News

Will school-calendar shift cut or boost stress?

Parents differ on effects of moving first-semester finals to before December break

Palo Alto school officials said they hope to ease academic stress by shifting the calendar to hold first-semester final exams before winter break starting in 2011.

But the proposed calendar change actually would increase -- not decrease -- stress among students, particularly seniors trying to squeeze in college applications and musical performances in addition to finals before the holidays, some irate parents told the Board of Education Tuesday night.

Tuesday's angst-filled discussion underscored the sensitivity and complexity of the calendar issue for the diverse families of Palo Alto's 12,000 schoolchildren.

Officials stressed the public will have ample opportunity to comment on the proposed academic calendars for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 before the school board takes a final vote Nov. 9.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly's recommendation to shift the calendar grew out of a desire to give students a clean, work-free break over the holidays, Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers said Tuesday, citing concerns expressed by students and research by Stanford University senior lecturer Denise Clark Pope.

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.

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.

Teachers' union representative Trina Gogarty said teachers are "willing to pilot this before-the-break finals idea."

However, teachers "are a diverse group with lots of diverse interests in the calendar." Some have expressed concerns about problems with uncomfortably hot classrooms if the school start date is moved to the third week in August rather than the fourth week, as it is now, Gogarty said.

Tekla Nee, mother of three students in the district, told school board members the calendar change "will require my family to make huge sacrifices with little benefit.

"This may be an experiment to you, but these are my daughter's only junior and senior year of high school. It's not an experiment to her; it's her life. Don't do this to her," Nee said.

The district's growing number of south Asian families would welcome a calendar change that included a three-week, not two-week, winter break, said Walter Hays and Jordan parent Ashima Agarwal.

"Talking with friends from the Indian and Asian communities, we often discuss how we can't go back to our countries to visit our parents in the summer because it's scorching hot," Agarwal said.

"The heat this week is nothing compared to the heat in India and other Asian countries in the summer, so we end up not going home once our kids are gong to school.

"Two weeks of winter break is not enough time to go back to India – you can't just go there for 10 days. Our concern is just adding another week to winter vacation so we also get to see our families," she said.

"We'd like a week less of summer and a week more of winter break."

Among school board members, Camille Townsend appeared to be the most openly skeptical toward the proposed calendar change. Board member Dana Tom has indicated he leans in favor of pre-break finals.

Other board members expressed confidence in the process the district has established to gather comment before a decision is made.

Community members are encouraged to e-mail their comments to calendar@pausd.org.

Bowers will track and summarize the comments at the Oct. 26 board meeting.

"Tonight is just the beginning of a series of a minimum of three meetings on this issue," board President Barbara Klausner said Tuesday night.

"We want people to know how it's going to work, and we will not have substantive discussions until Oct. 26."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:16 am

I cannot wait for this change!
My child's friends at private schools have true winter breaks where they can relax and enjoy themselves. At Paly, post-break finals hang over the heads of students who know that there is always more work that can be done.


Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:23 am

For me the real benefit of the finals before the break, is that the students get a real 2 week break to relax and unwind so they can start the 2nd semester ready to learn. Right now with a one day break between the 1st and the 2nd semester most kids are not mentally ready to start the 2nd semester. So much time and energy is put into preparing during the first two weeks of January, that many student are tuned out the first few weeks of the 3rd quarter and their performance and learning really suffers during that time. I would like to try the finals before winter break approach to see if the students would come back recharged and ready to really start the 2nd semester.


Like this comment
Posted by Longer Summer
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:38 am

I am not so sure the average child studies over the Christmas break. they have 2 weeks to get ready for final when they get back. I can tell you my household is not studing over christmas break. I think keep the summer longer that is what keeps stress down


Like this comment
Posted by Less vacation time
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:57 am

By the time summer school is over and other summer activities, it usually only leaves August for a family vacation. Shortening the summer vacation by having school start in mid-August gives almost no leeway for the family vacation in August.


Like this comment
Posted by PATeacher
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Teachers begin their school year a week before the students do, so we would lose ALL of August to school... Means I'd only have two weeks of summer, after teaching summer school...

Other districts have finals before break without sacrificing August-- why can't we do it?

A winter break that begins on the 21st makes travel more difficult, not easier. Also-- I know our PA parents-- they will simply pull kids out for those last three days-- that Monday thru Wednesday will be lost days, Finals notwithstanding...

It's a timely idea, but the calendars haven't been shifted enough. Something has to give. Total number of days? Other holidays? Let's not add to stress in trying to eliminate it...



Like this comment
Posted by Former Student
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

The other districts do it because they give the students a lot of the Jewish holidays off and don't have as many staff development days. If we didn't give the students Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (Sorry, don't know how to spell that one) off, the school year would start later.

