News


Skelly proposes shift to pre-holiday final exams

School would start in third rather than fourth week of August starting next year

Gunn and Palo Alto high schools should shift their academic calendars to hold first-semester final exams before the December break, starting in 2011-2012, Superintendent Kevin Skelly has proposed.

The start of the fall semester for all Palo Alto students should be moved from the fourth week to the third week in August, he said.

The superintendent's recommendation on the contentious calendar issue will be discussed by the school board Tuesday (Sept. 28) and will be put to a final board vote on Nov. 9.

The district is soliciting public comment to an e-mail address: calendar@pausd.org. Skelly said he will present a summary of the public comments at the Oct. 26 board meeting.

For 2011-2012, Skelly's proposal calls for students to begin school Tuesday, Aug. 16, and for first-semester finals to end Wednesday, Dec. 21.

For 2012-2013, the first day for students would be Tuesday, Aug. 14, and first-semester finals would conclude Friday, Dec. 21.

"Over the years, there have been competing thoughts about the best school start date," Skelly said in the recommendation, issued late Friday.

A survey of other school districts in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin counties indicates a trend toward moving finals to before winter break, according to a school district staff report.

The number of districts with pre-break finals went from 11 out of 21 districts in 2008 to 15 in 2010.

Forty-six of the 61 high schools surveyed have pre-break finals, he said. Local private schools, including Castilleja, Menlo and St. Francis, also have made the switch.

A variety of student and parent groups "have strongly advocated for the pre-break finals to help address the well-documented student stress levels in the high schools," Skelly noted.

In the last district calendar adoption two years ago, the board kept the post-break exam schedule but included a statement that the break was intended to be a work-free time for students and staff.

"A survey of students after the 2009-2010 winter break found a substantial majority of students responding they still had homework assignments, and they still spent time studying for tests and exams scheduled for after the break," Skelly said.

In other business Tuesday, the school board is set to discuss upcoming construction projects at Fairmeadow Elementary School, JLS Middle School and Palo Alto High School as well as hear a specific update on a new performing arts center planned for Paly.

Board members also will review an academic progress report that includes data about how K-8 students are doing on the district's academic achievement goals, as well as K-12 results on California's Academic Performance Index.

The public meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters at 25 Churchill Ave.

Comments

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Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I am grateful for Superintendent Skelley's recommendation that we move finals to before winter break. I wonder why he chose to move the start date recommendation so early -- I wish the article had included the reasons for the early start date.

I would really appreciate seeing, of the local schools that have finals before break, a breakdown of their start dates. When this issue first came up, I looked online at several school calendars.

Of a few local schools with exams before break:

Castilleja start date this year was Aug 26, will end Dec 17

Menlo Atherton started Aug 18, will end Dec 17

Homestead High began Aug 23, will end Dec 17

St. Francis began Aug 19, will end Dec 17

They all have the same end date for winter break 2010, but the start date is quite varied, none as early as proposed for us. Clearly, there are other factors influencing the start date than whether exams happen before the holidays.

I'd like to see exams before winter break. I'd also like a slightly later start date in August, unless there is a very compelling reason we can't start later where other schools can.


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Posted by Angry Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm


Start school a week earlier? This year it would have been August 17th.

ENOUGH already. We want to have decent dates for our summer vacations so that we can see friends and relatives here and overseas. There is not just school in life. Family matters too.

No to this. My kids have always done fine with the old calendar, including in high school.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2010 at 9:43 pm

As my earlier post has been removed. The possible reason for having to start earlier in August than other schools with before break finals is possibly because of the local holidays that we have. Do these other districts have local holidays in September?

I know that all districts have to have the same number of instructional days. When the various teacher development days, etc. can be allocated in the second semester rather than the first semester it means that school can start a little later.

If we could put local holidays in the second semester we may not have to start quite so early.


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Posted by teacher in the district
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2010 at 10:33 pm

A few thoughts:

• If other schools or school districts can have later start dates than PAUSD and can have exams completed before the winter break, there is no reason why PAUSD can't do the same. The mid-August start date is ridiculous. (My classroom was unbearably hot today, September 24th.) If it takes getting rid of local holidays and professional development in the fall semester to do it, then get rid of them.

• What about seniors scrambling to get their college applications finished? How does this factor into the decision to move exams before the winter break? The proposed changes do not seems to consider this.

• The current plan was put into place with the 'agreement' that students would not have work over the break and apparently teachers are not abiding by that. Heck, I don't want to do work over vacation (although almost always do) so I certainly shouldn't expect my students to have to do work. Why not hold those teachers who assign work accountable?! Make them turn in lesson plans!

• This calendar decision absolutely should be made in the best interest of students, but something to consider is that if exams were held before winter break, it could mean work/grading time over the break for teachers because it is important to give students feedback in a short turnaround time. (Right, teachers?)

• Keep exams toward the end of January with a start date in late-ish August. Hold those teachers accountable who assign work over the break.

And, yes, I am a teacher in the district.


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Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Students and parents should realize that no one forces them to study or even do homework, just as no one forces anyone to show up for work. They do it by choice, because they want good grades and to "get ahead." I was a lazy student who never did homework, and I was able to get "way ahead." Whatever that means. If the school banned homework and finals over breaks, these neurotic parents, and students, would find another vehicle to stress themselves over, in their futile journey to "get ahead."


