Angry parents derail school-calendar vote Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:25 am
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. The key issues of when finals are scheduled was tossed back to a teacher Calendar Committee.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 10, 2010, 8:54 AM
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:25 am
I wasn't at the meeting last night but was able to watch some of it. I agreed with most of the comments made by parents but one thing I would have brought up is the fact that even though school starts on a given day, there are still events planned for the week before school.
My JLS student had a registration day (with pictures taken) a week before school started and my Paly student had the same thing the day before. I can understand that with the size of the schools this gives the admin a head start, but it is also a downer for the kids.
As soon as they have been to this registration day their attitude is that of school being back in session. They know that their summer has ended. Particularly if summer is reduced from 10 weeks to 9 weeks which would happen for the first year of this schedule we are talking about early August school events encroaching into summer more and more.
Apart from these registration days and sports requirements, there are also other school camps and orientation sessions taking place before school starts.
Please do not encroach into early August with other subtle invasions of summer.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:53 am
This just goes to show that a vocal minority can overpower common sense and weeks of planning and waiting. Since nothing will happen now until December 7 anyway, perhaps PAUSD should do a mandatory survey (maybe on something free like Survey Monkey) of all Gunn and Paly students and parents to see what the "real" results show. Although I was in favor of the switch, I do understand some of its potential problems. I still think, though, since so many other districts nationwide have made this change and have not gone back to January finals, if PAUSD were to try it, things would probably go the same way. It's hard to believe, though, that we're going to have to wait another month because a small group--not representative of majority opinion--showed up and protested vehemently.
Posted by Majority?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:09 am
The majority opinion? I don't see how. Last night every board member as well as the superintendent admitted, with tails between their legs, that they failed on the communications front by not asking students, teachers or parents how they felt about the proposed calendar. So, no one knows how the majority feels.
Please don't belittle dozens and dozens of passionately concerned parents who took 4 hours out of their busy lives last night to attend a meeting that didn't end until close to midnight just because they don't happy to share your world view.
Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:13 am
@anonymous. You have no reason to believe that the people showed up at the meeting weren't reflecting the majority opinion, I would argue that they were pretty representative. Even the high schools are divided on this issue, and high school families don't represent a majority of this district. That said, good research, scientific surveys (not just a self-selected surveymonkey poll) should indeed be done, and I look forward to seeing that come forward in the future.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:29 am
I'm don't think a survey of what students or parents prefer is very relevant. We elect and hire people to makes these decisions in the best interest of the district. We see where direct democracy gets us with state politics.
The district has studied the issue for years, and has plenty of other examples to look at - we certainly aren't pioneers. I am happy, as I think most people are, to follow the lead of the Board and district on this. They are smart, they've thought about it, and they care about the outcome. If it is really that bad, we can change it back. And yes, my oldest will be a senior next year, so we'll take the brunt of it if is really so terrible.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:39 am
The majority opinion was reflected in the data (admittedly flawed--more people should have taken part in the survey) presented to the school board and that have appeared in previous articles and memoranda available on this site.
But the main issue is student stress. I still think a good compromise would be to start school later--at the beginning of September or after Labor Day--and have first semester exams at the end of January or beginning of February. There are other districts that do this or something very close to it--why not PAUSD? This type of calendar might be a win-win for everyone.
Posted by 3KidsHere, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:43 am
I am thankful to all of the community members who came to the meeting and spoke out against the calendar.
It is frustrating to hear Dr. Skelly continually assert that this is something that students want. My Paly sophomore son is NOT in favor of this calendar change. His "vote" has not been counted in anything that has been done.
We heard from at least 3 current/recent Paly students last night -- bright, articulate, involved, balanced students -- who talked convincingly about how this proposed calendar would cause MORE stress. They've taken the time to really look at the calendar, and think about the ramifications. Let's listen to these students!
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:46 am
Do a survey and ask families what they think. Ask the parents of kindergarten through 8th grade students what they think. Making decisions with a vocal minority, whether Mandarin Immersion or this calendar choice, is not working.
Posted by Think Different, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:46 am
There is no question that we ought to change finals so that they are not right after the winter break. Other schools have demonstrated that making this change helps reduce stress. Students need the Winter break to recharge. PALY students' own polls reflect this. We owe it to them to support them on that front. With that said, there are a variety of ways to achieve that goal without creating too many other problems.
Has anyone considered starting school after Labor Day (like the good ole days) and simply letting first semester slip out further beyond Winter Break? Have 1st semester exams first week of February. Let the school year extend a little later into June. The best summer months are July and August anyhow.
Even before this debate started to rage, a common complaint in our community has been that school seems to start earlier and earlier. Instead of looking to August for an answer, maybe it's time to consider June.
Posted by KyrieR, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:54 am
One of the problems with the data being quoted last night was that it seemed that the surveys and questions posed to students or families were too general, "would you favor pre-break finals," as opposed to "would you favor finals from Dec 20-22, two days before the holiday, and if it meant winter break went until 1/9 and school got out on May 30 and that school started Aug 15." That's the only way to honestly ask the question and relate it to the calendar that was proposed last night.
The surveys also need to be done in a way that gets a randomized sample, not the vocal sample. And we need to survey all the people affected -- student, yes, but also parents, teachers, and including the K-8 families & teachers that are also part of the district.
I was made nervous by how 90% of the dialog last night was about the high schools. I am grateful to those on the school board that kept the K-8 families in mind as well, in their ending comments. It's the Palo Alto UNIFIED District, not the Palo Alto HS District. The calendar affects everyone.
Posted by AA, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:57 am
How about no semester finals unless a class is only a semester long. Also how do other schools such as east coast, start school later and end before the winter break. Maybe our schoolboard should look at these calendars. But my fear is that our teachers have more in class days than other schools which might make a difference.
Posted by John Markevitch, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:58 am
I find it interesting that of the 11 comments so far posted, no one has listed their real name. Using real names will help keep this a civil conversation and helps people remember that there is a person behind the comment.
Posted by Hoover Elementary Parent, a member of the Hoover School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:00 am
By the way, the board meeting went way past midnight! I was there to support the proposed upgrades to Hoover, and our discussion didn't start until after 1am. At 1:45, when I left, the Board meeting was still going strong.
Posted by One Gunn Mom, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:18 am
As a Mom of a senior, this decision will not affect me. However, I was in favor of putting finals before winter break 4 years ago, when this was suggested by the Stressed out Student group, run by Stanford (now called Challenge Success). The outcome at that time was the same--don't touch my vacations in August. The elementary school parents won out over the high school parents and finals stay in January--after a 2 week break in the flow of learning.
I applaud Kevin Slelly for trying again, but it appears hopeless as the parents of high school kids are in the minority. The effort this year was, I believe, in response to the suicides at Gunn. Any effort to reduce stress for these kids should be tried. Anecdotal comments about stress increasing with this change should take a back seat to the recommendations of experts--this is a key recommendation from the Challenge Success group. If we can stop one kid from suicide, it is worth it. Kids also pick up on parents level of stress. What I have heard in comments here and at various discussions are parents stressing out over the changes--it will ruin our family trips, holiday parties, etc. Talking with parents and kids from other school districts who have finals before winter break is enlightening--they love it! The district should just do it. Board members are so concerned with pleasing everyone and have forgotten that emotional health needs to be a priority right now!
Posted by Majority?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:25 am
Democracy is based on elected representatives continuing to represent those who elected them. Why do you think there are open meetings laws and time set aside for public comment at each school board meeting?
The point is that:
- there were calendar talks but no study despite the board asking for one
- there are plenty of examples to look at both ways, but no two school districts are the same so they are just that - examples
How about this: Really study it, professionally survey it, then vote on it? That way we'll minimize the chance of making a mistake that 2 years' or more worth of seniors may face the repercussions of for what could turn out to be a very, very long time.
Posted by Donna, a member of the JLS Middle School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:28 am
When are Palo Alto parents going to put the needs of their stressed out children ahead of their own? This change to the calendar is a no-brainer, people! For once, just DO THE RIGHT THING and quit making your needs of when you'll go to Europe on your vacation more important than de-stressing your children. I'm so sick of the walls these parents put up to any change. The "Palo Alto process" is getting boring, very frustrating and actually deadly to the community's well-being. Enough already!!!
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:33 am
I sure hope 30 people, some of them rude and shouting down Super Skelly, don't derail the thousands and thousands of us who have already been through the Palo Alto High School experience as parents, and advised we change the calendar to give a full rest to the kids for 2 weeks over winter break.
I simply can not believe that a one week shift in the calendar causing opposition for easons having nothing to do with the relief afforded any human who gets a real rest will be derailed by a very small minority of people who show up to a meeting.
In the past, the Board has been influenced by whoever yells the loudest. I am pretty sure that at least 3, maybe 4, of this Board remembers the big picture, remembers that we need support in the community to help our stressed out kids learn to REST after working so hard for 4 months, non-stop.
Put on your mature hats, ..ask yourself if you really want to raise another generation of workaholics who believe that we all support going without rest for almost 10 months with no rest.
Ask yourself if it makes more sense to have most of the school year done before the national tests.
Ask yourself how YOU would like to be treated as a teen.
All of you fighting this change, did you get a real rest for a couple weeks as a teen? Or did you have to go non-stop? If you went non-stop, do you really want to keep that cycle for your kids? If you got a real rest, do you really want to prevent your kids from getting a real, full stop rest?
Will you be proud of yourselves the next time we have an exhausted, stressed kid fall apart in the spring? Are you unable to connect the dots between no-rest work and the health risks inherent in such a lifestyle? Do you want to pass that on to your own kids? Have any of you in opposition actually already had a kid finish high school here and go on to college?
Very frustrating to watch the Palo Alto way take over, and I hope that this Board doesn't bow out of doing what is right for the TEENS..
Posted by 3KidsHere, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:41 am
I am so tired of hearing how this is about relieving student stress. There is NOTHING stressful about the current school schedule, and scheduling of finals. 1st semester finals are scheduled for over two weeks after the return from school. They happen immediately following a 3 day weekend (which is very helpful for students to be able to study), and at a time of year when very little else is going on. It is a perfect time to take finals. (The vast majority of students don't currently study for finals during winter break -- it is way too early to even try to do that. Even the folks who are advocating for the change don't actually claim widespread studying is going on...)
I also don't see why we should discount the experience of actual high school students (current seniors and last year's seniors), who have come forward to talk about how it would increase their stress to have finals piled on top of the other things they have to do in December. Those well-reasoned, thought-through comments are a lot more meaningful than other student data that has been brought forward.
It is clear that this is one of those "sounds good but no basis in reality" proposals. DO listen to the students (the ones who have experience and who have thought it through); keep the schedule the way it is.
Posted by Minority?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:43 am
One Gunn Mom,
No one is saying that parents who support post-break finals are not concerned about student stress. Listen to what they said. Stress reduction was what it is all about for those high school parents and students and graduates who spoke out against the proposal last night.
The problem is that while you might remove one set of stressors, maybe (the board and staff noted that moving finals is no guarantee that students won't have work over break), you create other stressors by crunching all the senior high-stakes tests and college applications into December, an already exceptionally busy month of the year for performing arts students, athletes, families who celebrate Christmas, etc.
What does Challenge Success have to say about this? Check out its website. CS lists creating calendars that "reduce overlapping major assignments" BEFORE its pre-break finals suggestion. It also recommends creating "longer breaks" between stressful events like exams. This cretainly sounds like what all those high schoolers and their families were asking the board for at the meeting last night.
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:49 am
When I was in high school, school started after labour day and ended the second week of June. Finals were in December with two weeks of vacation. Our days started at 8 am and ended at 3pm. We also only have one or two early release days, only one week for Spring break and only Federal holidays off.
The only reason the school year needs to start in August is because schools no longer go for a full day. There are too many days off for teachers during the year, school days are shorter and there is an early release day each week.
I bet that you could start after labour day and still have finals in December if you cancelled all the teacher days off and early release.
Posted by Steve Bennet, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:53 am
I had the school board meeting playing in the background on my computer last night and was amused by the same arguments and discussions that happen every other year on this issue. My daughter who is now a senior at Gunn started kindergarten on September 8, 1998. Since then, there has been calendar creep that has brought the start date back three weeks and if the proposed calendar had been approved, a fourth week. I voiced opinion to the board in prior cycles, but since this is my last year as a parent in PAUSD, just a bystander in this one.
However, will share a couple of thoughts here. I'm ambivalent on the finals before winter break or after as long as they would be later in January. There is very little going on in January, so holding finals a couple of weeks after returning should give most students plenty of time to study. The bigger question is why year long classes require a final at the first semester anyway. Is there any data that a first semester final exam is better than 3 quarterly exams and an end of the year final.
Another point brought up during the discussion was social studies and english, since those are the primary non-elective semester courses. For econ (at Gunn anyway), the final exam is already before winter break. Will be on 12/15 this year. I think there are other departments that are having finals before break.
One final point. If stress is the biggest concern in all of this, the calendar committee is not the group that should be tasked with this issue. It is much broader and should be addressed in that manner. A calendar should be a relatively simple thing to put together and there is no reason to do anything more than minor tinkering on a regular basis.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm
@surprised, I think there are many parents who support the changes, and many more who simply are happy to have the school board and staff work out the calendar. And I imagine they feel that their voices have been heard, hence the current proposal. Generally it is the opposition that mobilizes to get to Tuesday night multi-hour meetings.