The summer would not be shorter, it would be the same length--if the second semester starts earlier, it would end earlier. The schools are only open for 180 days a year. That number can't change, even if finals are before winter break.

Only some college applications are due in December; all the UCs and CSUs are due in November, and many are due in January or have rolling admissions. Furthermore, it's not like the students have to do the application in December; if they start early, they will finish early, and have more than enough time to study for finals.

Back when I went to Paly, I was begging for finals to be moved, and I knew that meant things would get hectic, with musical performances and family commitments in December. But if finals moved, things could be worked out. The music teachers would understand that the performances couldn't be the night before finals and move them accordingly. Things would work out.

It's worth a shot.


Like this comment
Posted by local
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Let's remove those local holidays and leave the starting date the same.


Like this comment
Posted by BarronParkMomOfTwo
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I am trying to understand why we even need to start school in August at all. If you go to school in New Jersey you start the day after Labor Day and end on or around June 23rd. You get the requisite 180 days plus 2 weeks of December holidays. And if you go to school in L.A. you start school the day after Labor Day, end around June 23 and get 3 weeks off in December. I would much prefer the one week later in June then an early August start.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I agree about moving the local holidays. Has a survey been done recently to find out whether parents and staff want these local holidays? It is no good using a survey from 10+ years ago, the demographics in our schools are changing and it may be that figures are very different now to what they were 15 or 20 years ago.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I don't understand why the starting date has to be so much earlier than the other local public and private schools that have finals before break. The local holidays are only a couple of days, and the other schools also take off a couple of days during the fall.
I am here to attest that average Paly kids do study during the break and feel very guilty and stressed when they are not. Not to mention the teachers that ignore the "no work over the break" rule.


Like this comment
Posted by Average Mom
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm

My daughter, who was an average Paly kid, never studied at Paly during winter break. I doubt my son, who is a freshman, will either.

As for those kids who do study, I am ready to bet they will study no matter what change is made.

Please, whatever you do, don't move the start of school up further. Summer needs to be summer.


Like this comment
Posted by PA resident and parent
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Sep 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

A longer winter break makes sense. The summer break is just so long that the kids forget the school and they need time to get back into the groove. Other communities like Foster city have 3 breaks in a year as opposed to just a winter and summer break. The kids and parents love it as they can take more frequent vacations. I am all for shortening the summer break and giving it back to the kids during winter or some other time of the year.


Like this comment
Posted by asian mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm

simple solution...if you remove all the local holdays, you can keep the start date the same and get an extra week winter... - a win win proposition!


Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Moving finals before the holidays should be debated separately from the calendar changes. We should unequivocally move the finals to before the holidays, there is overwhelming evidence that this helps reduce stress and that other schools prefer this when they have made the change.

If the calendar changes cause problems for people, that's a separate issue from moving the finals. We should decide to move them, THEN decide on the best dates.

If students need time to finish college applications, the end date for the semester should be earlier than Dec. 21, as it is in other local schools.

Many local schools with finals before the holidays do not start nearly so early nor end so late in December.

Why are these issues being debated together? Didn't Superintendent Skelley say we should look at calendars from other local schools that have finals before the holidays?


Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 4:17 pm

By the way, as for activities that overload at holiday time, some of that is the result of the kids not having finals then. If finals shift to earlier, some of the activities will shift.


Like this comment
Posted by Random
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Teacher: that's a *great* point about the one-day-break between Semesters. I can attest that neither I nor my kids every really felt like there was a semester break.

Less vacation time & PAteacher: With the exception of the transition year, summer break will still be 10 weeks. Summer school will start earlier so there will be just as many weeks after it's over for vacations.

Longer Summer & others: it's not finals that kids are studying for over break. It's projects and general learning. It's knowing that they are still "in school" with deadlines, projects, tests, and what-not still looming in front of them. If you've had high school kids (and I'm not talking about those from over-achieving Kumon-attending SAT-prep-course-taking families - just regular HS kids) you will know they still have long-term school assignments to deal with over break and usually and English books to continue reading.

Former Student: While we have gotten one day off for Yom Kippur in some years, it's not every year. For example, not this year. (Probably because it began on a Friday evening). Note that they added the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a local holiday recently because so many families were skipping out anyway. If we could convince those families to stay in town that would be another day later that we could start. (Heck - I'd gladly trade Black Friday for another day of summer vacation, plus the annoying federally mandated Veteran's day that completely destroys a week.)

The proposed calendar isn't perfect. I can think of many ways to improve it too. But it is a very reasonable attempt to solve a very real problem while barely changing the status quo. Like it or not, we don't get to draft a calendar via PaloAltoOnline. So we can either support this imperfect calendar and commit just two years to testing out the theory that finishing fall semester before winter break will give our HS students a real break, or we can continue with the status quo and not learn anything new.