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Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Here is how academic pressure works NOWADAYS...(written by a Gunn student)
Homework and projects seem to loom over your life. Yes, there is time to relax, relaxation is short lived. The second you remember that you have a project/test/homework due in some class or the other, you start to worry whether the side-effects of your relaxation may be doing work at 11:00 on a Sunday night. I have found that the only true way to relax is to completely and utterly erase any thoughts of work from your head. It's much much much harder than it sounds. Not having to worry about finals/projects during winter break would be enormously beneficial. Stress is cumulative throughout the semester, and every kid has a point where they crack. A stress-free winter break will not only act as a motivational incentive to stay together mentally, it will also allow kids to be kids.
PARENTS!! Do not forget that your kid will not be a kid forever and that opportunities to spend winter break as an entire family will expire after a certain point. Please stop applying the "grade-obsessed" stereotype to us high-schoolers. And please do not use weather as an argument, as there are larger problems to worry about....
I apologize for coming off as cross, but now I hope you understand academic pressure more thoroughly


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2010 at 12:04 am

Agree with Gunn Student that kids need a real break.

No mention of when the academic calendar will end. I suggest ending it a week later so they could throw in more 4 day weekends during the year.

Angry Mom: Your posting is foolish. Did you move here for the schools or vacation?

Teacher in the district: Your working during Winter Break is less stressful than students working during the break because their future is decided by their grades. And you are supposed to be passionate about your job so you should enjoy the subject. You also get summer break so what's wrong with working during Winter Break? It is quite hot in August often and many rooms have no AC. It sounds as if no one is enforcing the "no homework during break" rule. Who is going to enforce it? Have an anonymous tip line? It is not enforceable.

How does Homestead and Casti work their schedules so they start later yet have finals before break?


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Posted by another district teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2010 at 8:41 am

To "mom" and others: Please stop assuming teachers have the summer "off" -- we either have another job in order to afford to live in driving distance of our school, or we teach summer school (which will give us no break at all if the start date is moved back in August), or we do more continuing education for our work (which we pay for). I've been in Palo Alto for 25+ years as a parent and teacher, and I know no one who has the summer "off" --

Some of the best local schools -- private, charter and public -- start late August and finish before winter holidays. Why can't PAUSD high schools do the same? The "our academics are much more comprehensive" argument doesn't hold here.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2010 at 9:07 am

As the district teacher pointed out, it is already too hot when we start school, and our BOE and superintendent are against adding air conditioning to buildings (cost issues).

There is no reason our semesters need to be exactly the same length. And as mentioned above, move the staff days and eliminate the local holidays (and even the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) instead of starting later.

There is also no reason that we must end the semester on a Friday, this year we could have finals Dec 20-22 or even 23rd.


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Posted by Happy prospective parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2010 at 9:29 am

As someone who's been evaluating schools in different communities and concerned about the reported stress levels at Gunn and Paly, I'm very happy to see that the calendar may be moved so that exams come before Christmas break.

I noticed that with the proposed calendar, the last day of school for students will be on May 31--that's a lot earlier than June 9 for this year. So there will still be plenty of time for summer vacations--in fact, many vacation spots are less crowded and cheaper (and nicer!) in early June than in the last half of August.


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Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 25, 2010 at 10:28 am

It's great that they want to look at ways to reduce stress. This is NOT the way to do it.

I have a current high school student (plus two younger ones), and our direct experience last year is that the current finals schedule works well. Finals don't start until more than 2 weeks after Winter Break concludes. This period of time includes two weekends -- including one 3 day weekend. This mid to late January period is a traditionally slow one -- nothing else is going on, and it is the perfect time to study. As for Winter Break -- no one should be studying for finals during Winter Break. You can't study well for finals 3-4 weeks ahead of time. Two weeks is plenty. Anyone who is currently doing this is going to do this no matter when finals are scheduled. (If the issue is teachers assigning homework, etc. then address it contractually or with disciplinary action.)

This proposal moves Finals into a period that is traditionally busy with family and other activities. More stressful for the students. More stressful for the families.

And even worse, it moves the start of school earlier into August. Ask any student -- it is very difficult for them to start school even as early as we currently do (August 24). Backing it up a week earlier would be very difficult for those students, and not conducive to a good start to school. Summer is the real time they look forward to -- and there are many more things to do (both outside weather wise, and opportunity programs-wise) in August vs early June. And to add insult to injury, current high school students would LOSE a week of summer entirely to transition to this new schedule. Less stressful... don't think so!


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Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 25, 2010 at 10:44 am

Another benefit of moving finals before winter break is that students get a REAL break between the first and second semester. One of the problems with finals in January is that students study very hard for finals and then only have ONE day off before starting all over again. This leads to a very common 3rd quarter slump, which then puts pressure on the students to really pick it up in the 4th quarter in order to salvage a semester grade. If we were to move finals before break then students would have a nice chunk of time to recharge and be ready to start the 2nd semester.


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Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2010 at 11:19 am

I have a daughter who graduated from Paly last year, and I teach in a district that decided two years ago to have finals before the winter break. I didn't vote for the schedule change in my district and was very much opposed to it. However, I changed my mind the first year when I saw what a difference it made to both students and teachers to have two weeks to totally relax between semesters.
The early start in August is regrettable. St. Francis and Castilleja can do whatever they like, but public schools are required by the state to have a certain number of days in their school year. It would be helpful to look at Homestead's schedule to see how they manage to begin a little later than some other public high schools that finish their first semester before winter break.
As for having the whole summer off, I'm tired of hearing people who don't have a clue talk about how much time teachers get off. Many of us work in the summer to be able to afford to pay for costly Peninsula housing, children's college tuition (going up every year), teaching materials not covered by districts that are experiencing deep cuts, etc.


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Posted by Learned the Hard Way
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2010 at 11:58 am

The teachers in PAUSD will be the ones who decide this issue - regardless of the Superintendent's recommendation or the Board's. Previous attempts to move finals before Winter Break in PA failed (at least in part) because this fact - the teachers' vote (and their concerns/issues) - did not receive the attention and outreach it required.