Posted by Another Mom for Finals Before Break, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm
Just another example of moms with way too much time bullying everyone to get what THEY want. It seems that moms with some ridiculous agenda (either wanting their overpriced August vacations or to give their over-achieving kids, who do WAY too much, the advantage of studying all xmas while our slacker kids relax) use their under-utilized Harvard/Stanford educations to create an argument that seems logical and organize a large group of parents to show dissatisfaction. There were plenty of one-sided emails going around at our elementary school doing just that. FINALS BEFORE XMAS! I don't care what day summer starts or ends as long as there is one.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm
Many of you commenting here did not read the article properly, did not watch the comments of the parents (and board) or attend the meeting.
I personally went to a school which had finals (not called that) in December and would have loved to have had them in January when there were no distractions to my studies.
Stresses can be really high in December for all families including those with seniors applying for college.
Many fall sports continue into December. School and non-school sports.
Most performing arts put on winter/holiday programs in December which require not only performance time but extra dress rehearsals outside regular class hours. School and non-school arts.
Many families have grandparents available to help with childcare in December but this help is not available in January.
Camps will find it difficult to staff camps in early June as they depend on college students to staff them and not all college students are available until mid June. Therefore childcare is a big problem.
Many camps for teens at the competitive level for all types of activities, music, debate, gymnastics, etc. continue until late August. These camps are not run by Palo Alto but are run by organisations specializing in that activity.
High school students themselves said that they were stressed out already in December and would hate to have finals at this time too.
These are real concerns, real stresses, and not just because some families like to travel to Europe in August (although that is a concern too.)
All these issues were raised by polite parents who took time to attend the meeting last night. If those of you with stressed out students had made time to attend the meeting and give your views then they would have been hear. Perhaps you were at home stressing out your teens with their homework.
Posted by Cindy, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm
My children cherish those extra days off during the school year. If it means starting the year earlier and/or ending later, that's fine. I think we should have more of them! Elementary school parents might not understand, but those extra days off for middle/high school students are good mental breaks for them.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm
Watched discussion briefly last night, must have tuned in after the parents shouting. That sounds rude and I hope it doesn't influence the Board, who are voted in to evaluate issues and vote on them in a professional manner, rather than by being coerced by select individuals, however passionate they may be.
As a parent of college students who have completely different school year schedules -- they are NOT all the same -- and who previously attended public and private schools (for their primary and secondary education), I assure you the calendar isn't all that big a deal. Most students adapt fine. I haven't heard of any objections from students at either institution, one of which starts very early and one very late. One on semester system, one on quarter system. You'll live.
There are other things contributing to student stress, all right, like high school students doing killer hours at phony community service activities required by their parents. They can get quite tired as their parents contrive increasingly demanding plans for this.
School should come first.
Instead, I think a lot are so focused on SAT prep, extra-curriculars, sports, various hooks, so that they "fit" school in. That's the wrong way around.
I would suggest a longer school day; that was beneficial for my kids when they were at a private school.
Posted by just do it., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm
There is plenty of support for this change. But, we vote for people to do the job they were elected to do, and expect them to do it. Those of us who don't take to the 'riot in the streets' form of governance keep moving with our lives and expect our Board to vote what is best for the kids. Nastily said, but certainly captures the sentiment,"Another Mom".
We don't expect the winners of our elections to vote based on whoever shows up on the day or night of the vote on a policy,we expect them to vote for what they, personally, know is right for all of our kids, including theirs. The folks on this Board willing to make this vote know they are voting for all the kids to TAKE A MUCH NEEDED REAL REST over winter break.
All other considerations are secondary and workable behind this one, which can only happen if the semester ENDS before Winter Break.
The secondary issue, of starting earlier and earlier in the summer, is one that has to be hammered out with the Teacher's Union, I suspect. I agree with the parent above who commented on how our school days were longer than now, and we didn't have nearly the number of "days off" school that our kids have now, so perhaps that would be a beginning. But, that is a DIFFERENT subject from simply stopping the first semester before winter break.
Posted by surprised, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm
"There is plenty of parental support for the new schedule, just read the thread here. What there isn't, is enough parents willing to subvert the process and shout-down a vote."
There wasn't one parent that spoke in favor last night.
How can you claim there was "plenty" of parental support giving this thread as "evidence" when NOT ONE of the people on this thread purporting to support the initiative cared enough about it to talk the BoE in favor of it?
And then you claim the people that cared enough are "immature and stupid". Finally you even say you have no skin in the game. Wow!
Posted by parent, a member of the Addison School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm
Thank you to the group that attended the meeting. I really appreciate all your time and effort. I was very happy to learn that they will re-look at the calendar.
I appreciate that there will be more awareness made to elementary and middle school parents. Remember, we cannot leave our elementary school students home alone during the proposed break that extends an extra week in January. I would appreciate if those with older students would recall the days when childcare was required.. that is if parents work outside the home.
I agree with the 'Thinking Different' comment. Why not start school after Labor Day and end mid-June? It makes sense, is done in most of the country, allows for a winter break with first semester exams the end of January/early February.
Posted by Working Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm
I don't know many working moms who would attend a board meeting. We just don't have the time. I can't speak for all working moms, but this working mom supports finals before winter break (proposed calendar or otherwise). Please don't equate going to the meeting with caring more.
Posted by retired parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm
I have watched this discussion off and on for many years. My own children are long ago PALY graduates. In our house we would have welcomed an early start to enable December papers and finals. Every winter holiday from jr. high thru high school was mared by arguments about getting papers/projects complete and material reviewed for finals. If PA had this calendar there would be a demand for earlier camps and summer programs for young children. Except for the small and declining number of colleges (like Stanford) on the quarter system, college students are home by mid May and report for the fall in mid-August. So they are available to staff these programs. In fact in my experience there is a paucity of programs for young children the last two weeks of August because college staff have returned to school. It seems the vocal minority is not about the long run, but is violently opposed to a two year trial of the new schedule. Thus, they are only interested in the very short term or are completely afraid of change (a change that the vast majority of our neighbors have already embraced as a good solution).
Posted by not my name, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm
I think the issue is that the optimal calendar for high school students is different than one for the elementary school students (and families). So you will never get agreement across the district about this......
Also people are clinging to their vacation rituals and childhood calendars. I could use the word antipathy here, but that's been done. The world is moving away from summer vacation as we knew it, and this incident is just one more example of the process slowing working its way into our lives/society/economy/etc.
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm
Shouting down a scheduled vote in a public meeting is indeed immature and stupid. Taking turns and letting others speak is mature and adult. Whether or not I have any skin in this game is irrelevant to the maturity of those who attended the meeting. In fact, one might say it gives me a bit more objectivity into it.
You would do well not to confuse numbers attending a public meeting with the amount of support a particular measure has. Anyone who votes in school-board elections and pays property taxes (and I do) should have equal representation with the busybodies who try to bully their positions through. Or I suppose a letter of support isn't enough?
In other words, just because one yells the loudest doesn't mean one's position is correct, or more important than the others. Have you checked out the number of letters opposing or in support?
Would you all--if you were indeed one of the shouters--have listened quietly and politely to those who disagreed with you last night? Doesn't sound like it from the news reports.
Posted by A Parent, a resident of Mountain View, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm
While I did not attend the meeting, I can only imagine what it must have been like. The bottom line is that people (especially many parents), do not like change even if it would be better for their student in the long run.
I am a single parent of 2 who attended Mtn. View High School both with the old schedule (finals after the holiday break) and with the new schedule (similar to what is proposed). Yes, I had child care issues, work and summer camp issues and no family to help me. And yes, it was a little awkward the first year with school startng a week earlier and ultimately cutting summer vacation or activities short; however, it balanced out the semesters better and truly provided a less stressful environment for my children. They had more time to learn the material, get their exams over with and actually have a 'real' mid-year vacation. What a novel idea!
I will agree that the first 'transitional' year is awkward, but I haven't met a parent or student that didn't prefer this arrangement once it was implemented.
I think it is time that parents stop looking at their own inconveniences and start thinking of their children. Many of these parents moved to Palo Alto to make sure their children went to schools they felt provided an outstanding education. So maybe it's time they let the schools continue to do that in even a better way for the students.
Posted by Addison parent, a member of the Addison School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm
I think the community needs to look at the entire ecosystem it takes to turn shy kinders into confident, non-stressed high school grads. My main objection to the proposed schedule is the impact on elementary kids and their working parents. Under the current calendar, I have to use up all of my available vacation days to cover the school holidays and breaks. With the new schedule, I would need (integrated over the year) approximately 4 more weeks of childcare at times during which there are currently no summer / winter camps.
I suppose the school board did not concern their selves with this issue because they assumed the on-site after school programs would be able to provide the necessary coverage for working parents. However this is a *poor* assumption. At our school at least - it is nearly impossible to get a spot in the PACC run Kids Club. We have tried to get a spot for 3 years and have always been turned down. We are always told the wait list is 20+ kids long. (And as a caution - counting the number of kids on the wait list is a poor indicator of the unserved community because once the waitlist gets too long, they won't allow people to add their name on the waitlist.)
So, what do the rest of us working parents do? We piece together coverage from off-site after school programs and summer camps. Luckily there are a variety of high-quality options. But summer camps and winter-break camps rely on college students as a pool of seasonal workers. As soon as PAUSD gets too out of phase with colleges - there will be no summer or winter break camps as a resource to working parents. So the late May end of school creates 2-3 weeks of childcare needs - with no solution on the horizon.
On top of that, the thursday school year start causes a problem. Summer camps are full week affairs. So, now I need to find a Monday-wednesday solution. And then there is the late start in January...
I'm all for reducing stress on high school students - but it doesn't sound like this is the only possible route -- and the collateral damage will significantly raise the stressors on our elementary school families.
Posted by Surprised, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:24 pm
PP, go have a look at the telecast. Over 30 people were speaking against this. The one person in favor, a teacher not a parent, did speak and was listened too politely. The only point at which voices were raised was when Skelly made a claim and was asked to back it up with data, which he couldn't and quickly backtracked.
You have provided no evidence of serious parental support for this initiative. And, because you have no skin in the game, didn't go to the meeting, haven't seen the meeting and are basing all your information on an anonymous forum provides you with "more objectivity"? You're confusing objectivity with ignorance.
This isn't an issue about who shouts the loudest. The board saw for themselves last night how little parents want this change. I can't emphasize this enough, NOT ONE parent turned up in support of it.
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:34 pm
Do you suppose the Weekly will be issuing a retraction of the statement that the vote "was – literally -- shouted down"? If not, I think it is safe to say that at the very least your account is under dispute.
And once again, don't confuse lack of organization with lack of size. Politicians often lose votes that way. It reminds me of the famous (but likely apocryphal) statement attributed to Pauline Kael, "I can't believe Nixon won. No one I know voted for him."
Posted by Failure of Leadership, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm
PAUSD administrators - and the school board - have failed; failed to do their homework and failed to lead.
Sup. Skelly's recommendation of finals before winter break required a communication plan/strategy to (1) educate (yes, educate) Palo Altans as to why such a calendar is a solid idea, and (2) respond with solid answers to concerns (about start dates, college apps, camps/childcare, uneven semesters...). Instead, PAUSD staff asked for public reaction/"input" (without benefit of education, outreach or advocacy from the District). "Input" were the imaginings about what life with such a calendar MIGHT be like [anxiety (con) or hope (pro)]. And there was no response from the District to those imaginings - in spite of the fact that answers, responses and reassurances DO exist for nearly all of the common questions and concerns. PAUSD fanned the flames of anxiety with their own lack of strategy or effort and by putting forward a calendar that started earlier than it needed to.
Scott Bowers and a number of the School Board members have been through this before (NUMEROUS times!). With future student health and wellbeing at stake, they should have known better and worked harder - Scott, et al to come up with a better calendar (learn from other local schools or just copy from them for heavens sake! - compromise on the Wed before Thanksgiving and Fall staff dev't day - and give us a calendar start date that is more palatable and more likely to garner support). And School Board - why did it take till the eleventh hour to table this? Was this not discussed two weeks ago (or even earlier)? District staff AND our school board members - (many of them) have had 5 or 6 years of this issue - plenty of time to be very knowledgeable about the pros/cons of pre-Break finals. I am extremely disappointed in their performance (even embarrassed) - yet no longer surprised.
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:46 pm
The fact that the idea got far enough for a scheduled vote is pretty good evidence that some people somewhere are supporting it. I count several of people in this thread alone.
And thirty people is barely a single high-school classroom's worth of parents--out of how many? That hardly qualifies as overwhelming. A year or so ago there were more people at the parks and rec meeting discussing the plans for Greer park.
I actually believe there are advantages and disadvantages to both schedules. I don't think there is an obviously correct answer here.
Posted by Gunn Junior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:54 pm
Hey "angry parents", you may be thinking you are doing the right thing for the students at Palo Alto schools but the fact is if the finals were moved before winter break, us students would be much better off.
The winter break is supposed to be for unwinding, a break in the middle of the hectic school year. However, because the ever-important finals are just after this break, the free time is hijacked by studying and working. This doesn't decrease stress - this increases it.
That's it. This issue does not get any more complicated than that. Anything else is justification to object to change from the status quo.
Posted by 3KidsHere, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm
Gunn Junior -
That might be your opinion, but I can tell you that my Paly Sophomore son feels completely differently -- as do many of his friends. This finals schedule works well for him -- no need to study at all for finals during break (why would you when they are over 2-3+ weeks off?)