Like this comment
Posted by Random
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm

oops - sorry about the typo in the above ("and usually and")

While it might be great to get rid of all the fall local holidays and exchange them for more summer days off (or more winter days off), not many are proposed.

For the proposed 2011-2012 calendar we would have the following days off of school during fall semester:
9/5 - Labor day (mandated)
10/14 - Staff Development Day (optional)
11/11 - Veterans Day (mandated)
11/23 - Local holiday (optional)
11/24 - Thanksgiving (mandated)
11/25 - Local holiday (optional)

So it looks like we could get rid of 3 days off, but I think there would be an uproar bigger than this one if we made the kids come to school the day after Thanksgiving. We could require school the day before Thanksgiving again - that would buy us one more day of summer vacation. (Though if you recall, that local holiday was added to the calendar a few years ago because too many families were taking it off anyway and it ceased to be an instructional day.) They could get rid of the staff development day. But I can attest that during the fall staff development day you can actually get some staff development done -- unlike the SD day that occurs before school starts where you're still scrambling to ready your instructional materials. I'm not sure it's worth trading one staff development day for one more day of summer vacation, though I'd certainly accept a calendar that did so.


Like this comment
Posted by Huh? Can't follow the logic
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2010 at 7:21 pm

District claims "a trend toward moving finals to before winter break"?

Based on what exactly? The district's own report shows that while 4 districts switched to pre-break finals, two of the districts that had early start dates are switching to later start dates next year, including Sequoia Union where Menlo-Atherton is, which switched to an early start and pre-break finals with lots of fanfare a few years ago. Web Link

"Local private schools, including Castilleja, Menlo and St. Francis, also have made the switch."

PAUSD's proposal for an August 16th start and May 31st end date doesn't mirror Casti or Menlo's or, for that matter, St. Francis' calendars. Both Menlo and Castilleja started on August 26th (not early) and end June 3rd. St Francis started August 19th and ends June 2.

Even if their calendars did match what the district proposes, why are those private schools' calendars the ones we should follow? How about all the private schools in the area that have our same start date (Crystal Springs, Woodside Priory, Girls Middle School), many with after-break finals? Or the ones that start closer to Labor Day (Sacred Heart, Phillips Brooks, Palo Alto Prep) and end in June? If most of the private schools moved to that late of a start date, does that mean we should follow?

Mentioning their calendars as support for what we do just because they happen to do what 25 Churchill proposes uses selective stats in an attempt to objectify a bias.

Keeping the same calendar in place does not mean that we have not yet seen the light. Change does not automatically mean better.

And let's not forget that none of the tragic events that lead to our re-newed focus on stress happened even close to a December break filled with study.

The Weekly's own July report says that we don't know if stress was a contributing factor and that the community is undergoing a study to find out what was.

Why not wait to see what that study shows before deciding that a calendar change will be the solution? What if pre-break finals makes things worse for high schoolers who are dealing with concurrent college application deadlines or who have fallen behind and need time without the distraction of school to catch up?


Like this comment
Posted by Vicki Dempsey
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm

My proposal-
* Start Aug 17. (if needed) and have a FOUR week break in winter- last two weeks of Dec and first two in Jan.
* End mid to late June.
I see Lots of win/win with this idea.
A Real break mid year:
*Families who want to travel to places where the weather is better in our wintertime will be very happy.
*Families who want to ski will be happy.
*Students will be happy to have a long break.
*Seniors can still take the first 2 weeks to apply to colleges by Jan 1. AND still get a break. They can also tour campuses during the break.
*Local camps (YMCA, after school childcare, etc.) can open for business mid year instead of turning kids away for being booked up in summer.
*Time to relax and refresh for All after the busy holidays.
* There is more than enough 'break' time in summer- give it to us in winter when we can really use a break.


Like this comment
Posted by Bria Vicenti
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm

As a member of the Paly community, and a part of the graduating class of 2013, I do not think this would be a good idea. For me personally, I treasure my summer. I attend camp for 8 weeks across the country every summer, and not only has this camp defined me as a person, it keeps my stress down during the school year. However, do to our already very early start date compared to the later start dates of the east coast and most other places, I have about two days to make the transition from camp to school every year. If the schedule was changed, it would disallow me to go to camp, the one thing I look forward to each year. On a wider scale, however, the fact remains that very few students actively study over winter break. We have two weeks to study before our finals, and I know very few if any students that study for FOUR WEEKS prior to their semester finals.

Overall, I believe this change in schedule wouldn't greatly increase OR decrease stress but would take away from a student's most important holiday, a time a student needs to get focused and destressed for the next school year. If the PAUSD is going to try and mirror other schools, why not mirror those of the majority of the country? I propose we start either directly before or directly after labor day weekend, keep our current schedule regarding local holidays & semester finals, and finish school in the second or third week of june as opposed to the first.


