School board to vote Tuesday on calendar change

Recommendation for pre-winter-break finals comes with renewed blizzard of data

With a renewed blizzard of data, Palo Alto school officials this week again are asking the Board of Education to reform the academic calendar to end the first semester before winter break, beginning in 2012-13.

The board is set to vote Tuesday on the proposal, which has upset some parents who view the earlier August school start embedded in the new calendar as an intrusion on family vacation traditions.

Polling suggests that a solid majority of parents, teachers and high school students favor pre-break final exams, often cited as a measure to ease academic stress by giving students a clean break over the December holidays.

But opinion is mixed on whether the tradeoff is worth it if it means the earlier school start date which, in 2012, would be Aug. 16 instead of Aug. 28. The earlier date is necessary to maintain two semesters that are roughly even in length.

A contingent of Gunn High School teachers testified in favor of the calendar change at the last board meeting April 26, saying the current late-January finals schedule and one-day semester break render students exhausted as they begin second semester, leading to a well-documented "third-quarter slump."

School district staff members submitted some 80 pages of polls, proposed calendars and backup data in support of their recommendation for the calendar change or -- as a secondary recommendation -- a "rollover calendar" keeping first-semester finals in January.

In sample pre-break-finals calendars through 2017-18, officials penciled in a school start date as early as Aug. 13 in 2015 and as late as Aug. 18 in 2016.

Past calendars, going back 15 years, had start dates that fluctuated between Aug. 21 in 2006 and Sept. 8 in 1998 -- and first-semester finals in January.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers suggested that a "calendar advisory committee" consisting of staff, students and parents could be convened to hash out details of future calendars.

This week, board members will vote only on calendars for 2012-13 and 2013-14, with a proposed school start date of Aug. 15 in 2013.

The packet of data assembled by Bowers also includes a table of start dates for other area high schools, nearly all of which have made the switch to pre-break finals.

The table includes 2011 start dates ranging from Aug. 15 in Mountain View-Los Altos, San Jose Unified and Santa Clara Unified to Aug. 25 in the Sequoia Union High School District.

Following a 5:30 p.m. closed session in which the board will discuss, among other things, the Cubberley Community Center site at 4000 Middlefield Road, Tuesday's public meeting will convene at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm

The article mentions that in 1998 start date was September 8.

My older kids started kindergarten after Labor Day and I don't remember any debate or being told the reason for bringing the start date back in August? Anyone know what happened and why it changed?

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Paly Parent,

That is at the heart of the issue, WHY

None of the reporting probes why change at all. They probe the controversy, the district submits data in favor or against, or report that Gunn teachers are testifying in favor of the change, but we are never given the reasons for why change at all.

The best I have been able to gather is this is related to AP exams. One way to look at it is that Juniors will have less stress surrounding AP's if the calendar shifts to an early start.

Another way to see this is that this will help produce better AP related results, higher scores, and better school rankings.

Reporting on this should at least explain in detail about the WHY the change at all, not just the controversy. Also about why there is no other alternative on the table.

Surveys are anyway only as good as the questions, and have a tendency to be used to arrive at specific conclusions. These surveys are not in any way conclusive, and I feel deceived about the real story behind the change.

Like this comment
Posted by Sounds too logical
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Posted earlier on the Op-Ed thread.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, 4 hours ago

We can have the best of both worlds if everyone can agree to change.

- start school in late August as normal

- Fall Semester final exams (for content taught Aug-Dec) before the winter break

- 1st three weeks of January for additional instruction and then a mid-term (if needed at all) to cover the final portions of the semester.

- absolutely no assignments or long-term projects due after winter break - teachers who break this rule will be suspended without pay

The actual number of days for each semester goes unchanged. Families keep their August vacation time. School gets out in June as usual.

Win-win-win-win...only if the teachers agree to adapt to this concept.

my post:

I'm with Crescent Park Dad. It makes so much sense that it's astounding no one seriously considered it before. Perhaps that's because it didn't fit in neatly with the all or nothing proposals on the table?

- It enables the high school curriculum calendar to be independent of the elementary and middle school academic needs.

- It keeps equal length semesters.

- AND it doesn't toss everything completely into the air that a two week start-date shift would cause.