And you may find yourself feeling differently next year when you are juggling various extra tasks as a Senior in December. You'll note that the students who all spoke up at the meeting last night were either current seniors or seniors last year -- they know what they're talking about.
Posted by Gunn Junior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm
3KidsHere: 2-3+ weeks off? Where do you get this information from?
Your son may feel differently.... why? Because he's been told it makes the summer shorter? Was he also told he would get out in May, thus not making the summer actually any shorter at all?
"You'll note that the students who all spoke up at the meeting last night were either current seniors or seniors last year -- they know what they're talking about."
.... And I don't? If you are implying that only seniors are impacted/know the difference between finals before and after winter break, realize there are 3 other grades of high school before you become a senior.
And I'm wondering, as a parent of a sophmore, how much you know about the senior experience. Wouldn't it be nice to be finished with your first semester completely before the new year begins?
The case against the schedule change is counterintuitive.
Posted by A mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm
You were all set up.
This rancor was entirely predictable when whoever proposed this tied moving finals to these radical shifts in the calendar.
The trade-off could equally be between the radical shifts in the calendar and making the move to uneven semesters. The latter is probably not so difficult, since so many other schools start at Labor Day, end mid-December, and somehow manage to have finals before the holidays. We aren't breaking new ground.
The difference in semester duration seems long until you consider the state testing happens in the spring, as well as end-of-year projects and activities. It's not as much an issue for the curriculum of the younger kids.
It seems to me most of the anger is because of the calendar shifts. If the district is serious about reducing stress, it should take the serious look at unequal semesters that it should have taken to begin with so that it can accomplish pre-holiday finals.
Posted by my kids' mom, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm
Please do not write harsh words against the behavior of the parents who attended last night's meeting if you were not there. After one parent spoke and garnered applause, we were told to please refrain from any reaction and everyone respected that request. The one person who spoke in support of the calendar did not generate any side comments or boos. The one and only, five second, outburst from audience members occurred when the superintendent made a comment immediately following the public's comments that made us all feel as if our concerns had fallen on deaf ears. We settled down quickly but this was 2 1'2 hours into a tiring meeting where parents, students, and teachers were speaking passionately. To say a vote was shouted down in irresponsible and inaccurate.
Posted by Rebecca Davis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm
I concur completely with 3KidsHere (posted a couple of hours ago):
1st semester finals are scheduled for over two weeks after the return from school. They happen immediately following a 3 day weekend (which is very helpful for students to be able to study), and at a time of year when very little else is going on.
Finals are the third week of January - why (or perhaps better-asked, who) feels forced to study during vacation? My guess is that those few students who feel pushed to study are either self-driven to "do school," or they actually ENJOY studying and learning -- wouldn't THAT be a fresh perspective? I'm really tired of having school being discussed as something that is "DONE" to our students. Overall, learning and school shouldn't be a punishment, and if that's the way this town views it, we need to examine our values.
VERY troubling for me is the statement by our Superintendent that "there is a vast majority of our students who feel we need to have finals before winter break" when he has absolutely no data to back this up. Is this the scientific method we'd like to model for our students?
Posted by Gunn Junior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm
Rebecca Davis: "VERY troubling for me is the statement by our Superintendent that "there is a vast majority of our students who feel we need to have finals before winter break" when he has absolutely no data to back this up. Is this the scientific method we'd like to model for our students?"
I am a student at Gunn, and I reiterate, most (if not all) of the students I know support the schedule change.
Finals BEFORE winter break has long been known as being much better than after - some teachers schedule it before winter break, for example Physics and Chemistry often do - much to the appreciation of the students.
There is no "3 day weekend" before Finals - that happens after finals, when the semester ends.
The idea that only the students who have to do work during finals just "enjoy it" and that we should be praising the workaholic students that our current system values over all is inaccurate and insulting. Many large projects are due just after the break - it's not just the tests.
And when it comes to "student stress" - many of these same people who are complaining now said it was a good idea to combat school stress - but I guess when it comes to actual, tangible changes, they balk? Not having tests and projects hanging over your head during winter break would ACTUALLY decrease school stress.
Or is school stress not really these parents want to decrease? Or is it just something they like to talk about to score political points?
More programs, talking, meetings don't decrease school stress. Winter break without upcoming finals will.
Posted by Former Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm
The only issue for finals before December break is parents who kids are seniors. Seniors applying to college will have to study for finals and wrap up college apps at the same time. Take vacation with your family in June for goodness sake.
Want your kid to go to UC Berkeley? Well guess what, Cal started Aug. 22 this year and ends May 14. Guess you will have the same problem with work if you want to spend time with your Berkeley college kid.
Posted by Failure of Leadership, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:22 pm
To those who argue that there are other calendar options we could consider - it's true - but they bring their own consequences.
If school were to start after Labor Day (with Finals occurring late in January or early Feb - and school ending later in June), this would improve the holiday break challenge, but present a disadvantage to the many, many, MANY! district students that take many, many MANY! AP classes.
AP tests occur in mid-May. Starting after Labor Day would (1) reduce the number of instructional days before AP exams and (2) it is often said that (for all intents and purposes - & in students' minds), the school year or class is psychologically over once the AP test is taken. (crickets chirping...)
I suspect that such a calendar (and its particular inherent downside to AP performance) would bring out even more protesting parents than appeared last night.
(Interesting to note that the calendar before us and its early start would significantly benefit AP students - and I suspect this may be the real reason the District is recommending pre-Break finals).
The silver lining to PAUSD's inability to pass pre-Break finals? Maybe they'll finally get serious about some other school climate issues that will help reduce student stress - late start at BOTH schools, block schedules at BOTH schools, different and improved assessment methods, test calendars, increased student input in policy and decision-making...
Posted by former Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:28 pm
oh, I forgot to say that Berkeley students have finals *before* winter break and have an entire month off- they go back mid-January.
Now I know this thread is about K-12, but all I'm saying is that students want to take finals before winter break, not after.
My child survived the Gunn finals to make it to college, but I really agree with others who say that one should think about what is *best* and less stressful for your child, and not when you as a parent want to take vacation.
Posted by Majority?, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:28 pm
South PA Mom
Which "education professionals?" The ones who support the new calendar or the onew who do not? Not sure how many fall on one side or the other. No one has asked them all.
Don't forget the 600 emails that 25 Churchill got in the last month or so, not counting the 100s more school board members probably got after the public email window closed.
30 may have been the number of parents who stayed awake last night to serve as a reminder, but upwards of 1000 were the ones who stayed home and typed.
No tally on how the emailers all felt, but the early report showed lots more negative than positive on part of the proposal. BTW that ~1,000 (in a month and change) email number far surpasses the number of emails the district got last time it went around on this over 11 months with lots of district outreach (no district outreach this time).
Posted by 3KidsHere, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm
Gunn Junior -
There is certainly a 3 day weekend before finals -- was last year and will be this year. Check your school calendar. There is a holiday (Martin Luther King Day) on Monday, January 17. Finals are January 18-20. Then there is another 3 day weekend after finals (have Friday January 21st off).
Re my comment that students are not generally (and should not be) studying for finals during Winter Break since finals would be "2-3 weeks away": students return to school after Winter Break on Monday, January 3rd. Finals start 2 weeks and 1 day later. If students were studying during Winter Break, that would be anywhere from 2 weeks - 4 1/2 weeks prior to the start of finals.
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm
I am a PAUSD parent active in the PTA. Most parents I know support moving finals to before the holidays. All of the high school students I have asked support moving finals to before the holidays.
Like me, most of them also do not like the calendar changes.
Luckily, moving the finals to before the break doesn't require changing the calendar like that, if the district is willing to learn from other districts that have made the move and kept a reasonable calendar.
Again, I smell manipulation here. Those angry parents were set up. Either the person who came up with that proposal was completely out to lunch, or they were linking the shift to the radical calendar changes to get exactly this response, and wash their hands of making the tough call themselves. (Which do you think it was?...)
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:44 pm
I agree that the finals debate should be decoupled from the calendar setting process. Only then can we research it seriously, and test it. Maybe its not a one size fits all solution. Maybe one school feels more strongly than another and is more willing to try it out--after all, that happened with block scheduling. Maybe teachers want it enough to adjust their curriculum to unequal semesters, maybe they don't. Maybe seniors should have a different finals schedule--they actually do already, I believe, taking spring finals earlier than the other classes.
I would urge the board to, as they called it last night, approve a "rollover" (i.e., similar to current) calendar for the next 2 years. They have to identify semester start and end dates or finals dates in that calendar, just working days and non-working days. And then spend some time to figure out the issue of finals placement, working with the teachers and community and students, outside of the constraints of the calendar process.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:45 pm
Remember the article talking to other towns and schools that changed their calendar as we are considering? Web Link They all said it was a positive change that required some first year adjustment, but everyone was fine with it and they all viewed it as a good move.
I also heard from a school board member that they had called other towns to ask how much blowback they experienced while considering and after the change, and the other towns were puzzled by the question since they really didn't get much. Welcome to Palo Alto!
Hopefully the leaders will lead where they think best and we can judge them by the result.
Posted by Failure of Leadership, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm
To: A Mom
Sadly, I agree with your assessment - and have for quite some time. They are either lazy and inept - or lazy and inept like a fox.
Either way, student health loses - again and again and again...
I'm angry at myself for believing that a different outcome (than the previous calendar attempts) with THIS admin and school board might actually be possible. But when I saw the actual calendar they came up with - I, too, suspected a planned failure. Sad.
Posted by Mom with 3D skin, a member of the Duveneck School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm
You just don't get it
Detrimental effect??? You are kidding? A one degree difference in the Aug. temps vs. Sept. is your detrimental effect? I have twins in 2nd grade, a middle schooler and a high school so I get it! My high schooler was hoping for the change. The other three are have no idea!
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:10 pm
A Mom -
Do you really think that the district/board wanted the uproar that happened last night at the board meeting? The reality of it is that when this calendar was created the teacher's union(the calendar is negotiated by the teachers union and the district) was not willing to support any greater imbalance in semester lengths. Because of this constraint there had to be days added in Aug and/or in December to make the first semester somewhat comparable to the second semester in terms of teaching days. I believe the teacher who spoke last night at the board meeting mentioned the difficulty in finding the days. She added that she wished she had some "magic" way to add days. The reality is September is just not 35 days long.
I don't think this calendar is that out of whack with what other districts are supporting. Los Gatos-Saratoga Union high school district is proposing a similar calendar - Start date Aug 22nd( a few days later) with winter break from Dec 23rd - Jan 9th and the first semester ending before the winter break.
Posted by A Parent, a resident of Mountain View, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm
To the parent of a 1st and 3rd grader, you are in the early stages of grade school. While your students still have homework and exams, the stress levels are very different in the lower elementary vs high school. Their academic subjects and grades do not affect where or if they go to college either. Having the elementary and Jr High school schedules coincide with the high school's makes good common sense, especially if you are a parent with children in more than one school.
Enjoy this time with your children as things will be changing in middle school and drastically in high school. You will at that time welcome the idea of them being finished with projects and exams BEFORE the holiday break. Hopefully you will be able to have more quality time to spend with them, assuming they are not off with their friends.......which they will be.
Change can be good. Moving from what is 'normal or routine' is just scary for some people. Try to look at the positives for our students and not complain how it might disrupt your personal time. For most everyone, there is still plenty of time to plan for summer.
Posted by you just don't get it, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm
Mom with 3D skin,
The temperature was one example since Former Gunn Parent was completely ignoring 70% of the student population. This is a K-12 district, which most posters appear to conveniently forget.
As to your comment that your other three are have no idea, I feel sorry for them. You should try and have them spend more time with both parents and extended family. Take time off and talk to them, you'd be surprised at how well they respond.
Posted by teacher - h.s., a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:37 pm
Gunn junior: You forgot that your have a MLK Jr. day holiday on Monday in mid-Jan. which is the day just prior to the start of finals.
Others: You should pay attention to the 30 parents and the students who took the time to attend the meeting and present their views. All of them I am certain also had other tasks, but they attended. Where were all of you who supported the calendar?
Many high school teachers do make a final exam optional in ways that can only benefit the students. Yes, many dept. already do give final exams before Winter Break.
The big issue: Separate the "finals before Winter Break" from the total calendar proposal. Hard to do yes, but not impossible.
Re surveys: How the question is phrased is crucial. Do not simply ask (as has been done before) "Do you prefer finals before or after Winter Break?" You MUST present all of the ramifications of that option. This of course holds true for all potential survey questions. Include the ramifications for each proposal in the survey question.
A big thank you to the seniors who attended the meeting last night.
Please remember that we are a UNIFIED district not a high school district alone and must consider the needs of all our families and children.
Posted by Mom with 3D skin, a member of the Duveneck School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm
you just don't get it,
Yes this is a K-12 district and your kids will be in HS soon enough - perhaps that's when you will be an advocate for change.
I don't really know why you would think my kids don't spend time with parents or extended family - summer time with family won't change with a change to the calendar. The kids aren't getting any fewer days off - just different days.
Posted by Former Student, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm
I didn't go to the meeting last year because it looked like the schedule change would pass. I'm so disappointed that it didn't. I've been for this for years--why don't the high school students get to relax like college ones? Moving finals will eliminate projects over winter break as well--and even if students are studying during the break, they all still have projects and homework. The semester change will help things greatly.