Like this comment
Posted by Seriously Overdue Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2010 at 11:15 pm

4 1/2 years ago PAUSD was considering a similar calendar move. Community discussions and School Board meetings were held to "gather public input", hands were wrung, visions of both increased and decreased student stress were delivered as gospel, and summer travel itineraries lacking cancellation protection clauses were entered into the record...(well, just about...).

But no attempt to educate the public about the rationale or support for this type of calendar, explain the legislation behind instructional days & earlier start dates, or share the experience and strategies of other schools working with this type of calendar was ever made. Instead, the public input process - and final decision - was informed mainly by what people could or could not imagine and very little by actual study or experience (although this was readily available then, and is even more so, today).

Instead of repeating this process and risking a similar outcome (as last night's Board meeting appeared to suggest), how about using an upcoming school board meeting to host a panel of educational experts (Denise Clark Pope?) and teachers/administrators/students/parents from schools that already have finals before winter break? (There are literally thousands to choose from)...

Let's hear what they've learned, how they've adjusted, what they like/don't like, how they'd respond to our toughest questions and concerns.

Can we at least have an informed discussion? Or is a little homework or simple research too much to expect - from adults? from the District? 4 1/2 years has been plenty of time to get it together.




Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:07 am

There are students studying during Winter Break but no one admits it. Moving finals to before Winter Break is the only way students can mentally relax.

We have to look at what is best for the majority of students: not everyone is religious (and it's a public school), not everyone leaves town for massive summer vacations or camps, not everyone is in theatre or orchestra.

And kindergarteners starting a couple weeks earlier will not affect their future like high school grades affect their future.

My children value the extra days off that are currently in the calendar year because they are high achievers and enjoy the little mental break. Summer break is never long enough for anyone, but it is a mental break. I wish they'd bring back Ski Week.


Like this comment
Posted by Been there, done that
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:36 am

We in this district have "debated" this issue for the last 5 years or so.

Pro: Less stress on High Schoolers, giving them a real break, not a time when they can "catch up on" projects, homework, tests etc. Every mental health data is firm on this...real breaks allow real rests, which increase mental health for adults and teens alike. Even the military insists on a "use it or lose it" vacation. We need to stop sending mixed signals to our kids.
Or are we trying to teach them to be workaholics, and bring their work on vacations with them like so many workaholic adults?

Con: All the arguments saying "less time off in Summer". It would still be the same amount of time off, it would simply be shifted back toward June. Big deal.

As usual, the argument comes down to making an adult decision to protect our kids better, versus a " I want my August time off even if it means thousands of kids don't get a real winter break". For those who want to fight the "August off" battle, that is a different argument involving how much and which time is off in the fall. Focus on the real break for mental health of our kids.

I have no kids left this would affect. I say this simply as a parent who has gone through this, and seen the devastation of not being able to take a real break. Mentally exhausted kids, who have less rest than adults get ( most of us at least get to rest from our work on the weekends..do our high schoolers ever rest on the week end from their work?)

Do the right thing for our kids, simply shift the schedule. Give them a real break, 2 weeks, out of the 9.5 month school year. Just imagine yourselves obliged to work 7 days per week for 9.5 months, with one 3 day weekend off, and maybe you will get some clue of what we are doing to our kids.


Like this comment
Posted by try working
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:50 am

"Just imagine yourselves obliged to work 7 days per week for 9.5 months, with one 3 day weekend off, and maybe you will get some clue of what we are doing to our kids."

Do you actually work here? This is standard practice in any start-up *all year* round!


Like this comment
Posted by Seriously Overdue Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 9:39 am

I nominate "Been there, done that" or "Random" to moderate the panel! And "Huh? Can't follow the Logic" can lead the Q&A - beginning with his/her question on trends?

And include me as "Can't follow the math" - as the District table doesn't add up to me. Web Link
I count 74 schools (not 61). I count 62/74 with pre-Break finals this year (correcting for Half Moon Bay High School - whose calendar says Sem. 1 ends on 12/17) - not 46/61.

"Huh?..." makes the point: "Mentioning their calendars as support for what we do just because they happen to do what 25 Churchill proposes uses selective stats in an attempt to objectify a bias". Fair enough. But shouldn't it make us curious as to why, how, what? Doesn't it make you want to pick up that phone and call Burlingame High? or Homestead? Los Gatos (for why they are recommending a similar change next year)? - or friends we know in those communities?

We could all look into this on our own - and a good number of us have. But if the Superintendent is serious about seeing this through, he (or his staff) should be able to represent his argument and address common questions at least in a written communication or hold his own in a community Q&A. The current strategy of gathering input but leaving questions unanswered just raises anxiety and leads us nowhere (am I right, "Been there, done that"?).

