Palo Alto families like the idea of first-semester high school finals before winter break but do not want the school start date moved to earlier in August, according to a tally of 428 e-mail comments received by the school district.
While most favored pre-break finals (162 to 99), they opposed changing the school start date from the fourth week to the third week in August (221 to 85). However, the earlier start date is a condition of holding finals in December if the two semesters are to be kept roughly equal, School Superintendent Kevin Skelly maintains.
The calendar proposal -- fixing school schedules for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 -- will be discussed by the Board of Education tonight (Oct. 26), and put to a final board vote Nov. 9.
Skelly came out in favor of pre-break finals last month, citing longtime pleas from student and parent groups concerned about "the well-documented student stress levels in the high schools."
Most other high schools in the area, including Menlo-Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo, already have made the move.
Based on community feedback gleaned in the past month, Skelly slightly altered his proposal, moving next year's school start date from Aug. 16 to Aug. 18, and the last day of first semester from Dec. 21 to Dec. 22, with similar changes the following year.
Parent Tekla Nee, who opposes the calendar proposal, said those changes appear "disingenuous" and do "absolutely nothing" to address the problem of students having to forego family reunions and summer camps that run through the third week of August.
Supporters of Skelly's plan wrote in, "Let's give it a try" and "I really support pre-break finals, even if that means starting school a little earlier."
Under the current proposal, next year's first semester would be 85 days and second semester would be 95 days, ending on May 31 and meeting the state requirement for 180 instructional days.
School district officials cited an apparent trend toward pre-break finals, noting that in 2008 11 out of 21 surrounding districts had them, and, by this year, 15 out of 21 districts had moved to the new schedule.
But a geographically wider-ranging survey of other districts often compared to Palo Alto found some that retain first-semester finals in January, including New Trier Township in Illinois, Scarsdale in New York, Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and Piedmont and La Canada, both in California.
Other schools in the national comparison have moved to December finals, including Highland Park in Texas, West Palm Beach in Florida, University High School in Arizona and San Marino in southern California.
Among Palo Alto community members who sent comments, 69 said they support both early start and pre-break finals, while 84 said they do not support both early start and pre-break finals.
Reflecting the diversity of community views, other comments included: "Shorten summer, make winter break longer;" "Make Thanksgiving week a whole week off;" "Consider Rosh Hashanah/Passover for holidays;" "What about trying a year-round calendar?" and "Coordinate spring break with Stanford's."
In other business tonight, the board will hear a presentation on how the state budget will affect the school district and discuss a proposal for 2011 summer school, which includes a 5 percent tuition increase.
In a closed session at 5:30 p.m., the board will discuss property at 525 San Antonio Road. The site for decades has been home to Peninsula Day Care Center, whose owner plans to retire in June.
Skelly has said the school district would like to purchase the property, which has been under contract with a housing developer.
Tonight's public session begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.