Maybe we should discuss a separate elementary school and secondary school calender, to suit everyone's needs. Would it be perfect? No. But the current system isn't, either.
Posted by you just don't get it, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm
Mom with 3D skin,
Yes. Different days. In childcare. Without parents and family. Not a recommendation anyone with elementary school kids would normally be supporting.
When my children are in High School, I hope I won't be so selfish as to run roughshod over 70% of kids in the district just to get what I wanted. I would hope that I would try and reach a consensus on what could benefit all. This brings us back to the post where you jumped in.
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:03 pm
Private Parent, Surprised, My Kids' Mom:
Tuesday's meeting, while orderly for the most part, was the most rancorous I've seen in 18 months of regular board-watching. Several people sitting near me kept audible, running commentaries on the proceedings. There was a momentary breakdown of order when audience members jeered a statement by Skelly. While individual behavior generally was respectful, the crowd had an impact not fully in keeping with traditional decorum in the boardroom.
Posted by Failure of Leadership, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm
To teacher - h.s.
Last night's meeting of the school board was not billed as the single night to weigh in on this issue. Had it been, many more parents (on both sides) would have been there. Many of us believed that the bulk of comment had already been made (via email or at the Oct. 26th meeting?) and the school board would be weighing in. In essence, that they would have come already prepared to vote.
As for your comments about survey questions - yes, a discussion of the proposed calendar and its ramifications SHOULD have been done - for students prior to surveying AND for their parents prior to asking for input. Anything less is less than useful. Poor effort by the District.
If the teachers had an issue with the uneven semesters - which forced an unacceptable start date, the District should have been prepared to make the case for how other districts have satisfied this challenge.
As for weighing the interests of all students (K-12)- a more palatable calendar (start date) would have shown that this is possible. Again, the District should have made a better case for working with uneven semesters. They clearly failed.
Their lack of preparation set up an unnecessary angry divide. Or necessary if failure was the plan.
Posted by Elementary School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm
"you just don't get it" is saying what 90% of the no change folks will not admit. The k-8th grade parents want vacation when they want it, and the high schoolers can suffer for the rest of us. They are using all sorts of arguments, but it is really about vacation for 90% of the population (of course, other arguments have to be presented to win because the school board would approve it if it were merely this vacation issue).
Let's as K-8th grade parents be flexible and let the high schoolers have finals before xmas. We can deal with a one week move of summer.
Posted by Paly student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm
It's very interesting how few students at school even know about the entire ramifications of the calendar change.
Today, I asked roughly 20 students at school how they felt about the calendar. Only 10 of them even cared about the proposed change and the 6 of them who were in favor of "pre-break finals" had never even seen the entire schedule. When I showed it to them and told them that school would start on the 18th of August (and on the 13th a few years from now), that winter break would be the last week of december and the first week of january, that there would no longer be a three day weekend prior to 1st semester finals, that they would not get their grades back until after winter break, that they wouldn't get their 2nd semester grades until reports got mailed home as the last day of school is a teting day, only one was still in favor of the schedule. I asked the 5 who changed their minds why they had and they said the following:
-that they would no longer be able to visit their relatives as the breaks would no longer match up with other schools
-that they have no idea how they would be able to finish college apps and do winter performances at the same as studying
-that because of sports commitments their summer would end as soon as August started and that many of their major winter sports would conflict with finals
-that "the holidays would suck"
-that taking 2nd semester finals right after AP tests would be terrible. why didnt anyone tell us this in the surveys?
Also, only one of the ten students with initial opinions on the schedule even said they did any significant studying over winter break. All the other did was (if they did) study for standardized tests (SAT=x_x)
I know this in no way the most precise survey of the school body, but I was not trying to conduct a survey. I just went around asking people questions until I could find ONE person who was still in favor of the proposed calendar AFTER I showed them all the ramifications of the calendar.
The questions we are asking are not the right ones. Simply asking students "Would you prefer pre-break finals?" will not help us come to a conclusion on this matter. Students need to be presented the entire calendar, with ALL of its changes, and asked if they believe the new schedule would better suit them.
Although I am not sure about Gunn, we did have a three-day weekend prior to 1st semester finals at Paly. The two weeks after winter break and the three day weekend were more than enough for all the people I asked (the person who preferred pre-break finals believed it was better since it would make a "cleaner cut" between the semesters). If we were to do pre-break finals, students wouldn't have the 3 day weekend and many classes would be forced to cram in new material up until the very days before the finals.
I would like to point out that I did watch the School Board meeting yesterday, so I am aware of most of the arguments involved.
Posted by Rebecca Davis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm
To Gunn Junior (who posted an 1 hour ago):
Thank you for unwittingly supporting my stand that the data are faulty. I have TWO students at Gunn, and I guess you must not know either of them because they DON'T support the schedule change. And how can you claim that "Finals BEFORE winter break has long been known as being much better than after"? Again, is that a factual statement or an opinion offered without evidence?
You also completely missed the point of my remark about students who feel the need to study over the Break. I actually was praising those students who study because they enjoy the classes that they are taking. I don't actually consider them workaholics, and I'm tired of people faulting students who are high-achievers. They're either passionate about what they're learning or they have the work ethic it takes to achieve a goal they've set for themselves. If you find projects and papers such a terrible burden, what exactly is it you're trying to get from your education? And one last question -- I thought that projects due over the break were banned last year. Are teachers not following that rule?
Moving finals before Break will not affect student stress in the long term (and in the short term, the opposite seems more likely, since studying will have to be crammed into an already hectic December). Won't those tests and projects still be "hanging over your head" regardless of when they're given/due? A more successful strategy might include taking fewer AP and Honors classes, or scheduling fewer extracurriculars. I realize that a statement like that will not score "political points" with many students and parents in Palo Alto, but it's time for families to stop pointing the finger at the schools and teachers and instead take an honest look at what course load and activity level is appropriate for your particular student.
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm
As I read this thread, and previous ones, I sense, but obviously don't have real data, that there is a difference in experiences and priorities for students at Paly and Gunn. I do urge real research, surveys designed by people who understand survey research, that tries to figure out what these experiences and priorities are. This may really help us all figure out the best path ahead.
Posted by other random parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm
What it boils down too is TEACHERS making it impossible to have a calendar that would combine a reasonable date for the start of the school year with finals before winter break.
Why is it we have to give in to teachers? There are plenty of examples of high schools with semesters of different lengths? Why is it that Palo Alto teachers are so coddled that we won't even go there?
Posted by Elementary School Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm
"you just don't get it", What other reason is there for a parent of K-8 to care about the calendar change other than vacations (including, for example, daycare during that time) and concern for high schoolers, whom you did not seem concerned about?
The other concerns seem to address high schoolers including APs, apps, stress around xmas, etc.
Posted by es, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm
Oh for god's sake....Stop bellyaching everyone! People in PA want their cake and eat it too. If you don't like the schedule, take the first few days of school off, direct your prodigies to schools that value independent thinking and get off the treadmill. You want to reduce stress, but you want your kids to go to schools where they have to prove they are better than everyone else... Wake up...you think you are living in Lake Wobegon where all children are above average, all parents have PHDs and Nobel prizes and life is better than average for those who have paid to send their children to public school through paying over inflated property prices to enrich the real estate minority.
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm
Parent wrote (to my post above): "Do you really think that the district/board wanted the uproar that happened last night at the board meeting?"
Let me restate the first part of my previous post:
"You were all set up. This rancor was entirely predictable when whoever proposed this tied moving finals to these radical shifts in the calendar."
I didn't want to name names, but yes, as I said, I smell manipulation here. Let's say you're an administrator who doesn't want to lead to do something against teacher opposition and that might be a little logistically messy (unequal semesters), but you don't want to be accused publicly of failing to act in light of stressed out students and recent tragedies (you can imagine having to defend yourself in court one day).
So instead of deciding that we move finals before the break, and then asking the public whether they would prefer the district work out unequal semesters (using other schools as a guide -- I saw several that start last week of August, have finals before break, end Dec 17) or some radical calendar changes to keep equal semesters, you cover yourself by linking the change you don't want to make to the unpalatable choice you know people will reject.
As happens so often with things like this, people don't have any idea the things being proposed don't have to belong together, so they throw the baby out with the bathwater, making it unnecessary for the villain to do it.
So yes, without naming names, I think someone not only wanted this to happen, but it worked better than expected. *I* could see it coming the minute it was proposed. Like I said, the person is either clueless or manipulating the outcome that doesn't tarnish the reputation. I personally don't think we have any clueless administrators, I've frankly seen this kind of thing here before...
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:25 pm
"There were over 2 hours of arguments against the calendar change last night. It would behoove you to review them."
Were they all against the calendar change? What proportion spoke about the calendar change, or were against the move of finals because of the calendar change, versus people who wanted to refute all the evidence favoring moving finals before the break to reduce stress? The two things don't have to be linked -- doesn't sound like anyone realized that.
Posted by Teacher, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:46 pm
to other random parent: As a high school teacher, the difference in semester lengths makes a big difference when you teach semester-long classes. If it's a year-long class, there isn't a great amount of difference whether you have the finals before winter break or after. But when there is a difference of several days between the semesters and you are teaching the same course each semester, it means you have to either short-change the curriculum or else rush through it.
I'd be willing to try this proposed calendar if I didn't feel that the first-semester classes would suffer for it.
Posted by Surprised, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm
A Mom, "Were they all against the calendar change?"
Oh, yes! As I stated earlier, every single parent that spoke last night was against this initiative as well as a few high-school aged kids. Only one teacher from Gunn spoke in favor.
PP, "I vote on both the PAUSD school board and the PAUSD bonds. So what I think matters just as much as any other voter."
Not in this instance as you have no children in the district. Unless, of course, you are going to vote down a PAUSD bond because the board didn't change the calendar. Though that would then be "Very immature and stupid" to return your previous quote.
Chris, I guess "While individual behavior generally was respectful, the crowd had an impact not fully in keeping with traditional decorum in the boardroom." doesn't have the same ring as "district plan ... was -- literally -- shouted down by a group of angry parents Tuesday night"? :}
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:21 pm
If the decision is to have the first semester end before break there are only 3 ways it can be accomplished:
1) Start earlier
2) Go later into December
3) Have imbalanced semesters
I think the calendar committee chose to do a hybrid of all three. Unfortunately this led to many people being upset. Keep in mind that this is a negotiated item so #3 (imbalanced semesters) cannot happen without union approval.
Have you asked the teachers of semester classes if they are in favor of unequal semesters. My understanding is that most of them are AGAINST an imbalance greater than a few days. This led to the need to find extra days in the first semester, either in August or December.
Posted by Paly Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:23 pm
Paly and Gunn are different from most high schools in that they have many more English and Social Studies electives. Econ is a semester long class that all seniors are required to take. The same goes with US Government, Cont World History, American Classics, and Humanities (which is not mandatory but taken by a large portion of Juniors). There are also a myriad of other electives. If you look at the course catalogs at most schools with the calendar you propose, you will notice that this is not the case.
With your proposed calendar (which is similar to the one Dr. Skelly proposed at the last minute), it's really up to the teachers to see if they would be able to squeeze one semester class into 80 days and stretch the other one over 100.
Another important thing to realize, is that Palo Alto high schools stand out from most schools in the Bay Area as they are not only academically high performing, but also have many traditions (e.g. Madrigal dinner, unique assignments such as the infamous rube Goldberg physics project which took our group over 50 hours to complete over winter break, choir performances), a high involvement into performing arts and music (e.g. holiday theatrical performances), and a very large proportion of students involved in sports (which culminate in December for the winter season). Moving finals to before the break could result in the loss of many of these traditions (although I certainly wouldn't mind the termination of the Rube Goldberg project).
Posted by district teacher, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm
A Mom - You are really onto something and my experience in the district as a teacher has informed my similar take on the situation. I have suspected all along the the DO has hoped for the path of least resistance on the road to saying, 'See. We care about stress' without asking real paradigm shifting questions. ('Why do we even have finals?' 'Why not more authentic assessment?' etc.)
And to the teachers' union bashers: I got news for you - the general teacher population, i.e., non HS and/or AP teachers, were left in the dark about all of this until parents showed us the materials with the (ridiculous) data and justifications based on faulty premises that were sent home to families. We never received any info other than an email giving us the email address to where we could send input. I stayed informed via my community connections because the opportunity certainly did not come from DO. And, yes, we want the best for all kids. Also, the union has bigger issues to attend to: e.g., rising health care costs. (And, no, no one expects a free ride and we understand the crisis facing so many districts, companies, etc. with these costs so please spare me the bashing about that...)
Posted by Father of 4--one Pay grad and three incoming, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:29 pm
I find less than amusing all the nasty comments about parents who insist on August vacations (of which I am one), when all those insisting that school start in mid August are really insisting on December vacations. The dart throwers are nothing less than hypocritical, and all of their remaining arguments fall on my deaf ears.
To help relieve the stress of stressed students,which is certainly the goal given the recent suicides, there are only two calendar options that would keep both the August and December vacation lovers happy: (1) drastically shorten the first semester relative to the second and hold finals just prior to those December vacations, or (2) hold finals in late January or early February.