The teachers indicated previously that they didn't want to modify the courses, period. And they wanted an even earlier start date to keep the equal length semesters. Well, the calendar on the table didn't give them everything they wanted, so they still need to do some adapting.

Think about it - the early start date being proposed still means teachers have to modify their courses for fewer instructional days. (No one wants to reduce content... but does it mean more homework to make up for the difference?) Plus, the intense and fewer instructional days start off during summer heat. That's not a great help for concentration... A/C or not. If kids have more homework, it's done at home, not in an air-conditioned classroom. We don't have A/C at home.

Do the teachers want to eliminate material, pile on more homework, or modify a few tests?

- With a shorter final in December and projects/papers due before break, the PBF camp gets the proverbial "real" break.

- The days in January that were previously "wasted" on review are now recovered.

- Everyone is fresh for the new material in January and can take a smaller exam that focuses on that material.

- Give everyone a 3 or 4 day weekend to regroup/grade that smaller exam and start again.

In fact, a bit of creative thinking from the beginning could have avoided this whole saga. Why not try this to see if PBFs are so great? Is there a will on the part of the high school teachers that seriously wants to make it better for the affected students without imposing it on the whole community?

- This could be implemented next year with the roll-over calendar that has already been adopted. Imagine that.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Sequoia Union starts August 25 and they have pre-break finals. I wonder how they manage that?

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Posted by Pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2011 at 6:53 pm

This is ridicules what about all us parents of elementary school kids. Why do we have to suffer.
My job requires intensive long hours from April to mid August. My family really looks forward to taking our vacation in that 3rd week of august, right before school starts.

Like this comment
Posted by Another Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm

The pilot of PBFs next year without changing the calendar (which has already been set) makes so much sense, it is perplexing why it has not been seriously considered by the District. Another variation is to have finals in year-long classes in December, and January finals as usual in the 1 or 2 semester-long classes taken by each student. The 1 or 2 semester class finals won't require anyone to study over winter break, so we can stamp out all work over winter break. Equal length semesters remain for semester-long classes. Essentially no adjustment by teachers is required (just have to prepare a final exam in December covering less material than usual). No compression of fall semester into fewer days. No harm of calendar change to families like mine while this trial is conducted. The only objection I've encountered is that students will cut their semester classes in finals week in December, but this has an easy answer: use a special class schedule on the Mon-Tues of December finals week in which the semester classes would not meet. The lost time could be made up by starting school one day earlier on a Monday, and creating a special schedule for one day elsewhere in which only the semester classes would meet (perhaps the Friday before the January exam period.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm

@Pat (parent of elementary school kid. The thing is, your kids will soon be in high school and you'll have to face the whole "stressed out over break" dilemma then.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Why is this change referred to "High School"

It's not ideal for seniors, and debatable for 9th and 10th grades. It's really to address Junior year, due to APs.

It would probably "sell " better if it the real motivation behind the proposed change would be clear. It's so Juniors are less stressed during APs which leads to better AP scores, and that leads to better school rankings.

That's why they're called "high stakes exams in May" High stakes exams not given to all of "High School."

Crescent Park Dad's plan is a much better plan that would make Pat and her family happy during Elementary, Middle, and High School.

Like this comment
Posted by AP Mom
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 9, 2011 at 9:02 pm

This proposed calendar, and the early August start for schools, has one and only one reason: AP classes and exams. I thought stress reduction was all about DE-emphasizing sources of stress... Well, instead, we are making the school calendar revolve around the mother of all stresses, AP classes and tests.

As the mom of kids who successfully have taken and passed AP classes, I beg you NOT to make the calendar revolve around these classes. Kids who will do well in APs, will do well no matter how you twist the calendar. The others maybe, just maybe, should not be in AP classes.

To me, having the blessed month of August so that we can join our European relatives when they are on vacation is much more important to my children's well-being that any school adjustments (school does not get out until later in Europe, early July often, and many working people can't take vacation time off until August). While this is my calendar issue, I don't think anyone would gain in making the school year revolve around AP classes for everybody ...

