News

Families torn over school calendar proposal

E-mails show most favor pre-break finals, but oppose earlier school-start date

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.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by tdW5B
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2010 at 10:23 am

The change from Tuesday, August 16, to Thursday, August 18 just makes things worse.
This will mean arranging child-care for 3 days that week instead of having a full week for family vacation/reunion/summer camp.
This needs to be all or nothing. Don't waste a week of school or vacation. Either do what the community wants (you've had the input) and change the start date to the 22nd or forget about community input and force through an August 16th start date.


Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

Actually, the change does alter things for teachers. In the first proposed calendar, teachers returned to school on Thursday Aug 11th, with the new proposal, teachers return on Monday Aug 15th. This gives teachers an extra "weekend" of summer.


Like this comment
Posted by Hoover Elementary Parent
a resident of Hoover School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

Has a trimester system instead of semester system been considered? Having three trimester periods of roughly 60 days per period allows for more flexibility with the calendar, and with more elective options for MS/HS than with the semester.

Trimester 1 starts on Tues Aug 23 and ends Nov 18, with finals 11/14-18. No school the week of Thanksgiving. 61 days. Includes holidays of 9/5 and 11/11, and teacher work days on 8/18, 8/22 and staff development day on 8/19 and 10/14.

Trimester 2 starts on Mon Nov 28 and ends on Mar 9, with finals Mar 5 - 9. Includes Winter break of Dec 22 - Jan 4, and holidays 1/16, 2/17, and 2/20, and staff development day on 2/16. 61 days.

Trimester 3 starts on Mon Mar 12 and ends on June 7, with finals Jun 4-7. Includes Spring break of Apr 2-6, and holiday of May 28. Teacher work day on June 8. 58 days in length.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

How are we going to have the finals before the holidays if we do not have enough school day preceding them. Something has to give.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:46 am

Hoover parent - the elementary schools are on a trimester system,but some high school electives, and the Junior and Senior year history and english classes are a semester each.


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Posted by katie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

FYI - Castilleja starts on August 26 with the two preceding days for student activities. It took me 15 seconds to verify this. I wonder about how much other misinformation is out there being used / cherry-picked to support an earlier start date. For example, there was information sent home to families, but not to teachers, with the rationale for the early start date. (Parents shared it with teachers.) What was the reason for not making the info public to the staff at large, not just reps on the committee?

I think PAUSD has been disingenuous in this process. Be truthful and direct, not manipulative.


Like this comment
Posted by katie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Hoover Parent - I agree with your thinking outside the box idea about trimesters. I have worked in a district at the secondary level with trimesters and it is great! It also allows students to have more opportunities for different electives, e.g., six instead of four in the course of a year. Sure, teachers would need to rework their curriculum - and yes, it can be done. The payoff is so worth it.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I like the trimester idea from a scheduling standpoint, but my guess is that having 3 exam periods per year instead of 2 could actually increase students' stress. Parents and students in other districts have adjusted well to the earlier start date; after the first year, the same would likely hold true for PA parents and students as well. I'm not in favor of the latest adjustment, because it's not a full week--it seems to be trying to make everyone happy but failing. Better to just leave it starting in mid-August--it'll be a bit tough the first year, but after that, it should be fine.


Like this comment
Posted by high API school
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I am a teacher at a school with a high API score as well as a high vacationing community. We changed to finals before first semester last year. I asked my students this year if everyone is still Ok with it and THEY LOVE IT. It isn't even an issue now.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

So the net net of the comments is that only 69 out of 428 people are in favor of the calendar change. That sounds like a big loud No!, and I urge the board members to reject this proposal and tell the district that the next time they want to make a dramatic calendar change they should spend some time doing real research in our community, rather than "giving it a try" and risking that it causes a lot more problems for our kids and families than it solves.


Like this comment
Posted by Geez
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm

3rd week of Aug vs 4th week of Aug .. in comparison to the Finals "before" the holidays .. this is a no brainier ! Be realistic, how many family reunions are you really going to miss? Are these reunions and holidays planned years in advance? If so, for the first year, go ahead and miss one week of school ..

Consider the stress of studying through the holidays and missing out on all the fun !


