Is ski week history?
Calendar committee ready to strike controversial break from future schedules
If the Palo Alto school district's calendar committee has its way, the controversial break in February known as "ski week" will be long gone by the 2007 -'08 academic year.
The committee, consisting of representatives from the district and teachers' and classified employees' unions, met for the last time Wednesday. Although two parents attended the meeting, they were not part of the discussion.
Committee members agreed on a calendar for the 2007-'08 and 2008-'09 school years that strikes ski week, ends first semester finals before winter break and condenses scattered one-day holidays into fewer three- and four-day breaks.
The district's head of personnel, Scott Bowers, who supervises the eight-member committee, will hold two town-hall meetings this month for community members to comment on the calendar draft. The calendar will then go to the school board for a vote.
"No matter what calendar we end up with, it's going to be a compromise," Bowers said.
When the Palo Alto Unified School District's Board of Education adopted the controversial ski-week calendar for 2005-'06 and the current year, it included the earliest start date in the district's history, a number of single days scattered throughout the year and the weeklong February break.
In short, it lengthened the school year and shrank summer.
Outraged parents showed up at board meetings to protest the calendar, saying they were left out of the decision-making process.
"I was never aware of parent input being actively solicited," one parent said at the time.
The Palo Alto district negotiates the school calendar every two years as part of its negotiations with the teachers' union. A district committee is convened and members meet a handful of times before going to the board.
Traditionally, the committee is charged with creating four calendar drafts. This year is the first time the committee will draft only one calendar to submit to the community and then the board.
Earlier this year, Bowers set up an e-mail address to which community members could send comments about the calendar. He received more than 400 e-mails.
"Overall, mid-winter break was not a big hit," Bowers said, referring to ski week.
Many parents of elementary students had difficulty finding childcare or getting time off from work for the weeklong break, which comes seven weeks after the regular winter break this year.
Sue Purdy Pelosi, one of the parents at the meeting, had a difficult time accommodating her children's school year because of all the breaks.
"The only month that the kids attended every school day last year was in March. Ironically, it is the longest month of the school year," she said. "It is really hard to find safe, decent, reliable childcare for every third Friday."
Members of the calendar committee have strict guidelines from the state Department of Education regarding holidays and staff-development days. The calendar must include 180 instructional days, three staff-development days and three workdays, and the semesters have to be about equal. There are also some holidays that must fall on the exact day, such as Veterans' Day.
The ski-week calendar was originally adopted under the notion that it would reduce student stress. It ended up extending the school year a week longer into summer.
"There are many people who elect to take their kids out of school when they want to take their kids out of school, so it doesn't make sense crafting the calendar around that constituency, rather then those facing a real need," said John Fredrich, a committee member and Gunn High School teacher.
The committee's calendar draft, however, includes three days off where ski week would have been.
But there would still be a week more of summer if the board approves the committee's draft.
Staff Writer Alexandria Rocha can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.