Dr. Skelly's recommendation specifies the District staff "will contact" other schools that have this type of calendar. This will be especially helpful if the questions are specific to the issues Palo Alto families and teachers are raising AND if the answers are communicated BACK to families and teachers: e.g. How do your teachers work with semester classes of unequal length? We're concerned about seniors and college applications - has that been an issue for your seniors? How have you addressed this? What are students saying about this schedule? Parents? Teachers? (Especially those who have experienced both types of calendars...), etc.

Without this level of inquiry the process will - as in previous years - suffer from a lack of knowledge and experience that is and has been readily available to us.

If the District leadership is serious about making this happen, it will require a more active strategy than just making the recommendation. It will require some homework - a straightforward assignment: contact local schools, ask specific questions, write up FAQs, communicate on web site/in meetings to teachers and families, THEN discuss, vote, success.

All these questions (about college apps, uneven semesters, holiday concerts, summer camps, why can't schools start after Labor Day, etc.) have been asked before and answered. They just have not been well-documented or communicated in previous calendar adoption cycles. Gathering public input without first providing access to this information is a recipe for unnecessary arguing and indecision. Informed arguing is always better - and it brings the best outcome for a community!

I sincerely hope this is the year PAUSD is finally successful in making this powerful and necessary adjustment for our young people.

Thank you, Gunn student, for writing and sharing your experience. PLEASE continue to stay active in this process! Come to a Board meeting - bring your friends! Or write to the calendar committee/School Board/your teachers. And please know that many adults are listening and actively working on your behalf.








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Posted by Angry Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm

How about shifting the whole calendar back. Instead of starting unduly early and spoiling summer for the sake of saving winter break, we could move BACK to starting after Labor Day, as we used to and shift everything accordingly.

The 2010-2011 calendar would look as follows:

Start Date: Spet 8th (2 weeks + 1 day back)
1st Semester end: February 4th
Year End: June 23rd or 24th

This way the end of Semester 1 would be ONE WHOLE MONTH after winter break. I don't buy that students would still "have to" cram during winter break with such a schedule.

Then we could have an extended week-end following semester end, using some of the local holiday days / staff development days or what have you to make sure that the students have an extended break.

To Mom of PAHS:

You are the foolish one to call my posting foolish. I moved to PA for the schools AND I value our summer vacation and the opportunity to visit with far away relatives that we could not see in June. Thank you. Life is not just about good schools and work, work, work.


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Posted by Craig Jones
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

We have one Gunn student and one Terman and a 3rd who will come through the school system later. We all oppose changing the calendar. The summer is already too short and starting in mid August in California weather is just common sense a bad idea. Give kids a childhood and let them learn in environments other than the classroom.


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Posted by question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I support moving finals before winter break, oppose changing the calendar so radically. How are other districts doing this? I appreciate Dr. Skelley's recommendation that we ask them, does anyone have any information?


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Posted by random
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Angry mom & others:
No matter when school starts - August 1st, November 3rd, or April 9th - we'll still have 180 instructional days. There's no discussion of year-round schooling at this point, so the only thing on the table is when the 10 weeks of "summer" vacation will take place. If we start school a week earlier in August, we'll get out a week earlier in June. No biggie - still 10 weeks of "summer" vacation. We have good friends in Florida - their "summer" vacation is from May 15 - August 1st. The whole "losing a week of summer vacation" is a red herring thrown out by people who are afraid of change.

My opinion: Finals should not take place three weeks after winter break. When it comes to finals, I'm indifferent between starting school earlier so that the semester break is over winter break or starting school much later so that winter break happens mid-semester. If we're trying to minimize hot classrooms then it would make most sense to have "summer" vacation from late July - late September. But we're also trying to create a calendar that aligns with state mandated STAR testing and the optional, but popular, AP tests, all of which are late April/early May. There are certainly plenty of academic advantages to having the school year mostly over by then.

Since as a community we care about academic achievement first and foremost, and have addressing student stress very high on our to-do list, a calendar that allows for a work-free winter break and the bulk of academic instruction completed prior to May is probably the one that makes the most sense for our community.

In any case, we're talking a two-year test here. There's no permanent commitment to any calendar. We tried "ski week" for two years. It didn't work for our community, so we got rid of it. I think we absolutely should try the earlier start/earlier release calendar for two years and see how it goes.


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Posted by Angry Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2010 at 7:20 pm

to Random


It IS a biggie when the dates are for the 10 weeks of summer vacation. If we have the month off in June when no one else has it elsewhere, we can't make plans with those acquaintances and relatives we want to see in the summer. It's that simple.

Furthermore, it is ridiculous to argue that having finals 4 weeks after winter break is too much of a stress factor for students.

My oldest child went through high school when school started in late August/early September, and she did just fine. No, she did not have straight As, but yes she got into college, a very good one (not an Ivy or Stanford, granted, and so what). Now she has graduated, and she works and her life is just fine.

If we want well-rounded students and graduates in this community, school and finals dates CANNOT be the only factor, We have to give much attention to other factors such as social life, and life outside of school in general. And it's not just about winter break.



If we want well rounded students, it can't all be


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Posted by Been there, done that
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 26, 2010 at 6:29 am

Yup, I came to this thread expecting the same circle of arguments;

1) Don't want to change because I want my summer vacation as long in August as possible

2)Want to change because I want our kids' "real break" to come first, above "vacation in August" desires.

Which one sounds like something you want for our high schoolers?

Listen to the post by "Gunn Student".

As I said in the other thread, I no longer have kids affected by this calendar. But, when I did, winter "breaks" were hell. Now that the competitive one is in a University where the semester ENDS before Christmas, and s/he has a REAL break, what a difference in mental health...works the fanny off for a semester, knowing there is a real end in sight, then really rests for the month off.

