News

Debate on Palo Alto school calendars goes 'viral'

Should first-semester final exams be moved from January to December?

The debate over changing the academic calendar in Palo Alto public schools has gone "viral," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Tuesday.

Skelly, who has hinted he may recommend moving first-semester finals to before the December holidays beginning in 2011-2012, said he's received many e-mails on the matter. The current first-semester final exam period at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools is Jan. 18-20.

Many neighboring high schools -- including Menlo-Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, Castilleja and St. Francis -- have made the switch to December finals in recent years.

"The calendar issue is viral. Lots of people are weighing in," Skelly said.

Some say a December exam schedule would ease academic stress by giving students a clean break over the holidays. Others argue it would load up the pre-holiday calendar and disrupt family summer schedules by pushing the start of the school year to a date too early in August.

The superintendent's calendar recommendation for 2011 to 2013 is due by the end of September. A final school board decision is set for Nov. 9.

"That (timeline) should give families enough time to make plans for the summer," he said.

Skelly said the district's calendar committee is still mulling over the issue, but the superintendent himself has hinted he may recommend moving finals to before the holidays.

"I think we need to look at a calendar that gives kids some breaks," he said at a two-day school board retreat held in August.

Once a formal proposal is on the table, the school district will set up a special e-mail address to which community members can send their comments.

Two years ago the board voted to retain the January exam schedule, but encouraged teachers not to assign school work over winter break.

At that time, school board member Dana Tom said he polled colleagues in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties whose high schools have made the switch to December finals.

"I heard from 23 board members, with 21 of them pleased with pre-break finals, one marginally supportive and one mixed.

"Some board members were initially skeptical but preferred the new calendar once their district experienced it," Tom said.

"Nobody stated they wanted to switch back."

Comments

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I'm glad our superintendent is really looking at this issue and listening to community input.

The article says: "Some say a December exam schedule would ease academic stress by giving students a clean break over the holidays. Others argue it would load up the pre-holiday calendar and disrupt family summer schedules by pushing the start of the school year to a date too early in August."

These two things -- moving the exams before the holidays, and starting earlier in August -- are not inexorably linked. I looked up several of the other districts doing this, and they start late in August and end around mid-December.

The trade-off is that the semesters become different in length, and that means adjustments to the curriculum. Other schools seem to have handled it just fine, but I think this is the primary concern because it's not a trivial change. However, it can and has been done. I for one would like to ask our district to do that, because I'd like to see us move finals before the break AND start third or fourth week of August, not so early.


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Posted by Paly Mom of 2
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Here's an idea: Eliminate mid-year "finals" altogether!!! Yes, I know there are a few semester-long courses in high school, and those teachers can give finals whenever--kids will not be burdened with one or two exams before break. But why build the entire K-12 schedule around high school? This is crazy. School should start LATE in August at the earliest, end mid-June. Enough already.


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Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Paly Mom of 2, you can't be serious. People move to Palo Alto for the reputation of the high schools. The entire schedule SHOULD be based around high school academics.

I am glad to hear that PAUSD is finally taking some action re student stress. The new block schedule and 8:15 start time has been a great help. Not having all classes every day has lessened stress and the backpack load.

PAUSD is a public school system and activities outside of school should have no impact on the academic schedule. Not everyone is religious, not everyone plays an instrument or is involved in choir or theatre. Surely, PAUSD's holiday school events could occur in January since they aren't affiliated with religion anyway. High school students need a real break from school and cannot relax if they have exams hanging over their heads, knowing other students are studying while they have to be with Aunt Edith or at services. If the school year ended a week later and there were more breaks during the school year, that would even be better, as my children look forward to extra days off during the school year.

As for beginning school earlier in August, PAUSD is a highly reputable school district, not for people who want more August vacation. Does it matter that kinders are a few weeks younger when they begin school? Do their grades really have an impact on their future?