August is a traditional holiday month in the Northern hemisphere. For me, life is short, and I'd rather be spending time off with my kids in delightful weather than during the rainy season or windy June. I might also add that one of the best educational experiences my Paly graduate son ever hand was three weeks in Spain with me in August between his junior and senior year (Paly started after September 1 at that time). He now works for a French company, is extraordinarily happy and able in his job, and credits that trip to Spain as a significant part of his educational development. In these days of globalization, we need to be preparing our students for more than just exam taking.
Posted by Paly Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:30 pm
Also... to your first question.
Yes, most parents and all students at the board meeting were against BOTH moving finals to before the break AND against the proposed calendar.
Major reasons presented by the students towards PRE-BREAK FINALS included concerns that December would become an inconceivably stressful month (imagine having finals, college apps (or SATs for Juniors) AND one or more of the following also going on: season finals for sports, theatrical performance, publication deadline, holiday/travel preparations...
Students at the meeting were also concerned of the added stress of not receiving any of their grades until after winter break (imagine knowing for three weeks that your grade in a class has been decided but having no idea what it is!).
Concerns regarding the CALENDAR in general were many more and reflected most of what you have already read on this forum.
Posted by HS Student, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm
I agree with Father of 4. I wish we could start school in September, have finals in early February and get out mid-June. I think one month back from Winter Break is more than enough to prepare for finals and that we would really be able to appreciate summer vacation.
Plus.. virtually all of the best schools in the country don't start until September. (e.g. Whitney, Stuyvesant, Thomas Jefferson...).
Posted by district teacher, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:37 pm
And another thing... :)
Why not trimesters? Been there. Done that. Have seen it work well. And, teachers who can't see beyond having to have equal-ish semesters for courses need to think more creatively. Think of having one semester that is longer which can be an opportunity to go more deeply into topics or enriching the course with novels or other non-fiction texts. There are SO many options if all stakeholders are willing to think outside the box.
Posted by other random parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:39 pm
I still think we should go back to starting school after Labor Day and having late January finals for the first semester. Then add some summer or winter "academies" for AP students so that they cover everything before their May exam without anyone else being impacted.
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:40 pm
Father of 4 -
I agree with what you are saying. It would be interesting to look at a later Aug start and finals in Jan or early Feb, but I do wonder what that would mean in terms of AP testing. I believe that our students take a large number of AP tests (Newsweek rankings indicate this), how would a 1 or even 2 week shift to a later start date effect our AP courses. I would imagine that the same material would need to be covered before the tests are offered in early/middle May.
It would be worthwhile to hear directly from a few AP teachers (who are familiar with the pace and the curriculum).
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm
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.
If finals are in December, some of those other activities will shift, too.
As has been mentioned here, Harvard (from whence comes our illustrious superintendent) and MIT have their finals before the break, and they did it to reduce stress.
I have to disagree with your assessment that the main objection was moving finals, on its own merits. In all discussions I've seen, including the above, the main objection is the calendar change. The calendar does not have to change like that for us to move finals.
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:51 pm
Or why not move projects into January instead? That way kids can have their exams done before the break, be assigned the projects when they come back in January, and have the month to focus on the projects. The most valuable learning experiences I had in high school and college were the projects. This way exams could happen earlier but the semester could still end in January. If that doesn't work for AP classes, they could start earlier as has been suggested, and they wouldn't have to make the whole district revolve around them.
Posted by K Corbett, a member of the JLS Middle School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:52 pm
Sometimes I am not exactly proud of Palo Alto. This is one of those times. I'm one of the people who didn't go to the school board meeting because I thought it was such a no brainer to change the calendar.
Why is an experiment so bad?
We survived the 'ski week' experiment (which drove me crazy and had much worse child care issues because of the discontinuity with summer).
(By the way, I agree with the person who says she has skin in the game because she votes and pays taxes. Public school really is a public good, not just about the parents with children there at a particular moment in time.)
Posted by Inquiring Minds want to know, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:52 pm
SO... what do students and teachers at Castilleja, St. Francis, Los Altos, Mountain View, M-A, Woodside, Menlo, Sequoia, Cupertino, Burlingame, etc. DO about, feel about:
College Apps (they, too, apply (and are accepted) to the same universities as PA students)
Getting grades after finals
visiting relatives (or never visiting them again!)
How do they DO it if their calendar makes it so impossible? And why do they not want to change back?!!
To Teacher/Meadow Park - re: uneven semesters. How have your contemporaries in these other high schools dealt with uneven semesters? How has it impacted the students? Did the District investigate this and share with you? Have you inquired on your own? (I'm genuinely interested - not trying to challenge you).
Do the numbers of schools adopting pre-Break finals make you wonder or curious??? (62, and soon to be 64, of 72 public schools in SM and SC counties) At least curious enough to inquire, or pick up the phone and ask? What have they learned? How have they adjusted? Why do they enjoy their calendar so much that they don't want to return to finals in January?
The point is... it IS being done and with great success and satisfaction in over 85% of public and private schools in our 2 counties. Answers are, literally, right around the corner.
Posted by Oranges, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm
Harvard doesn't even really have finals any more so when they have the few they have doesn't inform our calendar discussion. They also have an exceptionally long dead week (2 or so weeks of no classes) to prepare for the few finals they take. And they are in class half the time our students are - even more time to study! Apples to oranges.
Google Harvard and finals and you'll find the recent Boston Globe article on this.
Posted by Oranges, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:09 pm
As for Castilleja,
If you pay $40k/year you get lots of services - including one hour one-on-one college counseling a week with 40:1 student counselor ratios (ours is something like 350:1). And those girls have the extra 2 weeks off the Fall of their senior year to get on top of all the college stuff. If this calendar passes, our students won't.
Which schools are our schools most like? Those that we are close to physically or those whose kids go to the same colleges ours do? If you think we should benchmark to local schools just because of location you are right. But most would opt to look at schools with students who have similiar college aspirations as our students do. PiE's benchmark schools and a huge percentage of CA's highest performing high schools don't have pre-break finals. Not hard to guess why.
Posted by Inquiring Minds want to know, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:34 pm
Oranges... I happen to believe that teenagers from Menlo Park, San Carlos, Atherton, Woodside, Los Altos, Mountain View, Burlingame, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino - are very much the same as Palo Alto teenagers. Students in these other communities do have the same college aspirations that "ours" do, in spite of the diversity on their campuses (I am assuming this is what you are really referring to). And it disturbs me greatly to read comments in this thread, from adults and teens alike, that PA is so unique and "special" that we cannot learn from anyone else except the PIE benchmark schools. I am embarrassed by the arrogance of suggestions that we must look all the way to Scarsdale, Edina, and Wellesley in order to find like-minded students and families or schools offering a quality education.
Such arrogance and ignorance fails our students and our community.
Posted by Paly Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, 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.
Posted by Paly Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 10:50 pm
I am not saying that Palo Alto's schools are "special" in that they are "superior" to other city's. It just happens that they have a much greater emphasis on semester long classes (Humanities, American Classics/Lit (mandatory), Humanities (widely taken), Economics (mandatory), creative writing classes, Art History, US Government and Cont World History (mandatory), and Psychology (widely taken) to name a few. All of these would be negatively affected if we were to switch to an 80/100 day schedule as many other school districts have.
Posted by bill Kelly, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm
Why not have everyone take a deep breath, and postpone the decision for a year; take a full year to survey, question, and reason what would be best for parents, teachers, students and propose a solution 8 months from now to take effect 2011-2012 school year.
that gives everyone time to adjust, schedule, complain, or just bask in the sun.
Posted by Oranges, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm
No name calling please.
By aspirations I am just referring to the types of colleges they apply to - because different types of colleges have different essay requirements (some have none) and different deadlines (some in November others January 1). Both relevant because of the stress various calendars might impose on students.
Lots of objective information out there to help you see how similar or different schools are when it comes to types of colleges kids apply to.
One that comes to mind is the PAUSD board packet which said that 90% of Mountain View and Los Altos high schoolers are done with their college aps in November because 90% of them apply only to UCs or CSUs, most which have no essays to write. Get onto Naviance and you'll see we've at least 3 times and likely lots more than that applying to private colleges; so we have 3+ times the number of students who face January 1 deadlines and write essays.
Give PiE a call and see why they selected the schools they did. Lots of thought went into it from being K-12 so having similar "one solution to please different grades" issues, similar SAT scores, etc. No one is better, no one is worse, they are just similar.
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:18 pm
I know you believe everything you are saying, and I can see you could argue any side of an issue, but that does not mean those sides are equally right in practice. I think your observation of what people favor is one-sided, too. I saw the anti's organizing leading up to that, and 30 people don't speak for the district. Again, most of them have developed an anti perspective about the finals issue because of the calendar, and the connection between the two is unnecessary.
I have the perspective of having been through high school and college (a top student at one of the top schools mentioned above), and I cannot even begin to tell you how important a life lesson it is to learn how to reduce seemingly insurmountable work into realistic work, get things done in a realistic way, and take a break.
That perspective is born out in much evidence that finals before holidays means less stress overall. Sure, you can imagine scenarios that it might not be, but in practice, it is.
Unequal semesters don't have to be challenging to people as smart as you seem to think we are. Just because semesters have a different number of days doesn't mean one has to be short-changed. It only means that if we don't have the imagination to change the way classes are structured, which shouldn't be so hard to imagine with block scheduling.
Everyone I have spoken with wants finals before the break, students and parents. But then, when I ask, I don't confuse that issue with the proposed radical calendar changes.
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:26 pm
Okay, Harvard was a nod to our fearless (?) leader. MIT has had finals before break for years; they did it to reduce stress and suicides. MIT is not alone. If you believe Wikipedia, "Most universities on the semester system have a fall semester from late August to mid-December, a spring/winter semester from early or mid-January to early or mid-May, and an optional summer session."
Posted by gunnsenior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm
I wholeheartedly support the change in schedules to before winter break. Many of my teachers give the finals before break anyway, so we might as well make it official.
Seniors at Gunn have taken multiple surveys on this issue, and the majority of us want finals before winter break. Many of my peers that did not originally support the change were not fully informed. They thought it would make the year longer, which it won't, accepting the first year. And if the Palo Alto school schedule shifts up a week, it stands to reason that most Palo Alto camps would also adjust for the week. I have participated in both in state and out of state summer camps, and none of them would conflict with the new schedule. School in Palo Alto actually gets out later than most high schools in the Bay Area, and I don't really hear any complaints from students that have finals before break. Doesn't that say something?
I mostly support shifting the schedule forward because it allows more in-class time for AP classes before the early may tests. Last year, I had a very large amount of homework over the summer that could have fit into that extra week and allowed for more enjoyment of summer programs. At schools where the majority of juniors and seniors take at least one AP class, this extra week would definitely reduce just a little bit more stress.
As regards college applications, if we leave them until December, we are going to be stressed no matter when finals are. I've done some work on them, and I still have a lot more to do. Listening to people argue about the best move for high school students some fifteen or twenty years past their own high school experiences does not really lower my stress levels... If the schedule actually changes, it stands to reason most students that worry about stress levels will spend a little more time on them in the beginning of the year.
Posted by Junior #3, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:35 pm
This is ridiculous, as far as Paly goes, both publications who are relevant to news have had editorials in favor of pre break finals. Look at the Campy and the Voice surveys and tell me that there is no basis for pre break finals, along with the fact majority of students at Paly, as well as almost everyone I know at Gunn are in favor of pre break finals.
The people pushing back on this are the parents, and elementary teachers and parents due to the lack of knowledge of how the high school system really works.
Posted by not convinced, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:05 am
I tried wading through the comments and was turned off by the negative comments about wanting high priced vacations, selfish parents, ulterior motives, set-ups, etc. Unnecessary and bad form... especially if you hope to convince anyone with your subsequent arguments.
My position: I'm an advocate for the Sept start - finals late Jan/early Feb - finish mid June.
So, imagine, I still question the fundamental premise that pre-break finals are a good thing. I have yet to see or hear truly convincing "data" that shows this to be the case at the high school level. So far, I think it just sounds like a nice concept.
Why? Northern hemisphere. I attended 3 very different high schools that had the schedule I advocate. I do not recall any stress whatsoever over the winter break, except when finishing college applications while working a part-time job to pay for the applications. I had all the extra-curriculars happening, too. I didn't know anyone who studied over winter break for high school exams in late Jan. If anything, break was a chance to catch up on sleep, see all the relatives, and maybe, at a stretch, peck away at a book or paper to avoid having to clean the house. We had 180 days of school.... and if school was closed due to a snowstorm, we had make-up days added in June.
Bottom line - My only memorable stress was doing a good job on my college applications. Exams were not a factor because they were in late Jan. The associated grades/final transcripts for those classes were sent to the universities long after they had decided the fate of the application.
College was completely different... appropriately so, because it was college. Away from home, it was much easier to focus, study, and get it all done before going home for winter break. The break was long... so much so, that we would have been in serious trouble to take exams after the holidays. For me, it was fantastic until grad school... which had... finals after winter break. That was when it was stressful and tremendously difficult to get back on track after such a long break.
Even though this is not a university calendar being proposed by the district, it sure looks like one based on my personal experiences. I think comparing a calendar for a k-12 student to what works for a university student is misguided.
Many earlier posts mentioned the lull in late Jan. Yes! it's the perfect time of year to study, because the weather is often cold/rainy and less alluring to being outside... and no distracting holidays either. Imagine that. I guess I'm firmly in the camp that likes spreading out deadlines vs going out with a bang.