I can't wait to be out of this school district, what can I say, with all its non-sense... A few more years, and our family will be out of it, thank goodness.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2011 at 5:53 am

I would add that you could adopt the same teaching schedule for the spring semester as well. That way the single- semester classes would be consistent in content and testing schedules.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 7:23 am

I wish the School Board and district well. Goodness knows they have gathered views and data from all comers and analyzed this seven ways from Sunday. Despite the many armchair QB's who have it all figured out, this seems like a complicated decision that cuts in many directions. Whatever they decide, I hope we cheerly support it as the best judgment of our elected leaders. School Board, thank you in advance!

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

"a complicated decision that cuts in many directions"

All our armchair analysis won't compete with the teacher union, they are the only ones with bargaining power, and that seems to be the reason there are only two options

I also wish the Board the best

Like this comment
Posted by all for one
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

From the board packet:
"However, teachers in these departments were quick to mention that
although the difference in semester lengths was not an issue for them, they would not support uneven semesters if the English and Social Studies departments felt that they compromised the curriculum in their semester classes."

So much for it being about the kids.

Like this comment
Posted by give it a try
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

Each calendar brings good and bad scheduling. We have done the current calendar a long time, why not give the proposed version a try for a couple of years and then make an decision based on experience with both alternatives.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

give it a try,

Other things should be given a try before an experiment which is about 11th grade pressures, related to AP and college.

Have other things been tried to address 11th grade pressure?

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Better yet, why not give pre break finals a try without calendar change. That's a much less disruptive experiment.

Like this comment
Posted by Smarter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm

This move seems like a no-brainer if you cut away the histrionics and get down to what is best for the kids. This article says it all:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by parent/teacher
a resident of Addison School
on May 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I believe that everyone would agree to pre-break finals. The PAUSD board is twisting matters by combing the feedback of the surveys to reflect pre-break finals requires an early start in August. The two survey questions are not related....

I agree with the proposal of pre-break finals and a late August/after Labor Day school start.

Like this comment
Posted by Response
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm

To "all for one": How is your quote all about teachers? Curriculum is also about teaching material to students and their learning processes. The teachers are saying it helps to have even semesters for semester-long (NOT year-long) courses in English and Social Studies.

Those who want Pre-Break Finals with the current late start are really proposing SPLIT finals: one before break and one after. That's extra tests and extra stress. It doesn't let the students stop dealing with the semester-long courses until January.

We have summer off because the US was an agrarian society. Some of our competitive countries have year long school. Other school districts have a repetitions of m-weeks-on followed by n-weeks-off.

Like this comment
Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

One question for Response:

If teachers in the semester long courses were to be put in the pre-break finals and later August, what would happen to her teaching?I am not very familiar with this.Thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm


"Some of our competitive countries have year long school. Other school districts have a repetitions of m-weeks-on followed by n-weeks-off."

Sounds like other countries and other schools may they have testing according to the calendar instead of calendar according to the tests.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Hope for a reasonable way to address both issues (late august start and pre break finals) has emerged: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm

"The teachers plan to present this alternative at the school board meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be held, as always, at 25 Churchill Ave. Come and hear this solution. It may well be the closest thing we will get to eating cake."

I hope this isn't an April Fools joke

This is a genuine sign of really caring about the kids, and respect for values that have been hijacked by APs and the college application process to which there seems to be no limits.

Call me selfish, I want cake!

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Oh, I hear for sure the proposal will be presented; the question at this point is whether the board will listen, or whether we've gone too far off into crazy-land for folks to listen to reason now.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm

It really is a case for looking at innovative ways to solve this problem.

Time off in June is not the same as time off in August which again is not the same as time off in January. If we look at this problem as an either/or calendar solution then a lot of people will be very unhappy whichever way the vote goes.

The Board have to be leaders in this fiasco. They must look for something innovative and an innovative suggestion has been made. Teachers may think they are helping kids by not demanding that projects and long term assignments are not due the last school day before winter break. They may think it helps when in reality the work is left until winter break (for some they just may prefer to do it then).

But let's have this suggestion tried next year and at the same time demand that all teachers assign all December projects due for the last day of school in December and call it late if it is handed in January.

Please, please, please, let's try this. Let's not start school early in August. Let's not have work, projects, and finals (such an ugly word for a year long class anyway) hanging over the heads of those who can't handle it.

Let's please try to do something new and out the box.

Like this comment
Posted by ndkro
a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Any news on the PAUSD board outcome vote tonight?

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

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