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Posted by YearRound
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 15, 2010 at 8:51 pm

The ideas being thrown around about the school year are outdated. Now more than ever we should be thinking about year round schooling for kids.


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Posted by parent/MIT grad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Several parents have asked me to repost this previous comment:

Probably the most valuable lesson I learned at MIT -- where they are famous for the work load -- was how important it is to take breaks. MIT actually had had problems with suicides at one time, studied the problem, and made changes, all designed to reduce stress without reducing academic challenge:

A four day weekend every month minimum

Freshman pass/fail

Finals before holidays

Six week break over holidays

At every turn we were told how important it was to take breaks every week from our work. To exercise and do sports. To eat right and get enough sleep. To have high standards but avoid perfectionism (work hard but good enough/getting it done was an important real world skill).

This was a huge life lesson that has done more for me than anything else I learned. As freshman, it seemed impossible, yet learning how to do those things boosted performance and happiness. I saw years later, many of the problems my own parents had were the result of never learning how to take breaks.

Learning how to work hard, but stop and take breaks, not only boosts performance, it creates resilience -- and it requires a lot of discipline. The schools should be teaching this lesson, not putting kids in the unhealthy bind of having to stay in a constant state of stress to succeed.

Finals should be before winter break. If kids need more time to study for them, those changes should be made to accommodate that need before the finals so that the kids have winter break with their families and without schoolwork hanging over them. If they can do that at MIT, they can do that at Gunn without sacrificing quality.


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Posted by parent/MIT grad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I think the changes to the calendar can be made independently of changing finals to before winter break, it would mean the semesters become unequal in duration. That has implications to the curriculum, so I don't think the administration wants to make all the dramatic changes to the duration of the semesters right at once, even if they do change finals to before winter break to reduce student stress.

Those calendar changes don't necessarily have to be forever, though. If the policy changes to preholiday finals work, eventually they'll adjust the calendar back some, I think.


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Posted by Mom also
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I have a child in high school, and I'll agree with anything EXCEPT and even earlier start date for the school year than we have now. It's getting ridiculous!!


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Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 15, 2010 at 11:34 pm

In my opinion, this proposal would cause MORE stress (not reduce stress). I currently have a sophomore at Paly (+ two younger ones). Last year finals didn't start until more than two weeks after Winter Break ended. There was plenty of time AFTER Winter Break to study for finals (including a 3 day weekend). It was a very low key period of time -- perfect for studying. In contrast, the weeks in December prior to break were filled with activities -- a horrible time to try to study for finals. Plus, December is an especially busy time for high school seniors finishing up their college applications -- why try to cram finals in there too?
So, I don't really see a case at all for this push for finals before break... and ESPECIALLY not if that would move the start date for school to earlier in August. There is no value to getting out of school earlier in June -- that week in August is much more valued by families/students. Losing that week of summer in August would be a definite shame.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:22 am

Your concerns are legitimate, but I think in practice it works out to less stress if students can do the finals earlier.

Activity levels and some activities will also shift if finals do, don't forget to account for that. Part of the reason some kids are so busy now in December is because they can be, they don't have finals... If things end in mid-December as they do for most local schools on that schedule, there is still plenty of time to finish up any last-minute college applications.

I looked at several local high schools that have finals before break -- of the ones I checked, none started mid-August.

It is possible to move finals to before Christmas without starting earlier in August, but it means changing the length of the semesters.


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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:52 am

Year-round schooling for kids? Wrong country. It'd never fly here.

My son is a freshman and he is already looking forward to the break in October. He has no extracurriculars and has 5 hours of homework on average. He's an "A" student, but we'll see . . .


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Posted by Pros and Cons
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 16, 2010 at 6:10 am

Summary:

Arguments for/against changing School Calendar so that semester finishes by Winter break:

FOR: Good for kids, they can take a full-stop, real time off for a couple weeks. Real mental rest, able to have nothing hanging over head, enjoy friends and family, sleep, eat, full rest. Proven repeatedly in all psychological literature that a full rest is critical to mental health. Good for kids.