So, if the fundamental premise of pre-break finals is just a nice concept but creates new/different stresses to the same or even broader community, it is important to recognize that it is a flawed premise. And if the premise is flawed, then the question of different length semesters may no longer be a question.
Am I an expert? No. But I'm waiting for the "experts" to present a compelling argument that's more than just a nice concept.
Posted by Inquiring Minds want to know, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:09 am
Oranges... my point was that these other schools have valuable experience and information to share about making the adjustment to finals before winter break (with regard to sports, uneven semesters, holiday performances, child care, and all the other valid questions and concerns Palo Altans are raising).
If your point is that local public schools have vastly different numbers of students applying to private universities (apples and oranges), I would suggest that private high schools like Menlo, Castilleja and St. Francis might be helpful to guide us with the college app concern.
Should we not ask these other schools at all? This is what I read your post to suggest - and this is what I was reacting to.
There are numerous indicators that we could be looking at and comparing/benchmarking - beyond API scores, where students apply, etc. We could (and should) be looking at student health indicators as well.
As Paly Student's post clearly points out, our students are in an extremely demanding school environment - and in his/her case one with little hope or faith that teachers/schools would be willing to make any shifts to accommodate the proposed calendar. It's no wonder that he/she is concerned about adding one more thing (let alone finals) to this mix. Very concerning.
Posted by student/parent/teacher, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 2:10 am
When I was a student, I HATED having finals after the Xmas break. Those exams and stress associated with them hung over my head the entire holiday. Of course, I had to study and write papers during my vacation; consequently, I never felt as though I could relax and enjoy the time off. I certainly didn't have much time before the break to have fun either.
When I became a parent, I was very aware of the 'blight' that exam prep and exam nerves cast over our holiday. I really wished that exams would take place before the break so that we could relax and take a trip without worrying about schoolwork.
When I became a teacher, I also wished that exams would be over before Xmas break since I wanted to be free from preparing exam materials. Happily, I now work for a school that does finish the semester before the break.
Starting school earlier in August is a sensible idea. During the time I was at university, our system changed to having finals before the break. Wow, we all loved that. We could really relax, which we needed to do to release stress.
Education is not about fitting in school with parents' vacation plans or students' ideas about having time for 'fun' before the break. Education needs to be a priority. It is far less stressful to start a semester a little earlier and complete it before the break. Too bad if it does suit the parents; they can learn to work around it.
Our students are so stressed and overworked that it is absurd. Let them have a break.
One more thought. How about switching to year round school? Some schools have adopted that system with good results.
Posted by Oranges, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 6:56 am
Just tell me this - when the school board, superintendent, student surveys, and neighboring districts all say that there is no "real" break to be had with pre-break finals because passionate teachers will still assign work over break (remember most are year long classes, many are APs that have lots of ground to cover, some are the infamous physics class with the 50+ hour Goldberg project, and pre-break finals MVLA and Fremont Union teachers do), how will where we place finals make a difference?
Since all admit that there is no "real break" to be had under any scenario, the whole underlying objective for this calendar change flies out the window.
So what we are left with is:
- K-12 kids who are on vacation when their parents are not, and
- Seniors loaded up with important finals in THE most stressful semester of their K-12 years.
If you want families to support developmental assets, you are deceiving yourself to think that this calendar creates an environment where we can because it undermines:
- Family time and
- For high school students a "caring school community"
all which kids need to build those assets.
All for what again? The "real" break that everyone admits won't happen.
There are plenty of pre-break finals schools which battle with children's mental health issues and suicide. Check out Terra Linda High School, one of PAUSD's heralded pre-break finals schools, which was in the news recently.
Like someone above said, the sound bite sounds good. But we are a much smarter community than that and we owe it to our kids to pull this proposal apart to see what really will and won't happen under it. It is not right or kind to experiment on children. The cost, as we know too well in our community, is way too high if we get this one wrong.
So as much as we wish a school calendar will save our children from harm, it will not. The solution is much more difficult and changing the calendar deceives us by allowing us to believe we are doing something and giving us permission to sit back when we should really be doubling up our efforts to find solutions that do work.
Posted by working mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 7:47 am
I have had kids in the PAUSD for 20 years and have 7 more to go!! I have always found a way to juggle child care, vacations and stress but I still would prefer the Tuesday after Labor Day start. Sport practices, school pictures, orientation etc really ate in to the summer time this
year and many camps are eliminated from possibilities with such an early start. Also, if summer school still runs that won't leave any time for summer down time. Late January finals
around all the winter holiday breaks like MLK day would give plenty of time to study.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:24 am
Comparing High School to College in regards to finals is perhaps not comparing apples to oranges but apples to pears.
College students on average take less classes than a Palo Alto high school student therefore they have less number of finals. Their classes are not all crammed into the 8 - 3 timespan but generally more divided during the day and the actual number of hours they spend in classrooms for each class are less. In other words, they can spend the hours they choose to study for finals spread out at their own schedule rather than one put on them from a high school 8 - 3 schedule.
College students are also less likely to be at home with family commitments. They are less likely to be involved with outside college activities. Both these reasons mean that it is most likely that dead week before finals means that all their outside/social commitments will not be happening. High school students on the other hand will have family commitments and many of their outside school commitments will continue regardless of finals and to some extent will increase in December.
Also, college students are a couple of years older. At that stage they can cope with less sleep and disruptions to routine better than a young teenager. They tend to be able to focus on studies much better and since generally speaking they have chosen classes that interest them much more likely than high school students with several mandatory subjects, studying and staying focused on their studies tend to be easier.
Most college students say stress at college is easier than high school from my experience and when I ask some that I know what they mean, then these are the reasons they cite.
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:30 am
wm..the whole calendar shifts, so there is still the same amount of time off.
the point is not to increase the amount of time "available to study" such as over MLK, the point is to teach the kids to take a
FULL STOP REST
and let them reap the benefits of actually experiencing this very bizarre, apparently to many folks, concept.
I am stunned by how many parents prefer to prevent their kids from learning this valuable lesson. A real break increases the ability to be resilient for the rest of the year, allowing a "recharging" time for body and mind ( and spirit, for those inclined to include such considerations)
To have to fight so hard for your kids to experience this simply amazes me.
I guess if the Board is going to be driven by who shows up at a meeting instead of what is right to do and how many of us have been saying for at least 5 years that our kids need a real rest at winter break ( what do you think drove the whole, failed, no homework over winter break "solution??)....those of us who have had kids go through our system and who support changing to a real break are going to have to
at the next Board Meeting.
Disappointing, really, that 30 folks show up to protest what has been a well known solution to a well known issue ..and the Board allows the plan to be derailed.
30 folks...the rest of us assumed that it was a "done deal" after thousands of kids having gone through anxiety and depression and exhaustion over the last few years when this started rising on the radar.
Do we have to mount a "counter" rally, gather signatures etc? Can't busy, working parents who don't have the time to gather signatures, go to rallies, show up for 6 hour Board meetings, etc, ...can't we simply let the Board do its job, vote and be done with it?
Posted by To Oranges, a resident of the Esther Clark Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:45 am
Oranges said "All for what again? The "real" break that everyone admits won't happen".
You negated your entire post with this one statement. Any teen NOT taking a real rest at Winter Break is either being pushed by parents ( can't prevent that on the PAUSD level) or has chosen to do his/her college apps over winter break.
That is it.
So I have no clue what you are trying to say.
The reality is that this is about some folks not wanting to give up another week of their August vacation. That is a separate argument, the WAY the semester is ended before Winter Break is a different issue from simply. stopping. the. PAUSD. sanctioned. push. to. work. without. a. rest. for. 10. months.
No quality company pushes its employees that hard, why do we think our teens can manage this tremendous, non-stop work load, which is frankly more stressful than our college kids experience?
I am both amazed and appalled at there being even a hint of using reasons other than to let our teens take a rest to argue this point. If there was anything to support that this would increase the stress of most of our kids more, then I would oppose it. But all data on workaholism and its effects on physical and mental health, as well as common sense from parents, esp those who have "been there, done that", should be driving us to decrease our depression and suicide risk by giving our kids a REST.
Posted by 5 more years of skin in this game, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:59 am
I get that your kids found themselves thinking about schoolwork over their winter breaks, and you didn't like it.
But why don't you get that a lot of others of us have high school kids who have no problem relaxing over break, that we've taught them how to take a full-stop-rest, and a more hectic fall would cause more stress than it would relieve?
Why won't you listen to the experts who actually have done research, and the Paly student rep to the board who was speaking from his own experience and that of his classmates--they've identified that something that would really help these kids out is more sleep (the student rep expressed an interest in more 3-day weekends for sleep catchup, even if it extended school into June (and that was June, not August)? It really doesn't appear that the placement of finals, in this district, is the best way to address anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. Why don't you challenge the board to find a solution that helps all the high school students? Finals before break does not.
Why aren't you willing to let the district consider the needs of their kids, and the effects of a calendar change on all children in the district, not just high school students?
And why don't you realize that the board wasn't just responding to the parents at the meeting, but that those parents simply put a face on the vast numbers of emails received. The meeting may have been emotional, but what the parents really were doing was asking the board to look at the facts, all the facts, and make a decision based on those, not some "feeling" that finals before the break would just be super duper for everyone. The board looked at the data, and the lack of data in some cases, and made a data-based decision. They did their job.
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:10 am
Me: "I vote on both the PAUSD school board and the PAUSD bonds. So what I think matters just as much as any other voter."
You: "Not in this instance as you have no children in the district. Unless, of course, you are going to vote down a PAUSD bond because the board didn't change the calendar."
I presume you consider what happens there beyond just what your own kids get out of it. Public schools are a public good, and if you are only thinking in terms of what is best for your own kids, then you are doing a disservice to your community.
Likewise, if PAUSD doesn't listen to all of its funders and voters--and that is the entire tax and voting base: senior citizens, empty nesters, young families, certain college students, absentee landlords, and yes, private school parents. It stops being a *public* good and starts just being a grant system for competing interests.
I would prefer not to fund such a beast. So if it came to that, yes, I would vote against a school bond for the first time in my life. Not over the school calendar (which is really just a tempest in a teapot), but because if something stops even attempting to be a public good, the public should stop paying for it.
I would hope Palo Alto is better than that. But it's not looking good.
Posted by one size does not fit all, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:30 am
Gunn mom, who supported this calendar change " 4 years ago, when this was suggested by the Stressed out Student group, run by Stanford (now called Challenge Success)"
Challenge Success should stop lobbying for this calendar idea, they are apparently stuck on the theory that their calendar suggestion will make any difference on stress, but it's too minor and silly a move to make a difference compared for example to eliminating finals altogether. and there is a theory the calendar change could boost stress.
this issue is both about about minority/majority, but also that one size does not fit all
as a Paly parent poster suggested on the thread Finals before winter break: Is there a better way?
"I would urge the board to go back to a traditional calendar in terms of start and stop dates and breaks. This calendar does not need to "place" finals in order to be approved. And then spend some time looking at the various options for when finals could be held, consider the pros and cons of all--do it separate from setting the calendar, and take the time to figure out the best option. Doing it this way, could solve a lot of the issues at hand--seniors, perhaps, might have finals in January, a better match with their needs, other classes could figure out how best their needs are met. Maybe one size on finals doesn't fit all."
Posted by Surprised, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:33 am
"Do we have to mount a "counter" rally, gather signatures etc? Can't busy, working parents who don't have the time to gather signatures, go to rallies, show up for 6 hour Board meetings, etc, ...can't we simply let the Board do its job, vote and be done with it?"
What a crock! FYI the majority of parents in the district don't want this calendar change. There is NO parental push for it.
Oh, and to say busy, working parents dont' have the time to attend....working parents who can't attend are more likely to be against the calendar than for it! This calendar reduces family time across the whole district. Of the few parents there I recognized, I know both parents in the families work. Amazing how they found time to stand up for what is right for their kids.
As you've noted, you have no skin in the game so don't try to tell us what is best for our kids.
Posted by Mike, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:50 am
Quarters versus semesters work to solve this and several other issues.
Not only does the first quarter of the school year end before Christmas, but the quarter system provides four equal periods in the year, so that summer can become an equal time slot for any programs being offered.
Many colleges including my undergrad school have been on the quarter system for years-it works.
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 9:55 am
In other words, "Shut up and pay."
Sorry, a quality public school system in Palo Alto is very much in my financial interest. It's also conceivable that before all my kids are through school I'll need to switch them back to public for whatever reason. Having a good option there is also very much in my interest. And because I pay taxes and vote, I expect PAUSD to listen to me just like any one else.
But beyond that, I actually care that the community gets this right. Community-minded people look beyond just their own immediate interests. If the school system doesn't use tax-payer's money wisely, then the tax-payers should stop writing checks.
I know looking beyond my own kids' immediate needs is so gauche here in Palo Alto. But I'll live.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:29 am
Does anyone remember what it's like to be a high school senior? I had December finals in my school -- at the same time as I was applying to college, performing in the holiday orchestra concert, and preparing to go away for the holidays. In my life to this date, including now, as a parent, I have never been so stressed out! I have asked a handful of high schoolers I know about the change, and I have heard a couple "I don't really care" replies as well as a few "no way -- I'm in X play or Y concert" responses. We'd have to have a full-scale cultural shift to move plays and performances and such away from testing time, and everyone knows that's not going to happen. (And yes, academics are more important, but should they come at the expense of things, like music and drama, that kids enjoy?)