I want to see Finals before Winter Break happen for Palo Alto teens. I want this "recommendation" to have a fighting chance and I want to see the genuine concerns of many Palo Alto parents answered and their anxieties about this change calmed.

If the District staff cannot provide this, then a panel of educators, parents and students from schools with real-life experience would be extremely helpful to our community.

To date, the District's grade is an incomplete (not to mention their "figuring" (possibly mine?) is questionable). There's still time to fix this - with a little help from our friends and neighboring schools.


Like this comment
Posted by Been there, done that
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 9:47 am

This Superintendent, and most of this Board, are different from the last time this came up. The majority of the new Board and the Superintendent now have the courage it takes to put our kids' mental health above a few vocal parents who don't want to move their vacations back a bit in August, or even allow one summer with one week less of summer vacation in the transition. ( Change always has a cost, the question is does the benefit outweigh the cost enough to make it worth it, and I say YES, for the many thousands of teens coming up through our HS in years to come, and the percentage of those who hit the horrific depressions that come from constant and unrelenting pressures)

At least try it. If the vast majority, or even simple majority, of kids want to bring back work hanging over their head over Winter Break after a 2 year trial..ok..so be it.


Like this comment
Posted by 3 Kids Here
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

I've seen a consistent pattern in both this thread and the previous one... There are a small number of very vocal posters who keep saying we should listen to the students, and do what is best for the students... but they aren't.

We need to listen to ALL of the students -- not just those who fit your position. A Paly sophomore posted on this thread that she is opposed to this schedule. My own Paly sophomore son is completely opposed to this schedule. There was a parent with a Paly sophomore who spoke up at the Board Mtg whose daughter is opposed to this schedule. And there were numerous others on the previous thread who said that their current (or recent) high school students did not support this schedule change. Why are their opinions somehow less valid or less important?

I think you'll find that when the full proposal is laid out for kids (including moving the start of school to the middle of August, and having to finish first semester work, study for finals and finish college applications all in the same period of time in December, etc.) that there isn't a ton of support for it from the students that it would actually effect. We owe it to those students to really listen to their concerns.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

If we do have to bring the start date earlier in August, then please make the start date the start date.

I don't want to have registrations, picture days, choir camps, orientations, etc. the week before school starts. If you do a sport like football, you know that you are signing away half your summer for it. But, if we have to have an early August start, then please do not expect us to be back the week before.

It is definitely a valid point that vacations are important for families and being able to meet up with extended family is part of that. When we see a calender that says we start Aug X, we don't want to find months after we have made expensive vacation plans that in fact we need to be back X - 6 days.


Like this comment
Posted by mom of Paly sophomore
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

I just checked the school calendar for Menlo-Atherton High as well as Homestead High. One of the reasons we need to start school so early in the proposed schedule is that I believe Skelly tries to keep the two semesters as balanced as possible. Menlo-Atherton has 83 days in the first semester; Homestead only has 79. If PAUSD can give up some local holidays and move both staff development days to the end of winter break, we can have 8/23 as the first day of school for 2011-2012, extend winter break to three weeks, end our school on 6/7, and still keep our 10-week summer vacation until 8/21 -- as long as we don't mind our first semester is much shorter than our second semester.

Just my 2 cents.


Like this comment
Posted by private and public school parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Just for the record - in the 15 years that I have been in the Palo Alto school district (both private and public schools) - Rosh Hashanah is never a day off. The only local Jewish holiday is Yom Kippur - which this year was not a day off since it fell on a Saturday. If we did not have Yom Kippur off then we would have a huge absentee rate that day - even the usually not observant Jewish families would keep the kids home. Same of course with the day before and after Thanksgiving.

Also for the record - Castilleja and Menlo do have finals before break, start the last week of August, end the first week of June, AND have ski week in February.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

P and P parent

Thanks for the information. You see, this is just the problem. We assume that all days off are for Jewish holidays because we are not told otherwise. We have a day off soon for a Local holiday and if it is not for a Jewish holiday then do we want it. Come to that, how many of our students are jews? Would we really have a huge absentee rate? Or would it be a smaller percentage than we imagine because we have never asked? And what about other religious days for other religions? If we had a large number of people who wanted a certain day of for religious reasons, would we have to give it?

This is a public school district so why do we give religious holidays for a non-disclosable number of students? If we knew that we had 50%, 30% or 1%, would it make a difference? What about Mountain View or Sequoia, or Castilleja, do they give religious holidays?


Like this comment
Posted by former teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I was a teacher at Palo Alto High School when this subject came up 5 years ago. I was completely in support of having finals before winter break - it just makes sense to me as a teacher. It also gives more class days to prepare students for the AP test. The AP tests are at a set time unlike STAR which is determined by your school's start date.