Like this comment
Posted by VayBA
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Geez, what you don't seem to realize is that the student population is 12,024. How many of these students are taking finals?
If they do start on August 18th, we will be missing out on the first two days of school. They really need to think through starting on a Thursday.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Paly Parent, it's not the case that only 69 out of 428 people are in favor of the calendar change. Basically the finding is that most people are in favor of pre-break finals but not in favor of an earlier start date. Here are the exact quotes from the article:

"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)."

"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."

The second quote could have been written more clearly. I think the confusion stems from the fact that people were voting on how they felt about BOTH things (pre-break finals AND early start), as a unit, rather than each thing separately.

Again, most people are in favor of pre-break finals but not in favor of the early start.


Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm

By voting on two things, they have effectively canceled out both of them! Time to choose: early start of the school year AND pre-break finals, or not. It's as easy as that. I agree about the silliness of the reunion/camp schedule conflict,Geez. geez


Like this comment
Posted by m7W1y
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2010 at 3:01 pm

That "silliness" is favored by 221 to 85. Looks like you're in the minority, Stretch!


Like this comment
Posted by no need to be torn
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Why can't Skelly move the SD in the middle of the first semester to the beginning of the semester (or the second semester), and take out the LH on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (which we could live with for years anyway), and make the school start on the fourth week of August?


Like this comment
Posted by palyparent
a resident of University South
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

@anonymous--162 is not a majority of 428 (though it is indeed more than 99); seems most were focused on the summer change and didn't get to the finals question.

The big problem, as you point out, is that this opportunity to comment in no way provided any data, we should be surveying the families in the district, at all levels, not just high school, and getting some real data. The folks counting this up, I'm sure, had a horrible time trying to put long commentaries into "votes," you can see from the numbers that things don't entirely add up, but it wasn't their fault. We should do real research--how hard can this be to do?

And the family vacation and summer enrichment opportunities issue is not that simple to solve, you can't simply swap a week in August for the first week in June, the opportunities simply aren't available. Essentially, camps and educational programs run through late August. They don't happen in June.

For folks that want it both ways (finals before winter break and a fourth week of August start)--we're down to two days here. If the district is so hot on finals before break, you think it could figure out a way to eek out those two days.


Like this comment
Posted by Duveneck Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Let's look at some additional ideas - look for some creative start/end dates on the calendar i.e. mid-week start/stops, shifting the dates of staff development, eliminate some of the local holidays, particularly the Wednesday before Thanksgivng. Let's do something really radical and eliminate finals! That will solve calendar issues at the same time!


Like this comment
Posted by Campanile
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Check out this article about Paly students supporting the proposal:
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Fed up parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 7:37 pm

I am sooooo looking forward to being done with being a PAUSD parent! Three more years and that's it. I'll be so relieved not to have to deal with all the school district non-sense, year in, year out.


Like this comment
Posted by Tyler
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I'm a fan of the Hoover Parent suggestion regarding the trimester system for middle and high school. One person responded that this is not possible since some classes are semester-long classes. It may take a little work, but its not impossible to break two semester courses into three trimester courses.


Like this comment
Posted by Not a selfish parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 27, 2010 at 4:52 am

Good grief...one week earlier start to give high school kids a full stop, real rest over winter break instead of finals and projects hanging over them for ONE MONTH ...1ViUf

One week!!

and there is all this hubbub??

what is wrong with you all?

What is wrong with the District?? It is supposed to do what is best for the kids, why is it so hard to JUST DO IT???





Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2010 at 5:17 am

There is no reason to study over the winter break if your student is diligent and is not behind on his/her studies! My kids have never needed to study over the break...and they are involved in extra-curricular activities as well.


Like this comment
Posted by Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:33 am

Change Winter Break to Dec. 23 for the extra days. We NEED a true Winter BREAK!


Like this comment
Posted by becVi
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Good grief what is all the fuss over. Just make the semester one week shorter and everyone is happy. No one is penalized and everyone gets what they want.
What is wrong with you people? JUST DO IT!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Just do it
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Becvi: I agree..just do it! My gosh, there was less angst over "snow break" than there is over this!

Just do it! If the kids hate it, change it back after a couple years. The majority of kids work their tails off for 10 months with ONE WEEKEND off the entire time without homework, projects and tests hanging over their heads. It is an absurd way to treat them, and no way to teach them balance.


Just do it.


Like this comment
Posted by palyparent
a resident of University South
on Oct 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm

"Just do it and if it doesn't work change it back" isn't an approach worthy of our community. You can't just "take it back" for the kids who ended up not applying to a reach school they just might have gotten in, if they'd had time to try, or for those who did the apps instead of studying for finals and paid for it in those most important senior fall semester grades.