Further, please don't assume we elementary students aren't thinking down the line to high school. I am. I would not want my senior to be under that pre-Christmas schedule. With a lot of pre-holiday festivities, my kid would forgo more fun studying then than she will during break -- a time when I can see that she's well-rested, fed, and cared for as she studies with ample free time in each day. I like the idea of some studying over break and can't see how that takes away since it's not like a kid is "on" and engaged with family every minute of every day.
The fact of the matter is that TEACHERS are to blame here; they assign work over the break despite the fact that there is supposed to be none -- and then our administrators fail to hold them accountable. How about putting jobs on the line over that (and no, I'm not kidding)? Teachers need to embrace change, and, instead, we empower them so much with their unbreakable tenure that we're at their mercy. The best thing that would happen to the PAUSD would be to end its relationship with teachers' unions. Then we could even extend the school day, something I think a lot of parents would like. Hmmm...
Posted by Private Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:30 am
You sound like an involved person. Did you help out with measure A last spring?
When it was on the ballot, I got plenty of literature telling me just how vital it was that even people without kids in PAUSD vote for it. Both phone calls and flyers. A couple of friends made it a point to go out of their way to tell me just how much my support mattered. (for example, take a look at Web Link)
I believe them, and agree, and voted for it, and probably will vote for the next one too.
Now that you have my money, you want me to go crawl under a rock?
As I have said before, this whole debate is way overblown. Many, many successful school districts have finals before winter break, and many, many successful school districts have finals after winter break. I wouldn't choose to stop supporting PAUSD over this trivial issue.
But if you really want people without kids in the district to butt out, then try to be consistent during the next ballot measure.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:32 am
Start after Labor Day. Finals in late January or early February. Run an AP Academy for the those who need/want it.
December exams, sports championships, holiday performances and art showings - anyone think about how the stress level will be during the Thanksgiving break? More stress in a shorter time span - now that's efficiency!
The rest of the world goes on holiday in August...
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:40 am
There are some interesting posters here.
They insist we can't learn from all of the many other local, high quality schools who have made the transition to pre-break finals and say it has reduced stress, because we are soooo different and somehow we lack the intelligence to make small adaptations.
They insist we can't learn from colleges and universities like MIT that use pre-break finals to reduce stress, because (get this) they argue our high schools are uniquely different and harder than all the other high schools and colleges out there. So hard, we must need stress reduction, but too hard to do what so many others have done to reduce that stress.
So, we've taught these kids how to argue themselves into a box but not to solve problems.
Move finals before the break and make January a project month! (And keep the calendar close to the way it is -- you can teach the same material in fewer days without compromising quality with adjustments to the block scheduling. Don't take me word for it -- decide that's the thing to do, and FIGURE OUT how to do it, because we aren't the first.)
Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:52 am
We need to reduce stress in this district.
Moving finals to before the holidays reduces stress, there is considerable empirical evidence that it does, considerable evidence from schools who have made this change to reduce stress and no evidence that schools go back to post-break finals after they make this move.
We don't like the calendar changes? I don't like them either. Let's figure out how to move finals before the break, keep a roughly equivalent calendar to what we have now, and make unequal semesters work instead, like so many other schools have. We CAN do that. All this high level education, there ought to be a few people who can figure it out.
Too many posters on this list don't seem to know the difference between what we CAN'T do and what we CAN.
We CAN'T travel faster than the speed of light (yet).
We CAN'T escape the gravity of a black hole (or get to one -- yet).
We CAN'T live without water or oxygen.
We CAN move finals to before the break, keep a reasonably similar calendar to the one we have, and figure out how to make unequal duration semesters work, because we are smart enough to figure it out.
Posted by Oranges, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:07 am
Read my post carefully:
"...when the school board, superintendent, student surveys, and neighboring districts all say that there is no "real" break to be had with pre-break finals because passionate teachers will still assign work over break (remember most are year long classes, many are APs that have lots of ground to cover, some are the infamous physics class with the 50+ hour Goldberg project, and pre-break finals MVLA and Fremont Union teachers do), how will where we place finals make a difference?"
Posted by Marie, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 11, 2010 at 11:57 am
Dear Resident of Another P.A. Neighborhood,
Parents in this community work their kids 24/7 with music/choir camps, Saturday Schools, sports, SAT prep classes, and AP classes. The kids of Palo Alto need a union to protect them from their neurotic parents.
If we teachers did not have a union, we would be at the mercy of fools like you. Oh, my!
Posted by Surprised, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm
PP, you're going around in circles. I'll just re-post my previous response to your same comment:
"Not in this instance as you have no children in the district. Unless, of course, you are going to vote down a PAUSD bond because the board didn't change the calendar. Though that would then be "Very immature and stupid" to return your previous quote."
Palo Alto Mom, the folks on the board with children in private schools were questioned very closely on that exact topic during the election. You'll also know they had other children that were not in private school so you are being disingenuous.
Posted by Former Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm
I'm so sick of the argument "less family time". There won't BE less family time, whether you wokr or not, because the school days are the same--180 days regardless. You can still have family vacations during the end of June and July, Spring Break, and Winter Break (which can be a week longer). Unless you have family commitments from the third week of June to the Second week of Augusts, your vacation plans can change--and will probably be cheaper, because the earlier you fly in June, the cheaper it is.
As for school commitments, I think everyone is forgetting that the extracurricular revolve around the school calender, not the other way around. I was in choir and did theater, as well as the newspaper. Its foolish to assume that these things take precedence of math and science classes. We can move production week and performances. That is no big deal and little to no hassle at all.
As for seniors and college apps. They will get out on the 22nd, can relax on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th, and then if they have some applications remaining, they could potentially do them within that last week. True, we shouldn't force students to do the apps early, but they still have some time during break to finish up, time that might have to be divided into doing other school projects/readings/etc. if they have finals after break. Furthermore, what about the college applications due later in January? When I applied, I know several schools had January 15th (or so) as the due date. That conflicts with finals now, but nobody has brought it up yet.
It could work out. I don't know why so many people are opposed to just trying it. Do we really think that Palo Alto is that different from the other schools in the area? The only difference I can see is in terms of ego.
Posted by 5 more years of skin in this game, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm
former student--if you'd been following the discussion, you'd see that the point made about less family time concerns that fact that many working parents need to take vacations during slow business periods, not intense ones, which are in Aug and Dec, not June and Jan. By shifting school breaks out of the slower periods, you cut into family time.
You might also notice that people who refer to extracurricular activities aren't just talking about school sponsored events--many students in the arts participate in organizations not sponsored by the school.
Do you really think students can write college essays in 5 days (recognizing that those who wait until the last day to submit can face real computer problems), including getting the feedback they might have gotten during December, when they were focused instead on finals? Not likely. Instead, those last apps will either be rushed, or simply triaged out. You might say kids are doing too many apps, but this isn't a good way to address that concern, either.
People are opposed to "just trying it" because they don't want to experiment on their children without solid evidence that more people will be helped than will be hurt.
Posted by A Parent, a resident of Mountain View, on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm
No matter what the decision, it will not please everyone. While some of you have valid points, they tend to pertain to your own personal routines and preferences rather than what is good for our educators and our students. You try to cram a full curriculum into a short semester.....
Taking vacation and family time out of the education equation, there are really only 5 issues that matter for the fall semester.
1) Equalling the amount of time for each sememster.
2) Providing teachers with enough time to adequately teach the material without having to short change the students in some areas.
3) Allowing students to have enough time to learn the material (remember, not everyone learns in the same way or at the same speed), study for their exams and complete their projects by the end of the semester.
4) Complete their college apps/essays (Sr's only). This is a moving target as each school has different dates and requirements, so it really should be moved out of the equation.
5) Minimizing stress for all students, but expecially the high schooler as it is their grades that matter most.
Even if the calendar was still adjusted, but to starting later (after Labor Day), with finals obviously after the holiday break and later than they are currently, it would still cause issues. In order to get in the required number of education hours, the school year would have to end later (mid to late June), cramping other people's schedules and style. Either way, people are not going to like it.
I envy the parent who was able to take their child with them to Spain during August. Yes, an invaluable education, but this is not the norm. We all know much of Europe shuts down the month of August for holiday, but valuable lessons and experiences can also happen in June and/or July.
Get over it folks, CHANGE happens, CHANGE can be good. Think about our kids and their education for a CHANGE. Hey, CA education is still not the greatest compared to other parts of the US, so maybe it's time to CHANGE how things are done. Check with other cities to see how the earlier/pre-holiday exams has worked for them, what some of the problems were if any, and how they worked through them. No reason to re-invent the wheel.
While there are some independent minded students, most still tend to emulate the thoughts of their parents. So parents get off your soapbox and let the educators do their BEST for our kids. Try it for a few years (one is NOT enough), and I'll bet most of you will wonder why it wasn't done before.
While this PA issue has ruffled my feathers and got me voicing my 2 cents worth, I thank my lucky stars that I decided to make my home a little further south.
Posted by Former Student, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm
5 More Years
It really depends on the work of the parents. I work at a law firm, and we tend to be busier in November-December and May. Will they work good for everyone? No, I'm not suggesting that. I just know that not every company has its peak busy time at the same time--it depends on project due dates, etc. We can't work around that.
The extracurriculars still work around the schedule. The Children's Theatre, PACO, PASA, etc. all will chance if the schools change, because they are designed to fit the students needs and the time constraints set upon them. These things will change their schedules if PAUSD changes.
We are still only talking a handful of apps due Jan. 1. Many are due in November and January, and essays can revised to fit other guidelines. Additionally, most seniors start work on the essays when the school year starts--there was a thread recently discussing this, but certainly when I was at Paly, the first part of senior year English class (and I was in two English classes, and both of them did this) was spent working on college essays. The essays are started in September; they might need to be revised, but they should be ready to go by late December.
And what if this actually helps? Isn't it worth a try? Strange how Palo Alto is willing to test out MI and the like, but when we have solid evidence in how this helping in neighboring communities, we ignore it. This isn't an experiment with kids--kids in Mountain View and Menlo Park and Atherton are fine. The testing has been done. Unless you are suggesting that Palo Alto kids are so different from kids on the other side of San Antonio road (which, unfortunately, most people seem to think is the case), this isn't an experiment at all.
Posted by RWE, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 6:19 pm
This is what happens when we appoint school boards to run K-12. Most Board members mean well, but they are generally clueless about the realities of education - from many perspectives. Can you imagine if a medical school was subject to policy from a citizen Board? Palo Alto and the rest of America need to give school back to teachers (not administrators) and principles. They know what works, and they know what works better than any one of the other parties involved, including parents. Let the professionals do their job.
Posted by compromised experiment, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm
Why can't we implement a compromised experiment?
What if we keep the old schedule for another year, but ask the teachers of all the year-long classes to give first semester finals before break while leaving the finals of the semester-long classes in January? There should be no problem for a year-long class to cover 5 chapters in the first semester and 7 chapters in the second semester, as long as all materials are covered at the end.
This way, we can get honest feedback from students who have had the actual experience.
Posted by one size does not fit all, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 8:50 pm
"Hey, CA education is still not the greatest compared to other parts of the US, so maybe it's time to CHANGE how things are done. Check with other cities to see how the earlier/pre-holiday exams has worked for them, what some of the problems were if any, and how they worked through them. No reason to re-invent the wheel."
it's the local CA schools that have the proposed calendar, so we would change to the CA way. East coast schools would never give up August just to "change"
Posted by not convinced, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm
' East coast schools would never give up August just to "change" '
made me chuckle for the first time this whole thread. It's so true. I can't even imagine an East coast school community spending this amount of time and energy on something that is a no brainer. And worries over classes during the hottest months? We live in a climate paradise.
All this discussion reminds me of rearranging furniture. Don't put the sofa in front of the doorway, don't put all the seating on one side of the room, etc. There are some pretty basic rules for arranging it all but they're being ignored as if some magical arrangement will ensure that you'll never bang your shin on the coffee table again.
There are more fundamental issues at play that are being ignored completely. These issues are much harder to address and moving around a calendar will not resolve the underlying problems.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 12, 2010 at 1:36 am
My freshman was stressing out on Veteran's Day holiday because of having a math test the next day and the general workload due for the next week. He stressed so much than he was unproductive for most of the day. For those of you who claim that students don't study during Winter Break, perhaps they don't, but are they stress-free? Maybe the lesser students don't care, but the conscientious ones are probably stressing during Winter Break, knowing that they should be studying for final exams, yet trying to have a break.
People move to Palo Alto for the reputation of the schools. Academics and the well-being of our children should have priority over the calendar. The excuses for not changing the calendar have been pathetic and narrow-minded.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:43 am
East coast schools would not change - I agree, based on my 40 years in the northesast such a thing wouldn't even be considered in a similar district back east, as things like school calendar are considered long settled (John Adams or Ben Franklin probably drew up the first one).
But that is what I like about California. The change might be right or wrong, but it is being considered and, by many around us, tried. Those who have tried it seem to prefer it. It might not work, in which case we can change back, but it might be a real improvement - we find out if we try.
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 6:08 am
Perhaps the problem is that workaholics perpetuate workaholism as a value..., and workaholics are fighting the chance to give the kids a real rest.
There is a difference between a value for work and achievement ( work engagement) and workaholism, the compulsive need to be always "on" and striving for every extra minute to achieve perfection. There is an increasing body of research to sort the two out, but so far consistent with "common wisdom", which is that non-stop work and near obsessive focus on work when not actually "working" have a big negative effect on physical and mental health.