Against changing School Calendar:

Mom and Dad don't want to have time off in June instead of August...
A few football players like to try to catch up studies over Winter break.


C'mon folks..stop being so selfish. Just do what is right for the High Schoolers under TREMENDOUS, non-stop pressure like we never experienced at such a young age, and let them have a couple full weeks off. We are the adults, and supposed to be doing what is good for our kids, not our own selfish desires.

Let the pressure cooker lid off a couple weeks out of the 9 months. The rest of the time, it is ALWAYS cooking.


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Posted by Why not investigate new approaches
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

Most of what is being argued is based on the current system, just moving the calendar. How about keeping the current start date, finals before the winter break, academic short session in January, second semester begin late January like now.

The short session in January could be used as catch-up for those that fell behind or are not quite making the grade first semester. And for those without that need, they could explore deeper into a favorite subject, volunteer, spend time in their academic club (robotics, etc.), travel to a foreign country, etc. Then you don't have to worry about evening out the semesters and you could use January to help ease stress, get more involved in academics without tests, connect with teachers, etc.

I am sure there are many small arguments against this, but the idea is that perhaps thinking outside the box could help relieve the stress even more.


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Posted by Not on overload
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

No other industrialized nation in the world has such a short school year, and goes to school for such a short day. And, we are supposed to feel sorry for high school kids who don't get long Christmas breaks!!

In Japan kids go to school for 219 days per year and when I went to school in Europe, I went from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM, an 8 period day all fully scheduled with no prep periods. Then a minimum of two hours of homework. However, I'll give U.S. kids a break, they very often have jobs after school, mine did.


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Posted by Fought this before, will again
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 16, 2010 at 11:44 am

I strongly believe that high school students should NOT be saddled with studying for finals in December. I can't imagine why anyone would consider December finals to be less stressful than studying in January for end of Jan finals.

I am tired of watching my kids to go school in sweltering hot weather, when it's still summer and almost impossible to concentrate and learn. August is SUMMER.

Our children's education will not suffer if we refuse pre-break finals and an earlier start. It is ridiculous to suggest that it would. In fact, I see a later start as favorable to their educations as they will not have the stress of trying to concentrate on their studies on sunny hot summer days.

This isn't all about parents who want August vacations. It's insulting that Mr. Skelly feels we just need enough time to make other plans. This makes him sound quite out of touch with this community.

Please, no more talk of starting school in mid-August. We said no to this 2 years ago. It's too early already. Enough is enough! We should move the start date at least a week LATER. Perhaps we should start a ballot measure to end this once and for all?

If we must try pre-break finals (which I oppose) then make the first semester much shorter, with less material to study.

Let's see some solid information about start dates at these other schools who were surveyed. Let's hear from parents and students at those schools, not just board members. Let's also note their academic performance -- is it better than ours? How about their stress levels?

We have too little data to support this change. Let's not be lemmings!


Like this comment
Posted by sally
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 11:46 am

just move the "Holiday" concert to January... it should NOT have Christmas songs anyway... it can have Winter songs...
if you move the concert, the kids have less stress... they get to study for finals... and the concerts can happen in January
the kids get a clean break... they need a rest... this non-stop stress is very difficult on them... think out side the box people... NO reason that the conerts have to happen the first two weeks of December.... really?


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Posted by observer
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 16, 2010 at 11:56 am

These discussions would be more useful if Skelly would elaborate on how the curriculum for the semester-long and year-long classes would need to change.

Would the semester-long English and Social Studies classes cram the same amount of material into a shorter time frame? That would be FAR more stressful than what we have now.

Would the year-long classes adjust the amount of material on the fall final?

These are fundamental questions that should have been addressed along with the publication of the "viral" comment. Some people would say the answers are obvious but hearing from administration and teachers that prep time and teacher development time to adjust curriculum would be set aside is critical to a school board vote. Project Safety Net should be loudly and publicly asking those two questions as well as the Gunn and Paly Site Councils and counselors.