Much better.

Let the next set of kids give it a try...if they don't like it, if they find that it isn't worth more moving vacation from the 3rd week in August to the second, or that they would really rather spend Winter Break catching up and studying for finals..ok, fine, we'll put it back.

Won't know until we try it, will we?

But, like I said, spoken as one who has no more skin in the game, just more wisdom and experience.

BTW, gotta admit, I am curious, why can other CA public schools start later but end mid-December?




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Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 26, 2010 at 7:55 am

random and Been there, done that:
You're being quite cavalier with other people's lives. This "test" would be my son's final two years of high school. He WOULD lose a week of summer in the transition from current to new schedule (only 9 weeks of summer during that transition). He WOULD have to go back to school in mid-August during what might be his last two years living in Palo Alto. He WOULD be forced to study for finals during a very busy December period (and Senior year would also have to juggle completing college applications). He PREFERS the current schedule, and finds there is plenty of time to study for finals after Winter Break. You aren't doing him any favors, so don't present yourselves as the ones who are somehow looking out for the students. You haven't really thought it through from the students' perspective.


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Posted by student
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 26, 2010 at 8:22 am

When I was at Gunn (four years ago), many, many students (myself included) desperately wished we had finals before Winter Break. Those two short weeks were mostly spent studying, and we never truly had the sense that Winter Break was a real break because of this. We always had those darn finals looming over our heads.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2010 at 8:48 am

to the parents who focus on how busy the December period is already: that's a hint -- maybe you need to simplify what you do in December so everyone in your family can relax, including your student...


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2010 at 9:14 am

I'm in favor of starting later, not earlier. I'm in favor of having finals before Christmas. There are several ways to do it.

1) "Quarter" system (3 segments of ~60 days each).
2) Move finals to ~1 Feb.
3) Uneven semesters.

Every choice has some advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of starting earlier is improving AP performance. AP exams are vastly overrated anyway. Another is better Star performance, but, really, who cares?

The bottom line is, we, as parents and teachers, need to do what is best overall for the majority of students, parents, and teachers. We can't ignore what the rest of the country is worried about (AP exams) but we can show some real leadership if we want to, and stop playing the AP exam game "their way".



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Posted by random
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

Does anyone remember Summer 2006? We only had 9 weeks of vacation that summer too. Why? Because it was another calendar change year. That was during the 2-year period we decided to try out Ski Week. For certain - it sucked having only 9 weeks of summer break when the year before and the year after we got 10. But lo and behold, our kids all survived (and despite all my grumbling that summer, I survived too). If we try this "finals before winter break" calendar - it is true - we'll only have 9 weeks of vacation next summer, but the summer after there will be 10 again. And if everyone hates the new calendar and we switch back, then there will be an 11 (or maybe even 12) week summer break.

Angry mom - you're right - it doesn't affect my HS kid because she'll graduate, so depending where she goes to college she'll either have an 8 week summer break or a 12 week one. But I assure you she is adamantly for moving finals before winter break. Not because of the finals - she doesn't study more than a day or two before - but because of projects that are assigned or ongoing over break, and just the random pressure of knowing that you have to keep up with your studies. It just doesn't feel like a break to her and she really wants one. My younger kid will be affected by the 9-week summer, and will hate it (as will I, again). I don't believe I am playing "cavalier" with other people's lives, just as I don't believe you're being cavalier with mine by wanting school to start later than it does. I am, however, willing to try a system that some kids or parents might not like, as well as frustrate myself and my younger kid with a 9-week summer break in 2011 for a test of a calendar that works well in many, many other districts. I am also willing to let my younger child be a guinea pig in this test, as the new final schedule will affect her. Gunn and Paly kids were surveyed last time the calendar came up for discussion (I'll try to dig up the survey results), and they definitely preferred a schedule with a real winter break.

I went to a HS with a winter break during fall semester. It never felt like a break. Neither did Spring Break for that matter. Then I got to college and I realized that breaks can really be breaks! What a concept. I couldn't figure out why my HS didn't either adopt a different calendar for its semester system or switch to a quarter system. Every college I know has a real break for "winter break." Either they're on a quarter system, like Stanford, with Fall quarter running mid-Sept to mid-Dec, or they're on a semester system, like Yale, with Fall semester mid-Aug to mid-Dec. Why shouldn't our HS kids get these same breaks? They work just as hard.

Unfortunately, we can't set the school calendar by taking into account family vacations. For every family that "can't" take a vacation in June there's one that "can't" take a vacation in August.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2010 at 11:44 am

I am open-minded about trying this approach. In college I always had exams in January and didn't love it. I would love for my kids to have a "real break."

While change always impacts some people negatively (see 3 Kids above), not trying new things is worse. I tend to think we err on the side of conservatism, in part because what we have is pretty good, and in part because there are vocal opponents to just about everything. This seems like a change worth considering. And yes, I have a HS junior who would "lose" a week of vacation next summer.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2010 at 1:00 pm

As much as I am against finals in December, I am happy to try it even though the change would be the last 2 years for one of my kids.
However, it does mean that school must stop loading activities in December. One poster said that families do too much. Many of us would like to do less, but schools insist on having winter concerts (this can mean one per child) and extra practices as a result - Paly choir has a Banquet weekend plus an optional Thansgiving Saturday performance. For kids involved in Churches or other religious events, there are many extras since this is Christmas, Hannakuh, etc. and these will still happen. There will also still be school holiday parties and dances, as well as a holiday party for any afterschool activity the kids are involved in. Apart from that, there will be family commitments and don't try to tell doating grandparents that they can't be visited or welcomed during the holidays.