We had adopted, many years ago, a focus on mental health in our district.
What is one easy "fix" for our stressed out kids who are caught up in the drive to achieve? Force a winter school real rest on them, so they learn that we, as a district, and as a community, support taking a REST.
Teach the value of life-balance through action, not meaningless words. Shut down the avenue of non-stop work sanctioned by the District. Stop being co-dependent on this ride of "-ism", like buying the bottle for the drunk while telling him to stop drinking.
Not only does it give the most stressed kids a real rest, allowing them to recharge, with AP exams and SATS coming in April and May,it allows the most stressed kids to complete most of their semester before those tests, instead of forcing kids to really gallop until then.
Why not just bite the bullet? I see no valid reason not to, if we exclude "August" vacation concerns. All else will sort itself out..camps, scheduled theater/performing arts activities, etc.
Posted by EcoMama, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 8:43 am
I keep coming back to this question: regardless of when finals take place, why are kids doing homework or studying over break? Whether it's the physics project, finals, AP work or anything else, point the finger where it belongs: at the teachers who are barred specifically from assigning work over the holiday break. The teachers are not being held accountable for what they're doing wrong here! WHY are they untouchable? How about taking on the source of the problem meaningfully since, if you don't, kids will work over break no matter when finals are held. This change will be meaningless if teachers aren't made to follow the rules -- for I envision a scenario where finals occur before break, then more work is piled on for completion over break. And what will that have resolved? Not. A. Thing.
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 9:31 am
Ecomama: You are correct. If finals are held before winter break, but the semester doesn't end until the 3rd week in January...follow the bouncing ball re: the natural conclusion. A shortened first semester completion of materials, AND projects/homework etc due after break.
No help for anything at all..neither brings the academic calendar in line with AP tests and SAT exams, nor gives the kids a real rest over winter break.
I truly hope a very small minority of parents aren't allowed to shout down this much needed, common sense change to the message we are sending our kids.
Choice: keep supporting workaholism...or not.
We have to get off this institutional co-dependent cycle.
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 9:34 am
to "you just don't get it"..
having raised kids through all their ages by now, I fail to see how changing the calendar means you lose family time with your 6 and 8 year old. And yes, I have read through every comment carefully, and only can scratch my head over how this takes away family time from any kid with his parents.
In fact, it gives back family time to teens in high school, without taking away family time at all from any other grade.
Posted by k, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:06 am
How about this revolutionary idea: go ahead and let the finals be after break but don't put pressure on your kids so they can relax.
My kids are going though Palo Alto Schools, as did I. I no longer have an elementary age kid, and I have one in college. All of them are responsible about their homework, have high B GPA's, and understand that they are not their grades. They understand that life is a balance between work and play, and we plan out breaks so they can get done what they want to get done, and so that we can spend the bulk of our time having fun, spending time together and celebrating traditions. High school is not THAT hard, that you have to spend your entire break studying. My goal for my kids is that they will always try their best, and know that that is good enough. If they choose to take AP and Honors classes, as one of mine does, that is their choice and I will support them and adjust our family activities accordingly.
Your kids are smart, they can make choices, and they are usually very well supported by the teachers so that they know what they need to do to get a good grade. Let them own their achievement, and let them choose how much to study. They get enough pressure from their peers and the worlds expectations, let the family break be a time to support them as humans and give them unconditional love.
There is so much more to life than getting a 4.0, your child is so much more than their grade, and they will survive and thrive if they go to some school that is not Harvard or Stanford.
Posted by not convinced, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:13 am
I think pointing fingers is only effective if those fingers point to everyone in the community. Teachers who give big assignments/projects/exams/etc will say that this is demanded by the parents & students.... whether it's to challenge, differentiate, excel, whatever... we live in a competitive world where opportunities to make boatloads of money are going increasingly either to Wall St or overseas. So, bring on the work - AP classes, arts, sports, charity, etc. After all, technology has made it possible to be so much more efficient and productive with our time. We need our students to be ready as future world leaders.
Furthermore, the community is made up of highly educated people who are very busy, who have high expectations of the children, and who are uncomfortable with idleness. Hence, there are an enormous number of activities, programs, camps and the like, for students to develop into well-rounded individuals by the time they apply to college (as opposed to making it a lifelong journey).
All this tends to create highly scheduled lives for individual students, compounded with the schedules of their families, compounded yet again with the schedules of all the families in the school community. Projects that require student teams to work together for 50+ hours strike terror in my heart just trying to imagine the scheduling. (Perhaps between the hours of 1-3am for a month?) The fact that many people need to block out time to think, pray, or relax is deeply disturbing.
I come back to the need to reflect on how the schools are held to a high standard by the very involved and educated community where failure is not an option. So, I think the school teachers are giving the parents & students what they wanted - a challenging curriculum. The fact that it may be more difficult than college is brushed aside. The fact that top universities want a diverse student population (and would never accept that many students from one city no matter how qualified) is also ignored. This is a community filled with lots of big fish from small ponds.... it's just that we're all in a small pond now. It's not so pretty.
Rearranging the school calendar will not resolve the underlying issues; it's just rearranging the furniture. Until we are willing to get rid of the 3rd or 4th sofa in the room to live with less clutter, until we are willing to say 'no' and live with the consequences, the stress will continue.
Posted by jb, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm
Less snotty this time. AS I read these posts, I wonder if people can weather the current change and spend it considering some changes that are farther afield? A good next experiment seems to be the
1. Finals moved to late Jan or early Feb. with a school year from Labor day to early or mid June.
2. How about a December break that only goes from Dec. 23 or 24 to Jan 2. This could allow a few more days of instruction before and an early resumption after the holiday for dead week, presentations, etc. This would be hard on the kids in the arts, as I read above.
3. What if hard, high-value courses were only given during the longer semester? Classes that could be presented in the fall allotment of days would only be offered in the fall. Ditto the classes that could benefit from the extra days in the winter/spring semester.
3. How about some courses be offered on a block schedule that could include the extra hours required. Other classes could be offered with the 50-min per day time slot. If "short" classes were offered during the longer spring semester, perhaps they only meet two or three days per week. That way a student might take 4 classes some semesters and 6 or 7 during other terms.
3a. I realize that this might limit the AP classes possible in the study list. Could that be a blessing in disguise? Is it possible for able and ambitious students to add a class from Foothill into their AP aspirations? I don't know what the accreditation problems might be there.
4. About the student homework load, what if "preps" were changed to "study hall" as we had when I was in school. On the unscheduled hours we reported to "study hall" where roll was taken and we worked on homework, projects. When my kids had preps, I was aghast at the ways to waste time I heard about. I suspect the universal timewasters of Facebook and other computer diversions might be cut back also. Can the kids still use the computers in the libe for those things?
I think that parents who are determined to "rejigger" the school year might enlist some staff in discussions of some wider ranging possibilities to even out the load of the school year.
Best of luck in these negotiations. My own kids are now discovering they can't make it in the world without a masters degree. There continue to be more opportunities to get it right than you believe in right now.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm
@You just don't get it: Your 6 & 8 year olds have PLENTY of time to spend with family. All elementary school children have plenty of time because they have no or little homework or studying. Enjoy it while it lasts because when they reach high school, if they care about their grades, you will be screaming for less stress in their lives. You are the one who doesn't "get it" because you have not lived it yet. Very narrow-minded.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Nov 12, 2010 at 11:50 pm
@You just don't get it:
I don't work. I wouldn't live in Palo Alto if I had to work for financial reasons. I'd move elsewhere so we could afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom. Or I would have saved up money before having children so I could take time off to raise them. Children want their moms to be home for them, even when they are past elementary school.
Your kids need a lot of sleep, more than most children.
The weekends are for spending more time with family and the Winter Break should be time to spend with family too, rather than studying for exams or doing homework.
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2010 at 6:13 am
Sigh: Again, for those of you blessed with mellow kids who aren't perfectionist overachievers ...bully for you! In the meantime, you may as well be taking " I am such a great parent" credit for not having kids who are otherwise disabled also.
For those kids who are "born that way" ( no...stop blaming parents, some of us did all we could to chill our kids out and simply couldn't in this environment) imagine having a high-risk, overachieving, perfectionist kid who simply can't stop thinking/worrying about what is "next" whenever there is a "next".
Bottom line, a semester than ends after winter break is a "next"..in projects, homework, finals.
Just end the semester before winter break, and then everyone is supported in teaching a work-life balance by the school district itself.
As long as our district supports non-stop work, some of our kids will work non-stop, and there is nothing any parent can do to lessen that anxiety/exhaustion.
PAUSD, help parents teach balance. We can't do it if there is this co-dependent "give the alcohol to a drunk but tell them not to drink" mentality in our district.
As for the comment "it worked for you, why do you want to take it away from us?"...no, it did NOT work for us..that is why I am trying to tell those of you behind me to stop and think. I can't go into details for the sake of privacy of my family, but try to extrapolate a bit.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2010 at 9:47 am
Some people, kids included, get stressed more than others. It could be said that some strive for stress.
Teens get stressed about whatever is going on in their lives. Some get stressed about their parents, their friends, their zits, their money (or lack of it), their sports, their relationships and also their homework/studies/school.
To a person who thrives on stress in their lives it can help them to achieve their goals. To a person who worries about stress, it can turn them to a life of therapists and medication. To these people, if you attempt to take one stress out of their lives, they will soon find stress from somewhere else.
I am no expert, but I have observed this from people I have known since I was a teen. Those that stressed at high school are no more successful or happy than those who were more laid back.
If you have stressed teens at winter break, I strongly suggest that you find things for them to do or do with them that are less stressful. Take them to the theatre, to a Sharks game, to a nice restaurant, teach them to play golf, or play scrabble. Show them how you deal with stress in their lives. If they want to study over winter break, help them to work out a schedule where they can spend an hour or two a day studying and then stop and do something fun. If they have to work on a project, make sure it is balanced with other activities. Invite their friends round and get take outs and movies, or video games.
In other words, if the kids are studying and stressing, then show them how to have some quality down time. If they are having fun they will stop stressing - at least for some of the time.
Lastly, if they are stressing all the time, perhaps they learned it from you. If you spend all your time stressing about work, checking emails, talking about work on the phone, working for an hour before bedtime, and taking very little time off to relax, then they are learning how to be stressed from you. Lighten up in your own life and they might just do the same themselves. If they see that you can come home from work and truly relax doing fun things with family and friends, and not worry about work until the next day, it might rub off on them.
Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community, on Nov 13, 2010 at 10:30 am
Another PA "community nuclear war" over nothing. Why such a vehement response?
Why NOT give kids a Xmas without worrying about finals? Many schools start in August or early Sept. or add hours to the school day to do this to reduce student stress.
Will all these PA crazy parents protest at their kids' Universities if the institution' Semester or Quarter schedules don't suit their own desires or travel plans. GOOD LUCK.
It seems that there is such a reservoir of unfocussed anger and whining in Palo Alto. The town is such a lovely place, BUT the community seems to be a simmering mess of unfocussed anger that comes to a boil WAY too often.
I hope it is just an irrational few --but from the vehemence on this topic, and almost any the on this website, the community seems selfish, narrow-minded.....and pretty dysfunctional.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm
One issue is that finals in high school are not much of an issue until sophomore year. That means out of the 13 years your child is in school in PAUSD, only 2 or 3 years are really affected by finals. The other 10-11 years are equally important, more so in terms of quality family time. People can't and won't protest college schedules, because many kids are grown up and out of the nest enough that they are no longer vacationing with parents by then.
Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community, on Nov 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm
Take your vacation earlier in the summer, so your kid has a stress-free Xmas. What a concept!
Next time there are 190+ letters on this site I hope it is a substantive issue, not just a selfish one. Read the letters on real newspaper sites for guidance. Are there any local topics that are not contentious?
Posted by one size does not fit all, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2010 at 5:19 pm
I think the headline "angry" parents is unfair because if you actually watched the meeting, which I did online, you'd see the parents that spoke out were very reasonable, pointing out real issues- child care, the January issue when employers expect you to be at work, and other reasonable concerns that the board has already seen fit to be important.
the problem is not finals before the break, it's altering the whole year around it
I'm afraid you actually sound more angry than the parents that were there, which if the district would do a serious survey would learn that it is the majority voice.
Posted by Stress-out-student no more!, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2010 at 11:13 am
I have one Paly graduate child, and a junior year child at a private school with December finals. The difference is night and day. December finals are the way to go to de-stress your children, they need a well-deserved break! For those with children in fall sports - football, water polo, field hockey, volleyball, cross country, tennis and golf - CCS start times are mid-August. Therefore, all fall athletes are back on campus by mid-August anyway. A Christmas break with absolutely no school-related projects is a wonderful gift to give your children.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm
neighbor - although to some extent you are correct, $$ do not affect start and stop dates, the student teacher ratio and support given by private schools can be a huge stress reliever.
For example, at Castilleja during AP testing, the girls are allowed to focus on just the AP test they are taking and are more or less given the rest of the day off. PAUSD expects kids to attend all their classes, except on the days we are giving STAR tests at the same time as AP tests. And if you don't take the STAR test as a Junior - you are not allowed to sign up for any AP classes as a Senior. It is also common for teachers to be testing and giving major projects right up to when the final exam takes place, no "dead time" to focus on just studying like colleges and private schools.