns to the Board of Education Tuesday, Oct. 22, as members must vote before year's end on timetables that will influence family vacations for 2014-15 and beyond.
In an emotional 3-2 vote two years ago, the board mandated a major shift in Palo Alto's traditional calendar, moving to an earlier-August school start so as to end the first-semester before the December holidays.
The reformed calendar enacted in fall 2012 pleased many who say it has helped ensure a work-free December break for stressed-out students. But others have argued passionately that the new schedule actually exacerbates stress in the busy, pre-holiday period when seniors are also submitting college applications. Critics also say the earlier-August school start of the new calendar disrupts August vacation traditions for many Palo Alto families.
On Tuesday, the board will get its first look at an array of calendar proposals for 2014-15 and beyond, as well as data from satisfaction surveys of high-school students, parents and teachers on the now 14-month-old "new" calendar.
The surveys indicate that parents, students and teachers all had a "strong preference for a calendar that supports pre-break finals for high-school students," but the groups split on the August start date.
High-school students and teachers preferred the new calendar's earlier August start, while parents voted for a later-August start.
A majority of all groups agreed that ending the first semester before winter break so students get a "real" work-free break was a substantial benefit.
Options to be discussed by the board Tuesday reflect the work of a Calendar Advisory Committee, a diverse group of high-school students, parents, teachers and administrators that has mulled the calendar conundrums for the past 10 months.
The challenges is trying to reconcile the conflicting desires of parents for a later school-start date, teachers for semesters that are roughly equal in length and students, parents and teachers for a work-free semester break.
Among the options the committee will present Tuesday are six different "calendars for consideration" by the board, with school-start dates next year ranging from Aug. 14 to Aug. 26. All except for one of the six place first-semester finals before the December holidays.
One of the six offers the unusual arrangement of placing first-semester finals before the December break but not actually ending the semester until Jan. 22, with a "stand-alone unit" occupying the first weeks of January. This option accommodates the later (Aug. 26) school start date preferred by parents while preserving the preference expressed by teachers of two semesters that are even in length.
But Bowers warned that the Calendar Advisory Committee does not have the power to require teachers to accept such an arrangement, which would first have to be ratified by high-school teachers.
"The differences between the (six) calendars are the committee's attempt to capture the different aspects of the calendar compromises," Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers said.
The Calendar Advisory Committee also pondered a calendar with a post-Labor Day school start, a calendar that divides the school year into trimesters and a calendar that has different school-start dates for elementary and secondary students. However, Bowers said, those three options "would have had a significant impact on the current programs at the high schools and entailed substantial changes to aspects of the schools that were outside the scope of a school calendar.
"The committee views (them) to have logistical impediments to implementation and has removed them from consideration."
Bowers said he will seek board direction Tuesday on when first-semester finals should occur and then work with the district's collective bargaining units the Palo Alto Educators Association and the California Schools Employee Association to come up with a final calendar proposal to present to the board Nov. 5.