For anyone who thinks that it is easy to opt out of a busy December, then think again. The only thing that may be able to be done is the school activities. So schools, remember this when planning all your December concerts, please. A concert on a weeknight leaves almost no homework time.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 26, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I would be happy with a shorter summer and more breaks during the school year. Starting earlier is fine, we can adjust.


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Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm

I'm a bit shocked at the proposal, as it's the stressed-out seniors who'd really get screwed; many college application deadlines fall between Dec. 1 - Jan. 1. How about starting school later and having exams in late-Jan./early Feb. so there's no overlap with apps? As it is, the district's school calendar is way out of sync with much of the rest of the nation. Having most of August off is commonplace around the world, not to mention in the rest of America. Let's stop trying to be so different, Palo Alto, and realize that the East Coast schedule may be better for our kids.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2010 at 11:07 pm

From the Wikipedia article on Academic Calendars:

[In the US,] the traditional start date for the school year has been the day after Labor Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in September), but many schools now start in the last two weeks of August and some schools (especially private ones) may start as late as the end of September or the first week in October. There are also some schools, especially in the southern tier of the United States, that begin at the end of July and early August. The school year ends 31 instructional weeks after it begins.

Not sure what has driven the change, but what is being proposed here represents a trend nationwide.


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Posted by Learned the Hard Way
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2010 at 8:02 am

If you don't mind sifting out a small bit of their district-specific issues and calendar requirements, the Superintendent of the Acalanes school district (Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, etc.) put together a truly helpful list of FAQs for their parents. (From their last calendar process)

Web Link

The FAQs give solid answers as to why schools no longer start after Labor Day, rationale for finals before Winter Break, etc.

This is another district that has been trying for many calendar cycles to bring a true Winter Break to their students. Their lack of success may be tied to some of the requirements they've placed on the process - late Aug. start, late May/early June end, week off at Thanksgiving...

But their communication about the process has been outstanding. Hope it helps to share it here.


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Posted by Happy prospective parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2010 at 8:39 am

Why not take a survey of all the current sophomores, juniors, and seniors to really see how they feel? My hunch is that, like the students who've posted here, they'll be in favor of the switch, especially if the survey points out that they'll still get the same number of weeks off in the summer (except for the first summer, when the switch occurs).

As for the college applications argument, why not do what many private schools do and consider the fall semester of senior year one in which the course load should be reduced by one academic course (because college apps require about that much time)? That way seniors will have the time they need.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2010 at 9:07 am

The news today is that Obama is intent to lengthen the school year, possibly up to a month. This means that things may change at the top soon and all this discussion may not be necessary.

My vote would be to move APs and STAR testing later in the year, probably to early June. This is in line with what many other countries do. If these were moved later in the year and the school year ended later, then perhaps July and August could revert to being summer vacation.

This makes sense from the practical point of view for families as June ends the 2nd quarter business year and many businesses don't feel too kindly to allowing employees vacation time until after June 30.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 9:28 am

Despite Obama's comments (were they just generalities about making a longer public school year?) - that's what I heard reported about it) - it would take a major fight with numerous constituencies like national teachers' unions to make any change and lengthen the school year across this country. I'll be very surprised if any action occurs for sometime...the education bureaucracy and numerous levels are substantial.
Plus we have such wide variation in education. I remember one of my kids could no longer attend a summer program in Texas as a result of the time when PAUSD lengthened the school year (maybe when they put in that ridiculous "ski week?")- since Texans start their summer vacation much earlier than us.

Friends came over from the UK this summer; 3 kids appreciated their summer break since it was rather brief w/exception of student starting at university (-she is starting just about now!)
I have never been able to get a handle on some sort of comparison of US and UK education schemes; too many variables.

I have two kids in college here in the US and their starting and finish times and calendars are very different. They just live with the calendar they're given and I don't think anyone remarks much about it.

Not sure there is any "better" or "optimum" calendar.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 9:43 am

Resident - moving AP testing would require the whole country to change their dates, the are given at the same time everywhere. STAR test dates are set by the state, they could change it if they wanted to later in the year, but early June is final exams for many high schools (including ours).


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Posted by teacher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:12 am

There are so many points of view, but I think it is important to understand all motivations for the change and to do a real trade-off analysis.

Having read all the posts so far, it sounds like Palo Alto mom's goal is that she wants her family to have time off when others not in the US are on vacation so they can visit. At least one of her points, I believe, is that our vacation, if it is scheduled in June vs August is not in line with others across the world. If that is accurate, then it is important to evaluate that piece of data and then decide how important it is relative to other important points.

Palo Alto mom, please correct me if I have misunderstood your perspective.


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Posted by Jan Fenwick
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:50 am

The Quarter system used in the Community Colleges makes so much sense. August is a true vacation month. The Fall quarter ends before Christmas. Why has this never been tried in our K - 12 schools? I think our students (and parents and teachers) would rather be in school in June RATHER than August.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:52 am

180 instructional days means that teachers have the equivalent of 16 weeks of vacation. That is astounding.


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Posted by Mom of Paly students
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

I am so disappointed with this proposal. We went through this two years ago and the support for the change was simply not there. I think we are solving for a problem that doesn't exist and are creating new ones. My children have not received homework over the holidays, but have utilized the relaxed time to review their subjects. In no way has it been negative, but a nice chance to breath and prepare. The MLK weekend also provides and incredibly therapeutic weekend for preparing for finals. My oldest will be a senior next year and the thought of adding college applications to finals weeks earlier makes me want to cry. Talk about pressure on our kids...let's throw it all to the same time and let it explode. Secondly, I have a huge problem with the earlier start. Talk about giving a break...summer is so kids to my kids gearing back up for the year. I'd really like to understand why these other local schools seem to start later even if they have gone to the pre-holiday finals. Please don't implement this. We love the schedule as is. Step back and let's investigate further. This solution does not seem very well researched.