I really wonder if any of you folks who are promoting this change went through a complete senior fall recently; it really is overwhelming, I can't imagine why someone would want to overload it even more.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

The impact of final before break is worse for seniors. Seniors will always be the minority (1/4 of high school) and can not win survey.

Is is possible to give the senior class a separate final after break? There will be some non-seniors in the class and they might appreciate a spread out finals (some before break and some after break).


Like this comment
Posted by how have other seniors done?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm

The seniors from Menlo-Atherton and Castilleja, as well as other school districts that have the pre-break final, also need to apply for colleges. How do they deal with the college application process?


Like this comment
Posted by be reasonable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Kids who get to their senior year and procrastinate, leaving their apps to the last minute shouldn't be the ones we plan our calendar around. If you are worried about their stress, teach them not to leave things to the last minute. You have plenty of time (don't leave it to the last minute).


Like this comment
Posted by Cathy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:23 am

The problem to me seems to be that the proposed schedule suits the High School kids but is anathema to Elementary school families. The issue with summer camps is a real one for Elementary school, working families, which, by the way, is just exacerbated by the proposed compromise. However, for me, the issue is more conceptual - am I really supposed to tell my 7 year old that she has to go back to school in the MIDDLE of August (which I am pretty sure is still summer, by any reckoning) just so that the High School kids don't have to study over the Christmas holiday? Are we really proposing to alter a calendar that affects kids from ages 5 through 18 to benefit those at the top age range at the expense of the youngest? Shouldn't we actually be starting to teach the High School kids the importance of time management and getting things done to a schedule that they may not like, as these are skills that they are going to need when they get out into the real world?
BTW - I did not grow up in the US but the exams I took, which heavily influenced the Universities that might make me an offer, took place in January and I am pretty sure still take place in January. I have never heard any complaints about the timing.
As another person commented above, the compromise calendar now only allows for an extra two days school in the summer. Is two days really that important? If just two days work is that critical, surely the High School kids could fit that into their winter holiday without it being totally ruined!


Like this comment
Posted by no skin in this game any more, just wisdom
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Cathy: I somehow suspect that camps will spring up to be filled with elementary school kids who are out earlier in June..no worries there! that is what enterprising folks do, and there are no lack of them here.

Where you grew up may have had exams in January for universities, but these are not what we are talking about.

Don't worry, the elementary kids will adjust..the camps will spring up...I think it is the adults who are having the troubles adjusting to a little change. And once your kids are in high school, you will be very grateful to see them be able to actually REST over winter break, instead of being called to have project meetings on Christmas Day with friends who don't "do" Christmas. Honestly, that happened with my son..of course I said NO WAY...but he really felt the need to participate with the group project kids who went ahead without him on that day, and was mad at me for stopping him.

Those of you with younger kids, try to project yourself into their shoes, and ask yourself if you really want your kids to have to worry about projects, finals and homework over winter break. Imagine going on family vacations and EVERYONE is resting, and your son or daughter isn't bowing out of activities so s/he can do school work.

C'mon folks, give the kids a break.




Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on Oct 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

My kids never had to bow out of family activities during the winter break for projects (except for the physics project which is a nightmare that no calendar change could fix, that's another story); under the new calendar they'd miss many many long-standing family traditions during the finals study period.

And "camps" won't spring up--not ones that go beyond daycare and actually enrich the kids; those don't work around our calendar. And Stanford and local corporations who furlough during the current break won't change that furlough to January. Anyway you look at it it's less family time and more, not less, stress. Those of us who see this as having huge negative effects on our lives won't be able to "adjust", sure, we'll eventually graduate our kids out of the district, but we won't be able to get the family time lost back.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Cathy,

A 7 year old will NOT know the difference unless they hear parents talking about it.


Like this comment
Posted by maybe dumb question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2010 at 8:19 am



why is the schedule change being proposed in the first place?


Like this comment
Posted by Steven
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 29, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I say keep the original start date and have finals before winter break. The first semester will be shorter and the second semester will be longer, but the amount of content taught will be the same. So what if second semester finals cover more material than first semester finals? At least with this approach, nobody's schedules are negatively impacted except that of teachers who teach one-semester courses.


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

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