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Posted by Year-Round School
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm


Year-Round Schooling is something I would love to see in Palo Alto. And it IS already being done in other parts of the country - some with excellent reputations for education! I do also agree with frequent breaks as well - especially a REAL December break.


Like this comment
Posted by Stanford faculty member
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I don't see yet this radical proposal:

Do away with "finals" for high school students altogether and emphasize quality learning--including shorter tests--along the way. Other, lower pressure ways of synthesizing larger blocks of material exist.




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Posted by Pros and Cons
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I don't have time to do this, nor any skin in the game with my own kids any longer age appropriate for me to put the time into this debate, but where is the person compiling the data on mental health results from taking full breaks from anything hanging over our heads? This applies to teens AND adults, and it is obviously extremely well-known the benefits to all of us of taking a full-stop vacation, turning off the computer, the work, letting it all go, nothing hanging over our head and worrying us while we 'rest'..why not for your kids?

Well, I am out of this, just putting in my 2 cents from the other side of the parenting fence. Younger parents, do your kids a real favor, let them have a real rest half-way through the year. Just do it.




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Posted by observer
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Stanford Faculty member,
Thank you for that insightful remark. If we are wed to high school finals to prepare kids for college, they could be introduced in the Junior level curriculum instead of at the 8th grade level (science only) and 9th grade level as they are now.


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Posted by Asian mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 16, 2010 at 1:10 pm

ok..i may be in the minority here...but why not start the school year a week or so early, do finals before winter break and make it a longer winter break by a week or so?
most families although they enjoy the christmas and whatever festivals they celebrate at that time always feel like it is a stresful time of the year (giftings, relatives etc.) another couple of weeks in the winter break would help even the adults relax more... and i do have an ulterior motive for this suggestion: the asian community would probably appreciate this calendar the most since we like to visit our home country over winter break (best weather there as poosoed to boiling hot temperatures or monsoon during the summer break here!). so overall, it would be a win-win siutation for everyone in the community.


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Posted by Give Kids A Break
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Beginning the school year earlier shouldn't be an option. Many of the kids in our district attend summer school and would not have much of a summer break. By December, they all really need another break without worrying about finals. Lower the "Test" stress on our kids. Many of our children are beginning to feel like "they are what they test", and it is ridiculous, especially for the many students who suffer from test anxiety and don't test well. There are other ways of measuring progress.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Most of the classes are not semester classes, so really we are not talking about finals but mid terms. Regardless of when these tests take place, they will still have the same teachers who will want them to do projects, outside reading or other study after these tests and get a head start on the next unit. This is particularly so with teachers of AP classes who cannot afford to let the kids do nothing for a couple of weeks with AP exams in May.

On top of that, many parents will still expect their kids to study over winter break, signing them up for tutoring sessions, etc. so they get ahead on the work.

I say keep the semester end at the end of January which is a dead month and with the long weekend to study and concentrate, there will be a lot less stress than bringing the semester end into the busiest season of the year for families, social and religious functions, as well as deadlines for college applications.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Paly parent - although many of the classes are a full year, each semester is a separate grade, so yes, they are finals. If we combined finals before Break (like the majority of high schools) and expected projects to be done over Break, it would be a time for the kids AND teachers to relax! If parents force their kids to study over break, that is a family choice instead of one made by the school.

The idea of Final before break is not to make studying for final less stressful, its to make the Break a real break from work. Otherwise, the only real break for high school kids is the 3 day weekend between semesters.


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Posted by Pros and Cons
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Paly parent, you made the case for finishing the semester before winter break. If the semester is done, then there are no tests, no projects, no papers..nothing,...hanging over the kids heads over their rest period.

That is the entire point. Semester's end means DONE with the semester. Period.