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Posted by Student Voices from the past
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:57 am

As back up to Happy Prospective Parent's suggestion to poll students, we do know from annual PALY SOS surveys (as far back as 2005) that a large majority of students have supported a calendar that provides finals before winter break.

In a 2006 letter to the Calendar committee and School Board, the PALY SOS and SHARE committees reported, "When 1123 Paly students were asked if they wanted finals before the break, 737 (69.5%) said they supported this calendar change."

Subsequent surveys showed similar levels of student support. At some point the surveys were discontinued - in part, because students felt frustrated to be continually asked about proposed changes (like later start times and finals pre-Break), reveal their support, only to see the proposals fail. Happily, PALY was successful this year in bringing about the later start - and maybe this is the year for the calendar change as well.

Some examples of student support dating back to 2004 --

From The Campanile in 2004 - Web Link

In 2006 - Web Link

(Thank you Google!)


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Posted by Barbara Spreng
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Student stress is an undeniable factor in the dramatic increase in adolescent depression. I applaud the PAUSD for looking at system-wide changes to address our students' social-emotional needs. I encourage parents, teachers and community members to learn more about the subject and the findings/recommendations of "Challenge
Success," a program of the Stanford School of Education, founded by Denise Pope, Madeleine Levine and Jim Lobdell.

Web Link

I appreciate the interest and perspectives of all the stakeholders, and hope the continuing dialogue includes informed opinions, that reflect awareness of research-based proposals.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Since Obama is talking about education and increasing the school year then I think it would mean big changes all over the country. That is why I mention moving AP and STAR testing. If he really wants to make worthwhile changes across the nation then this would be a good move.
There is no reason why these tests have to be so early in the school year. Often my kids (and their teachers) say that STAR tests include material that won't be taught until later in the year. Duh?? If the tests were done in June then it would really be a test of the year's work. Since most are multiple choice and are graded by computers, there is no reason why they can't be done later and the results still available at the same time as currently. Other countries do this and still get the results out long before college intake and the new school year, so why can't it be done here?

If these tests were moved til June it would give a great deal more flexibility with the school calendar and even if Obama manages to increase the school year by even 10 days, it would make it possible for the school year to start after Labor Day and the school year end in late June.


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Posted by Angry Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm

If it is that important to have finals before winter break, then i believe the best solution is to switch to a quarter system rather than start the school year yet earlier.

However I do agree with Mom of Paly students, above. November/December will then become a nightmare for seniors, at least, since everything will happen at once: finals and college applications... not to mention the thousand and one holiday activities. Sounds much more stressful to me than finals 3 or 4 weeks after winter break.


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Marie is a registered user.

When in college, many years ago, I attended one UC on the semester system and another that was on the quarter system, meaning finals were before winter break. Even though it meant 3 sets of finals instead of two, having them before winter break was much preferable for all the reasons cited by the Palo Alto students above. I fully support Skelly's proposal. I believe most school systems are moving in this direction.

That being said, I am surprised that with all the money Palo Alto is spending on upgrading classrooms, that they are not adding a/c whenever they upgrade a classroom. September, when school will be sure to be in session, is one of our hottest months. I still remember sweltering in September when I was in h.s. in the 60's. I hope that can change as we move forward.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I have a Paly (2010) grad (now in college) and a junior at Paly. They did absolutely nothing that resembled school work, studying, etc. during the 2009 holiday break. No stress at our house.

Perhaps those who are compelled to study during the winter break were not doing their work during the fall and have to use the break to make up for lost time? Why should we make an adjustment for those students who do not plan and manage their schedules correctly?

My nieces go to school in southern Orange County. They started 9/8, the Thursday after Labor Day. 1st semester exams are Thu 2/2 - Fri 2/4. Last day of school is Tue 6/22.

This schedule works great for me. I would rather have August off than June. June weather is dreary compared to August.


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Posted by testing fact
a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

FYI...
STAR testing is determined by when you start school. You are given a 21 day "window" when 85% of the instructional year is complete.


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Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Have you looked at the actual proposed calendars? They are a SIGNIFICANT change in the overall school year to anything we have experienced over the past 11 years (see below). Not only does the proposal have us starting school 3 weeks before Labor Day, but finals are scheduled for the day before and the 3 days after Memorial Day Weekend.

As to the results you get when querying students on what they prefer, it certainly depends on the question you ask. The real question that you need to ask them is are they willing to go to school a week earlier than currently in August (August 14th in 2012!), in order to have finals before Winter Break.

PAST 11 YEARS:
2000-2001: Tue Aug 29 - Thu Jun 14
2001-2002: Tue Aug 28 - Thu Jun 13
2002-2003: Tue Aug 27 - Thu Jun 12
2003-2004: Tue Aug 26 - Thu Jun 10
2004-2005: Tue Aug 24 - Thu Jun 9
2005-2006: Mon Aug 22 - Thu Jun 15
2006-2007: Mon Aug 21 - Thu Jun 14
2007-2008: Tue Aug 28 - Thu Jun 12
2008-2009: Tue Aug 26 - Thu Jun 11
2009-2010: Tue Aug 25 - Thu Jun 10
2010-2011: Tue Aug 24 - Thu Jun 9

PROPOSED:
2011-2012: Tue Aug 16 - Thu May 31
2012-2013: Tue Aug 14 - Thu May 30


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Tustin School District runs TriMesters.

Started school 9/1.
12/3 end of first trimester
3/11 end of second trimester
6/16 end of third trimester

Labor Day holiday, then no holidays until Veterans Day weekend (November). No 4-day weekend in October like we do.