I am now at another high performing high school. Last year was the first year that we shifted our finals to before winter break. Yes, we had a few shifts to make but everyone survived and we had very positive feedback from it. We are now in our second year and no one seems to even bat an eyelash at our start or end days or that finals are before break. It is something that was immediately adopted into our school culture.

We started school on August 11. CCS allowed fall sports practices to officially begin on August 13. I thought it worked out pretty well to already be in school before fall sports tryouts. We also take a week off in October, two weeks off for winter break, a week off in February and a week off in April, so we end the first week of June.

It wasn't an easy change - it probably took about two years to finally get the idea through but we did it and it worked for us.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Local Holidays - I believe we actually have Yom Kippur as a local holiday (when needed) because of the number of staff who would be gone, not the number of students. The other local holidays are not related to any Jewish holidays, they should really be called "a day we just decided not to have school"

Menlo, Castilleja, etc. can start and finish when they want because they are private schools. They are not required to have the same number of days of instruction.

Former teacher - just the thought of starting school on August 11th gives me a stomach ache!


Like this comment
Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm

My kids are all in college now—for the second time, but I am still close to the schools. I do know that at least once one of our "local holidays" was Eid. Researching other LHs could reveal other cultures' significant days.

As to the thought of visiting colleges during an extended winter break, it may not be the most satisfying visit. Kids are urged to visit when they can speak with attending students at the campus and plan a visit to a class. Some of the Cal State campuses have a winter break that is also a semester break which extends to the vicinity of January 17 each year. Only some foreign students and a few students with atypical families are even on campus during that break, and very few campus facilities are operating. I can imagine the dread "California furlough" may be curtailing even more functions on all the statewide campuses.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Palo Alto Online Editors

Please can you tell me why I can't ask how many students/staff in PAUSD want to have the Jewish holidays off school? I think it is a pertinent question. I am not being disrespectful, but politely ask if this is still something we should do? I have asked twice and each time the post has completely disappeared.

If I can't ask this question, please can you look into the history and publish this as an article.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I apologise, I did post earlier in this thread asking the question and it remains, but the second post appears to have disappeared. There was also another post of mine on a similar thread that no longer appears to be there.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I am not Jewish, but I AM offended by the tone of some of this discussion around Jewish holidays. That is NOT the cause of the early schedule.

Plus, I think the kids need some time off during the first semester, during Jewish holidays or some other time, in addition to Thanksgiving.


Like this comment
Posted by /wrists
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm

/rant on
This is so dumb. I use the break to study. Now you're going to screw up my plans under the guise of helping me, which will just result in lower marks. Give me a real break and stop trying to help me.
/rant off


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Most students do not study a great deal over winter break. They sleep a lot, visit with family & friends, entertain/travel, and shop. They feel a little guilty about NOT studying, but just a little. The weekend before they return to school, there is a mad frenzy to "study" or complete those long term projects. There are usually only 8 class sessions before finals. End the fall semester before the winter break. Honor ALL "local holidays" (code word for Jewish holidays) or NONE at all. We are a PUBLIC school system.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Jewish Holidays - there is at the most, ONE "Local Holiday" which is a Jewish Holiday (not this year though). From above - I believe we have Yom Kippur as a local holiday (when needed) because of the number of STAFF who would be gone (unrealistic to hire many subs, you can't make someone work on their religious holiday) not because of the students who would miss school.

The other local holidays are NOT related to any Jewish holidays, they should really be called "a day we just decided not to have school"


Like this comment
Posted by Consider working families too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:23 am

A calendar that has school ending in May is extremely unfriendly to elementary school families with two working parents.

As it is, it is hard to find summer camps when the first week of summer falls in mid-June. It's a supply and demand kind of thing. There will be even fewer places for kids to go to the two weeks before that.

Maybe the families in the Superintendent's and school board members' neighborhoods have stay at home moms and dads and full time nannies who can accomodate early summer school calendars, but cross Oregon Expressway and you'll see that that doesn't represent a majority of families in Palo Alto, I can assure you.

Please, please, please don't change the calendar before getting a diverse array of great, local summer programs to sign a contract promising to open their doors on June 1 with spots enough for all the children in Palo Alto who have parents who work.

But if camps don't start up mid-June because of low demand, I'd be very surprised they would open up even earlier just because Palo Alto happened to change its school calendar. Gee, many of their counselors, directors, etc are students and teachers from other school districts who will still be in session, so they couldn't even if they wanted to.


Like this comment
Posted by Seriously Overdue Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

Dear Consider working families... Even though I'm in favor of finals before winter break, the calendar before us is more extreme in its early start date/end date than it needs to be (as evidenced by other school calendars). Your post points out another aspect that deserves consideration, a response and strategic planning.

The District went into this knowing similar propositions were heavily debated and failed in the past. Where is the wisdom in presenting the community with a calendar option that makes it A LOT harder to "get to yes"? If it's there, PLEASE (PAUSD) communicate and make the case. Is there any plan to have an open dialogue so the District can respond to the community's questions and reassure their concerns - about finals before winter break or this calendar in particular?