Don't know why I keep coming back to this..my kids are no longer affected at all...but it just bugs me to death that so many parents want to keep stuff hanging over their kids' heads for almost 10 months straight..oh, excuse me..they get a whole 3 day weekend off to collapse after their finals in January.

Just do what is right for your kids, folks.

Figure out how to give the kids a real break.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm

PA Mom

I get your point about each semester being a separate grade, but it does not follow that each semester has to be be the same length, just that it ends with a test of the work taught thus far. Since the same teachers will be teaching the same subject to the same kids, they will still use a break to start assigning projects for the new unit anyway. Many have been posting here that the work for AP classes starts the summer before the class with essays and reading ahead, and I doubt very much that AP teachers are going to not assign similar assignments through winter break regardless of when the exam takes place.

Having had some very busy Decembers with school and outside related functions in my family as well as college applications, I honestly can't say that adding finals into the mix is a good idea.


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Posted by What do they know that we need to find out?
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I did some checking
At least 54 high schools in San Mateo County and Santa Clara County end their 1st semester before winter break - soon to be 56. (Simply searched the school calendars on their web sites). This count includes 5 private schools - St. Francis, Castilleja, Mitty, Menlo, Notre Dame and Serra.

The remaining high schools in these counties that currently appear to complete First semester AFTER Winter break are those in PAUSD(2), Campbell District(6), Milpitas(1) & Bellarmine. (Los Gatos - Saratoga too - but their web site states they have "overwhelming" support for Finals before Winter break for 2011-2012 - and are recommending approval).

Instead of chasing our tails with arguments based solely on what we can or cannot imagine, we (Palo Alto parents, teachers, District admin) could actually call our friends and colleagues in these other fine schools and communities (Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Park, San Carlos/RWC/Belmont, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, San Jose, San Mateo, Burlingame) for their experience, insights and real answers to our specific questions.

Seems like it would save a lot of time and arguing (to be armed with some answers based on actual experience).


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Fortunately, our family is done with Gunn, so, maybe my opinion doesn't count. But, our family likes to go camping and August is usually better than June. For family reasons, I would have preferred high school to start after Labor Day. On the other hand, the way the college application process, AP exams, etc., work, it would be better to be on an earlier schedule, so, an early start, finals before Xmas, and an early end to the school year does make sense.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm

When my daughter who graduated from Gunn returned home from her 1st semester at college, the first thing she mentioned was how nice it was that she didn't have any schoolwork over winter break. Taking her back in January, she mentioned it was the first real winter break she'd ever had. She went back for her 2nd semester completely refreshed. That spoke volumes to me.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Sep 17, 2010 at 8:09 am

Separating the issues. First, my comments on finals before winter break:

I'm on child two, year six, with Palo Alto High School, one more child and five more years to go. Having gone through many finals weeks, and in particular, finals during senior year, I'm sure that the added stress of having finals during the busy holiday season (and cancel all the concerts you like, people are still more busy that time of year than most others) would hurt my children much more than having winter break match with semester break would help them. Add the college apps done senior year, and early finals would make this period go from incredibly stressful to impossible.

The cure here is worse than the disease. And I also question how prevalent the disease is. I see that most kids have little trouble stepping away from school mentally during the break. The ones that are studying, would be anyway--their parents would urge SAT prep, pre-reading the texts for the next semester (seriously).

The "data" gathered from school board members of other districts is not data; ask a board member if they like a policy they passed several years ago, and he or she is unlikely to say otherwise. If folks want real data, conduct a legitimate poll of recent graduates of districts who made the change. I say recent grads, because they experienced senior year, and may also have experienced both systems. Don't just ask them if it's nice to have the break between semesters, explore the tradoffs. Ask them if they had to miss family time in December, if they lost sleep combining finals and college apps, if they think they would have done better on their finals during a quieter period.

Finally, perhaps those who think its important to match semester and vacation breaks should be looking at the February break, starting school late, having finals in early Feb, breaking around the holiday. The early Feb period is a quiet period conducive to studying, college apps are in for seniors.