This schedule works for me too.


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Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I think it is extremely selfish of people to want to have a schedule that fits their vacation wish list. We need to think first of the kids--what is best for them and then do everything we can to make it happen. If that means starting earlier, so be it, if it means starting later, OK. But don't oppose a change simply because it may not be ideal for your particular family situation.

I believe the 180 day rule is based on a state requirement of instructional minutes. Some school districts may be able to shorten the number of days by lengthening the days. Everything is a tradeoff. Heat in August should not be too bad at least at the high schools--A/C will be going in the old buildings (this summer, I believe), and the
new building will be built to higher energy standards to reduce heat.

If there is one thing I have learned in Palo Alto is that things change. Any change to the calendar will ultimately be decided by the teachers because it is a union issue. I wish my kids had finals before winter break, but the school district was not willing to push it. Now there is a chance and I would urge all parents to listen to the experts on what benefits kids the most before making a decision to oppose or support.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I volunteered at Jordan today (no AC and no plans for any except I think for the new science building). It must be at least 85 inside the classroom I was in. This weather is a short term fluke, but August is usually HOT. If we plan on sending our students to school for much of August, we need to change our thinking about cooling our old school buildings.

None of the elementary schools have AC in classrooms, except for portables. Its hard to learn when you are too hot to think.


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Posted by Friend
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Our kids went to a private school in Southern California that ended in early June. Vacations were amazing if we took them right when school got out. No crowds. We loved it. A stress free winter break is extremely important for our kids. Lets give the new calendar a try!!!


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Crescent Park Dad - Tustin has trimesters but their HS classes are still a semester long with a final in January and June. How does that work? And interestingly enough, their graduation requirements are tougher than PAUSD.


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Posted by concerned palo alto mom
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2010 at 1:07 am

Perhaps we should ask ourselves, without regard to the possible "costs", whether it would benefit our children to complete their first semesters before winter break. My opinion is yes. It would appear from the comments here that the majority agree. Apart from that, there appears to be a small number of reasons for which people object to this proposed change.

Vacation planning seems to come up most often. This is so sad. Educational policy just simply should not be shaped according to what creates convenient vacation scheduling for some (or perhaps only one) families.

The heat of the classroom seems to come up next. August can be hot. It was not really all that hot this year, but September sure is! Let's not blame the heat on August and use that as an easy excuse. Many months can be hot. If we need air conditioning all that badly (if fans will really not do on the few days it gets in the upper 80s or above) let's get that on the long term funding plan. We may not get it next year, but I'd bet we could get some good fans in every classroom in short order.

Staff development days comes up. Some argue to move them to the spring. Maybe this is a good idea, but don't we want to train our teachers at the beginning of the year as well? Perhaps we should front load some staff development days before the commencement of instructional days. I would personally prefer to be in a district that has generous and periodic staff development, even if that means starting the year a bit earlier.

There are those (lucky) ones who claim that finals after winter break just isn't or wasn't a problem for them. You do know you are lucky, don't you? Remember the bell curve? MOST children are not soaring through high school with high grades and high confidence. I am glad that yours are/were. I am pretty sure mine will, too, and for that I am extremely grateful, but I am not blind. I am well aware that most students struggle with at least one subject, and one subject is all it takes to create extreme stress. District policy needs to be shaped by what would benefit the majority, and student surveys clearly indicate that the majority of students would prefer finals before winter break.

Some argue that December is a very busy time in which to load finals. I agree. It's also something that can be controlled on a student-by-student basis (or dare I say parent-by-parent basis?). Students (and families) can certainly choose to not overload themselves with extracurricular commitments or social events. For seniors applying to college there are even more time commitments, but let's be honest, college applications are not a one-month conflict, or certainly don't need to be. Parents can help greatly in making this process a more guided and paced one. Really, parents.

If this (moving finals to before winter break) is really an issue that we believe will be decided by the teachers (union), we owe it to them to let them know how we feel and why we feel that way....and to get them some fans and perhaps ultimately air conditioning if it means so much to them. Only makes me wonder what other issues they feel so strongly about.

Let's reconcile our differences and perhaps get a head start on making our vacation plans for July 2011!


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Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 28, 2010 at 6:45 am

This discussion board has been absolutely eye-opening. It is becoming very clear why we have stressed out students -- it's coming from these parents. We've got parents here saying family vacations aren't important (in fact they are "selfish"), students don't care about going back to school in the middle of August, families and students should reduce/eliminate extra-curricular and family gatherings in December (take out the fun)... all to the absolute exclusion of doing schoolwork. Doing well in high school is certainly important, but not by excluding all other activities (especially family ones!) In order to reduce the stress on our students there should be more focus on doing these other things. When you read the postings about the students saying how stressed they were studying for finals during Winter Break, the real question is where were the adults (parents/teachers) with some common sense who should have just told those students to go do something else -- get outside, get some exercise, do something with friends or family. Put down the books, and study for the two weeks before finals. It's time for a bit of perspective on what is really important to and for the students, which is an overall balance in life.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

@3 Kids - you may disagree with your neighbors, but their points of view are legitimate. You think the balance is that vacation scheduling is equal or more important than school scheduling, but many disagree. They may have "overall balance in life" - but different priorities than yours. I suggest not trying to judge other families, but instead try to understand them. I doubt you will succeed in changing anybody's mind by telling them they put too much emphasis on school and learning.