I fully support the concept of Finals Before Winter Break - but I'm getting worried. I don't see any evidence of the Leadership's understanding of the planning or strategies that need to be in place to make this work, let alone get it approved.

If there is a plan to have an open dialogue, would someone please post it here? I would love to be wrong and have my faith restored.


Like this comment
Posted by private and public school parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2010 at 11:02 am

Again, let me emphasize that Yom Kippur is the ONLY Jewish local holiday given off (and not this year or next for that matter since it falls on Saturday again). I would be happy to have the information and prove that the number of staff and students involved is huge in the district. For those that complain about the fact that we should not have a religious holiday off in a public school - okay then we should be in school on Christmas as well. Let's have finals during the week of Christmas and push the 2 week break to January. Just kidding of course, to illustrate how silly it is to focus on this one Jewish holiday for which public and private schools all over the country are closed.

Someone asked about the local holiday coming up - I believe that is Columbus Day - not really important to too many people any more although many of us enjoy the sporadic long weekends!

In my own view - start the last week of August, have finals in December, end the second week of June as we currently do. This would not change the total number of days which I know are required in the public schools. It would just mean both semesters are not exactly equal which I realize would mean a one time effort by teachers to readjust their courses.


Like this comment
Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 1, 2010 at 11:43 am

My kids are past high school so will not benefit from the change to have finals before Winter break. But they would have benefited greatly. Everyone seems to assume that the only thing that happens after break is for kids to study for finals. Well, that is not reality! The weeks after finals, teachers are still covering NEW material and have unit tests and projects due, and presentations due. There is one day for review and then finals. Kids have at most a couple of days to go over old material and try to remember what was covered before the break interrupted he continuity of the material.

But the real deciders of this will be the teachers union who has to agree to make the changes. What seem like reasonable alternatives may not pass the union test. Teachers get paid by the number of days they teach. If a semester course is only offered first semester and there are fewer days, that teacher will get paid less for teaching that same course (as it stands now). So it is not a simple solution and may take some changes in the teachers contracts. All the parents could vote to make the change and the union can still veto it. It will be interesting to se what happens.


Like this comment
Posted by Another Working Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm


I agree with Consider working families that there is a concern about camps. However, as an experienced camp-obsessed working mom, I am confident that at least a few camps will open up early when Palo Alto ends. Because you are already concerned, I am sure you will be on top of it and find one. I am planning on using this one week as a vacation week, and hope to get a good deal before the summer rush! Personally, I think August is hard to find good camps, plus, it is really expensive to go on vacation.


Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

It isn't as easy as some may think to start later and still have finals before winter break. Keeping the semesters as balanced as possible is a priority for some teachers. Our high schools offer a number of semester classes, ie Economics, and the material covered in the classes should be the same regardless of the semester a student takes the course. Having unbalanced semesters could lead to some challenges for semester courses.


Like this comment
Posted by Call a Friend
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Don't mean to sound testy, but jeez this is frustrating...

Word problem: 62/74 public high schools all around you have a calendar that ends 1st semester at Winter Break. As a teacher at one of the dozen schools who does NOT have this type of calendar - but whose district has it under consideration, you are concerned about how you will cover important content in semester courses of unequal length. What could you do to solve this problem? Where would you start?

Seriously, given that 84% of local public high schools teach with these conditions, isn't the next logical step "inquiry"?

We may not like the answers, we may not adopt this calendar, but our decision should be informed. Our students are more than worth the effort.


Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2010 at 9:27 pm

"Call a Friend"

I think you misunderstood my point. I think finals before break makes good sense and personally am all for the proposed calendar. I was commenting to the people who wanted an explanation as to why the proposed calendar has PAUSD starting earlier in August in order to accommodate before break finals. People were not understanding why we couldn't start at the same time in Aug and just end the semester before winter break. Given our current course offerings, the calendar committee felt the need to move the start date up 1 week so that the 2 semesters were closer to being in balance (even with the extra week in August, there is still some imbalance that teachers of semester classes will deal with).


Like this comment
Posted by Seriously Overdue Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 12:15 am

To Teacher and Call a Friend: Even those of us who support the move are concerned that this calendar's start date is so early that it may make approval impossible. What a shame after all these years of waiting.

If the start date was set due to the semester issue, then I second the question, how do other "experienced" schools reconcile the challenge of semester classes of differing lengths? (significantly differing lengths).

This is why I wish there was an opportunity to engage in a public conversation - with the calendar committee or staff or such. It would be truly helpful to have our questions answered. (But I am calling friends, too!)


Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

"Seriously Overdue Homework"

My understanding is the PAUSD high school has significantly more semester classes than neighboring districts. The example I hear most often is English. In the Junior and Senior years (with the exception of AP English) all of Paly's English classes are just a semester long. Students take two completely different English classes (teacher and topic) during the year. I believe in many other districts the English classes are all "year long" courses. I am not saying adjustments in curriculum "can't" be made. I was only trying to shed some light on why the calendar committee felt the need to start 1 week earlier in August to accommodate pre-break finals.


Like this comment
Posted by Seriously Overdue Homework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Thanks Teacher... I appreciate your point. I am sure that is why the District created the schedule under consideration. I recognize and own my bias, too - that I question how much "studying" (including outreach to other schools or experts like Denise Clark Pope) the District put into this.

When I hear "my understanding is" - it feeds into my bias that a lot of decisions around here are based on assumptions (what people think they already know) rather than actually exploring those assumptions to see if they are true or not. Is Palo Alto really the only school with this type of calendar and heavy on semester-based classes? Maybe so - but I would feel better knowing that someone at least looked into this. I do expect that level of effort from my District.

My bias is fueled by experience - but reinforced by the lack of any effort to educate or reassure parents that this particular calendar is the best they could come up with, that they did their due diligence and it is - for "x, y and z" reasons - worth adopting.

Instead, the Weekly and Town Square seem to be doing the District's work. And that makes me wonder. Would they have answers for the public's tough questions? Is this a sincere recommendation? If so, they should be out in front of this recommendation making their case.

Again, I own my bias, but I think my questions are fair. Thanks, Teacher. You all make this District look good - I sincerely mean that.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 10:37 pm

The trade-off here is not finals before break versus starting so early in August. The trade-off is between having semesters of unequal length and starting in early August. I personally prefer the unequal semester lengths, starting later in August and ending a little earlier in December.

We should move the finals regardless, and debate about when the school year should start.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 10:40 pm

MIT and Harvard have pre-holiday finals. Most classes at university level are semester-long.


Like this comment
Posted by Been there, done that
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 3, 2010 at 5:40 am

Agreed, trade-off..let's not muddy waters over many different issues ( when the start time is, how long the winter break is etc etc) Bottom line: finals before Winter Break versus Finals in January.

Now, let' stop discussing already, its been almost 5 years of this, the Palo Alto process..in the meantime, we've had 4 years of high school students with no real break in the winter who could have had them...4 years extra of highly stressed students with NO REST the whole year...

C'mon already. Do the right thing for the high schoolers, we adults can adapt to it ( or at least, we are supposed to be the adults who are adapting to the needs of our high schoolers, not the other way around).


Like this comment
Posted by katie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2010 at 10:12 am

Check out this thread: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 4, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Thanks, Katie for the link.
I too feel that looking at other finals options maybe useful
at this time- especially for our high school seniors.
I know firsthand that seniors are under extreme stress from
college apps, standardized testings, etc. Typically it starts
in the summer but the bulk of the work starts from october to Jan.
when all the apps are out. Why don't we consider excusing our
seniors from at least the first semester finals? I think we should
seriously look at that. I believe there are other high schools
doing that.


Like this comment
Posted by gunnsenior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Last year, I had a monstrous amount of summer homework and a stressful year leading up to AP tests. After AP tests, I had a month and a half in which half of my classes had nothing to do because we had already finished the curriculum. Moving the school calendar to start and end earlier would add an extra week of preparation for AP tests and remove some of the dead zone at the end of the year for students taking advanced classes (which is the majority of the student body, especially in junior and senior years).

Honestly? I don't use the break for studying. I enjoy it with my family. Mostly because at least half of my teachers either give the final before the break regardless or do not give a final.

The majority of my friends from other high school start and end earlier than Palo Alto does. I think I can live with a different ten weeks of summer vacation in exchange for less summer homework...


Like this comment
Posted by gunnsenior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Last year, I had a monstrous amount of summer homework and a stressful year leading up to AP tests. After AP tests, I had a month and a half in which half of my classes had nothing to do because we had already finished the curriculum. Moving the school calendar to start and end earlier would add an extra week of preparation for AP tests and remove some of the dead zone at the end of the year for students taking advanced classes (which is the majority of the student body, especially in junior and senior years).

Honestly? I don't use the break for studying. I enjoy it with my family. Mostly because at least half of my teachers either give the final before the break regardless or do not give a final.

The majority of my friends from other high school start and end earlier than Palo Alto does. I think I can live with a different ten weeks of summer vacation in exchange for less summer homework...


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I remember having to study and write papers during Winter break. It felt like a cloud over my head and I couldn't relax. There's nothing like feeling done and enjoying real time off.


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

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 3,337 views

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 30 comments | 2,797 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,410 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,161 views

Can we ever improve our schools?
By Diana Diamond | 5 comments | 483 views