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Posted by Busy
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 17, 2010 at 8:10 am

Many high schools have changed their schedules successfully for academics, extracurriculars, kids and teachers. Why is Palo Alto, with so much known stress in the schools, even debating this change?. Real change is necessary to help our kids cope. This is a change implemented at many other schools that works well to reduce stress -- what is the controversy? If our kids are the most important thing - do what is best and right for them.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Sep 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

And now comments on the early summer start. Simply, a vacation week in June is not equal to a vacation week in August. August provides opportunities to connect with extended family around the country--not going to happen in June. August is a time that many working parents can easily get vacation; things simply slow down. June? Forget it, for many companies, that's crunch time. And in August the kids have opportunities to attend academic enrichment programs, traditional sleepaway camps, language camps--the choices are rich. In June, these things simply aren't available. (Palo Alto may change its camp schedules, but those serve younger children, and are already tough to get into.)

(BTW, a vacation week in January doesn't equal a vacation week in December either, for working parents dealing with corporate life. You'll have a lot of folks with kids home alone, or scrambling for child care.)


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 8:54 am

Paly Parent - August is psychologically summer and I personally wish we started school after Labor Day, BUT all the rest of our extended family starts school either before we do or within a day or two of when we start, they are spread around the country, in public middle or high schools. Those who attend private schools start later, some even after Labor Day. In our family, the only time in August to connect would be the first 10 days or so - most everyone is getting ready to head back to school after that.

As far as I know, all colleges end their semester before Winter Break, and those kids seem to manage to study for finals, then get a real break, often for up to 6 weeks.

There is nothing wrong with having slightly different semesters, particularly since the second semester has STAR testing, AP testing, etc. which can take out a couple weeks of learning time.


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Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Schools all over the country are moving start times later. Here's a recent article about yet another school not just talking but taking real action:

Web Link


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Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm

9:00 start time? That would be nice. However, Paly admins could only push the start time to 8:15. Admin was trying for at least 8:30 but could not get it approved.


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Posted by a resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:52 pm

To palo alto mom - saying " As far as I know, all colleges end their semester before Winter Break, and those kids seem to manage to study for finals, then get a real break, often for up to 6 weeks."

At Harvard the finals are in January - it was really hard! I spent every Christmas at my parents locked in my room studying/writing while the rest of my family enjoyed a real break. I feel like I really missed out on what's important in life - downtime with my family - I didn't get to spend time with my grandmother the last Christmas before she died - how could a term paper be worth that?

My kids are in elementary school - and I didn't realize the High School kids have finals in January. My heart goes out to all of them -and I hope this is straightened out before my kids reach that age.



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Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2010 at 7:09 am

Harvard switched its calendar -- just this past year, I think -- so that first-semester exams are before the December holidays.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2010 at 10:10 am

Paly Parent writes:

"Most of the classes are not semester classes, so really we are not talking about finals but mid terms. Regardless of when these tests take place, they will still have the same teachers who will want them to do projects, outside reading or other study after these tests and get a head start on the next unit. This is particularly so with teachers of AP classes who cannot afford to let the kids do nothing for a couple of weeks with AP exams in May."

Chris Kenrick writes:

"Harvard switched its calendar -- just this past year, I think -- so that first-semester exams are before the December holidays."


OK, how about this radical proposal: Let's switch to the "quarter" system, in use by most UC campuses and many schools in the Western US. Instead of two semesters, have three quarters (plus optional summer school). That way it is easy to finish before Christmas. AP exams will be early, but, High Schools need to start pressuring the AP folks to move the AP window later anyway. Why let AP exams dictate the schedule (the AP exams are the reason the schedule keeps getting moved earlier anyway).