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Posted by teacher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 28, 2010 at 8:10 am

There was a request made of teachers to NOT schedule required homework or projects over the holidays, so kids could take a real break. The request was honored by some and not by others, I think. In some cases, it was a matter of interpretation. A long term project was assigned by one of my kids teachers on December 10 and due on January 15. One could have worked before and after the break to finish that assignment, but most kids I know worked during the break. In addition, No matter when exams are scheduled, some kids will use the time over their break to catch up on classes that require more attention (math tutoring for a concept they just never got) and some kids are working on test prep and other academics.

I think all of these optional things will go on whether exams are before or after the holidays. What will be different if exams are before the holidays is that many students can turn in their final exam "scantron", walk out of the classroom and say, I have nothing I MUST do for the next two weeks. That is a joyous feeling we have all experienced and my kids have asked for that opportunity back. They may only choose to enjoy that freedom for a day or a week, or they may truly relax for the entire vacation, but it will be their choice.

Please remember that part of stress comes from not having the power to make choices or control what you do....I want to give my kids the opportunity to choose to enjoy some much needed time off.


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Posted by Learned the Hard Way
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

To 3 Kids Here... Let me be clear what I am saying:

We have a serious adolescent health issue in Palo Alto. Our students are strong, capable, smart but the current structure(s) we adults provide for them is contributing to a level of stress that is putting their health at serious risk. We can and should reduce that risk by adjusting the structure. Are there other factors? Absolutely. And should we be working on those, too? Absolutely.

Posters have appealed to each others' sense of what's good for most - even if/when they don't see a particular need or direct benefit for their own child. No one has said that family vacations don't matter - nor should that be inferred. They ARE saying that the arguments for or against this change should be decided on what's in the best health interest of MOST teens.

Second, no one is saying that we shouldn't listen to what students care about. They've have been weighing in on this issue for years. The case can easily be made that we HAVEN'T been listening and the situation has only gotten worse.

This is a change most students - in large numbers - want. You are right. We should be listening to what students care about - and try to understand why. And you're also right that their support lessened when asked if finals before winter break meant they had to start school in the 1st or 2nd week of August (still a majority, but less so). I think the proposed calendar could have been much better planned so school could start the next week - and the proposed change would have an even higher level of support (and lower downside for those not in favor). Maybe there's still an opportunity to make such a change?

Postings are interesting and informative - but they are not the best form of communicating, and certainly not the best way to assess each other's intentions. Everyone posting, regardless of their position on the calendar, seems to care very deeply about teens, family, balance. It's a good place to start the discussion on what we can do or should do with this calendar proposal.




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Posted by Midtown parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I like the idea of three quarters, similar to Stanford's schedule.

I took finals at Stanford for 5 years, and liked their schedule much better than my high school's traditional semester schedule with finals in late Jan. and early June.

This would also allow for more flexibility for electives, when appropriate.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Midtown parent - High school classes are currently designed as semesters, and many classes Junior and Senior year are just one semester long. (For example,english is one required class that is a semester long and one english elective that is a semester long). Not sure how we could accommodate this change. I believe our elementary schools are already on a trimester system.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

to those who look for guidance at college students who have finals before break--the situation is apples to oranges; when college courses are done, they are done, the vast majority of high school classes span the year, students who are pushed to study on breaks will still be pushed to study, in this case, to get a jump on the next semester--some already do this in the summer.

to those who say, "we asked the current students if they want finals so they wouldn't have any homework over break and they said yes" I'd really like to see the context of this--were they also asked if they'd like to be studying for finals in December? Doing college apps while studying for finals? going back to school the second week of August? (and it is the second week, though it's presented in the formal proposal as the third).

My high school student is completely against the change, and indeed, having seen an older sibling go through the college app process and being aware of the time it takes, has no idea how she will survive the first semester of senior year under this proposed calendar. Funny, while supposedly the students have weighed in on this, nobody ever asked her.


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Posted by Member
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I agree with Paly Parent. The HS Seniors will probably be hit harder with this change.

Some college apps are due by Nov. 1st, some later. I have a current senior with a heavy academic load. Working on school work along with college essays and requirements can be quite overwhelming.

Adding mid December finals in the midst of all this - while they are trying to make the most important decision of their lives - means adding more work to their already busy schedules. I do think this will add to their stress and not reduce it.


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Posted by Happy prospective parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2010 at 6:16 pm

As I posted earlier, I still think a good solution for seniors would be to take a lighter course load in the fall. College apps take about as much time as a full course; with careful planning, students should be able to arrange their schedules over the four years so that in the fall of senior year, they reduce their academic course load by one full course. Many private schools already strongly advise their students to do this, and it seems to work out. Unfortunately, it's still a lot of work and pressure, but at least there's one less course.


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Posted by Member
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 28, 2010 at 8:12 pm

No matter how carefully students plan their schedule; and how well they are advised; there are limitations and requirements to be fulfilled prior to taking the AP classes that they are interested in. These classes are not graduation requirements.

Most students end up taking some AP classes Junior year and more during the Senior year. Also many of the classes are year long classes; They can not sign up for a lighter load just for the fall.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

I would bet that for every family upset about losing a week or two of late August vacation time, there is another family happy to have vacation in early June, where there is cheaper travel costs and better weather in many places such as Asia. That issue needs to be taken off the table. This does not shorten summer, it just shifts it.

Let's focus on the issue of whether or not finals should be before or after winter break. The college apps do seem to be an issue, but I would highly recommend that kids don't wait until the last minute (I remember watching my stressed out classmates working on them to the last minute, and I was already into many schools). Not sure how to get the to actually help themselves, however!

Holiday activities do seem like a concern as well. It would be interesting to hear the kids' response to "How would you like finals before break, even with Holiday activities and college applications?" Ignore the start date, because, honestly, I think the population who is upset about it is a vocal minority (most of us have very little vacation time and can take the week or two any of the 10 weeks).


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

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