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2010 at 11:20 am

Anon

Your suggestion about switching to the quarter system makes most sense. Moving AP exams should be done - many other countries have these equivalents in June and manage very well, including not starting the school year until September.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Regarding the AP testing schedule, other parts of the country dismiss students in May so moving the APs later would interfere with their finals testing and graduation schedules.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I think that although I am in the minority about having finals in December rather than January (this was the system I had in high school and I found it much too strenuous) the biggest problem is that it would involve bringing the start of our school year earlier into August. This would adversely affect our school community as a whole, particularly those who do not have PAUSD secondary schoolers.

The first reason, is that like it or not we are to some extent tied to the Stanford calendar due to so many parents employed by the university and it would be difficult, night on impossible, for many of them to take time off before the end of the Stanford academic year or even for the first couple of weeks after it finished.

The second reason, is that many, many companies employing parents of our students are also on an end of June deadline for projects, etc. which once again means that families may not be able to take vacation until after the end of this busy period - probably some time into July.

Another reason, is that we are an international population who enjoy travel to other parts of the world. For many, meeting up with family who are living elsewhere in the world where August is traditionally the vacation month, means that August is when they want to visit extended family, not June or July.

The last reason is that we are still in the mindset that kids go back to school in fall and fall starts approximately September 21, and we aren't in fall even now.

Dividing the school into two semesters of equal length seems impossible taking these factors into account. Dividing them into three more or less equal quarters (with the last quarter called summer break) can be done.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2010 at 9:44 pm

To those proposing the quarter system - you obviously don't have HS students. HS classes are divided by semesters - and Junior and Senior year are often only one semester long. Electives are mostly one semester. Sophomore history is one semester of Government and one of History, 2 totally separate classes and grades. English for Junior and Seniors is one required semester, one elective in English, two classes, usually 2 different teachers. How do you divide 2 classes into 3 parts?

We should base our calendar on what is best for our students - not their Stanford parents, European relatives, or people who go to Stanford family camp. Having 2 weeks off with nothing hanging over your head would give our students a real break from school stress. Having a 3 day weekend with no homework in January, not so much. There is no reason that our high schools need to be on the exact same schedule as the middle and elementary schools. As it is, they have different minimum days, daily schedules and the seniors get out of school earlier. We also don't need to end the first semester on a Friday, we could end a day or two before Christmas if we need the days in the first semester -so what if we end on a Wednesday?


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Posted by Los Altos Hills Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 18, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Please, let's give our kids a clean break over the winter holidays; no exams to stress over, family time, maybe a winter vacation. While we're at it, how about a later start time for the school day, say 10 AM instead of 8.

I really want my boys to thrive and loading them up with stress and fatigue is counter-productive to this.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Yes, I am a high school parent.

I also do not have a closed mind. I know and understand about semester courses. But, this has a chicken and egg aspect. Do we make the glove fit the hand, or the hand fit the glove? Changing to a quarter system would not just be a calendar issue, but a complete curriculum change, I understand that. It doesn't mean that at the State level this can't be done. It is a typical American attitude that the American way is best because we have always done it this way and nobody else can have a better system.

Sometimes, the answer is a complete rethink. This situation appears to be one of those. Some are advocating changes at the college application process level. Some are advocating changes at the SAT and AP courseload level. Perhaps education is at the stage where a complete overhaul nationwide could be done. Other countries change every generation or so. Do we ever consider a complete overhaul of education here?


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Posted by What do they know that we need to find out?
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2010 at 3:03 am

Paly Parent... I certainly appreciate your upstream thinking - it's very necessary. But Palo Alto has an opportunity to make a substantive change in the experience for thousands of its teens THIS next year - by advocating for finals before winter break in 2011-12.

I agree the thinking could/should ultimately be even bigger than this "simple" adjustment to the academic calendar - but given the current pressure on our CURRENT high school students, it seems critical to do whatever we can - and right away. We have that opportunity with this new cycle of calendar discussions.

And hopefully the third time will be a charm. Or is this the fourth? In any event, it has taken far too long to make - or even TRY/PILOT - such a basic adjustment as this.

It bothers me that, over the past 5 or 6 years, thousands of our students have requested and worked for this exact change - and we couldn't get it done during their time in PAUSD. At least 54 (FIFTY FOUR) local high schools have made this a reality for their students - why can't we? Why won't we? We're too... smart? We're waiting for ... what? Leadership. Advocacy. Decision-making.



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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2010 at 10:43 am

How about this radical idea. Change Christmas to some date in January.


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Posted by Try it Mikey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm

How about a radical idea. Palo Alto folks make a change, try it, actually analyze it and see if it works well. It would be great to see something happen. Stop overanalyzing everything while we watch everyone around us actually trying something to improve the system.

By the way, this will not be a magic pill that will take away stress. There will be some stress caused by making the change. However, it may be well worth the stress in the long run. Change can be good.


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Posted by LAH Resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 19, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Misha says: "Schools all over the country are moving start times later. A great idea, the problem comes when Gunn High School has to share the same school buses with Nixon Elementary.

If you delivered Gunn High School students to school say at 9:00 AM by the time the buses make their turn around and go back into the hills for the elementary kids, the Nixon kids would not get to school until 10:00 AM. Then you'd have to pick the elementary kids up at 3:00 and 4:00 and the Gunn students wouldn't be picked up until 5:00 PM

Don't forget those buses have to go way up Page Mill Road almost to Foothill Park and make their way back down through Los Altos Hills picking kids up.

I read somewhere that Paly will have a later starting time this year because their student body is not so reliant to bus schedules.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2010 at 6:59 am

Paly doesn't have any student that take a school bus. Only Tinsley kids get bussed to the elementary and middle schools in the Paly enrollment area. I wasn't aware that any kids got bussed by PAUSD.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:13 am

Yes, the Nixon, Terman and Gunn kids can pay to ride a bus provided by PAUSD. Some of the BP and Briones kids can also arrive by bus.


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Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2010 at 8:17 am

The buses are for the students in LAH, PA hills and Stanford.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

Who pays for the busses? Hopefully the students, not the District. Anything else would seem to be very unfair.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 11:25 am

Some kids get to ride the shuttles for free, some have to pay for VTA buses, and some have no form of transport available except for bicycles or the family car.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Yes,lets do research--but not put our kids and families through a stressful, disruptive experiment in the name of research. Let's look to those districts that made the change, do some real, in-depth research as to the effects at all grade levels, and then discuss those results; we clearly haven't done our homework yet; and badly designed research (personal polls of peers) can be worse than none at all. (sure, ask our current high school students "do you want not to have any schoolwork over winter break" they'll say yes, lay out all the factors (would you like to study for finals at the same time you're doing college apps? would you like to cancel all your holiday concerts? etc) and have them weigh in on different ones in a scientific manner, you may get a different message)


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Of course most students will say they don't want homework over Break and teachers (except AP) should not assign it.

An interesting bit of info (and I was big on Finals before break). Several years back, PiE did a comparison to some of the top public schools in the country. I took a look at 3 of them, New Trier outside Chicago, Edina in Minnesota and Wellesley in Massachusetts. All of them have finals in January. But Wellesley starts on September 1st and Edina starts after Labor Day, Sept 7th. Edina started the day after we did. (Wellesley also gets a Feb break of a week, April Break of a week and ends June 21st.) No idea if their students are less stressed or more, but they are "similar" school districts.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2010 at 12:12 pm


Personally, I would rather take off in late May or June to beat the crowds. However, I agree with the poster that we should NOT base our school schedule on Stanford Profs, people who want to "summer" in Cape Cod or Europe, Stanford Campers or MY summer desires (as a working mom, the shorter the summer the better in my mind).

The real issue is the kids. I remember NOT applying to Harvard b/c finals were after Christmas. It would have been too much stress. Just one person, but I think there may be a lot more who agree that finals should before Christmas.

With regards to college applications, kids can do them in October, can't they? This may give them an incentive NOT to wait until the last minute.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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