City marks earliest back-to-school date in history

Major construction greets students, board to ponder new middle school

More than 12,000 Palo Alto students kicked off the 2012-13 academic year Thursday, Aug. 16 -- the earliest back-to-school date in local history.

Teachers, whose first official work day was Monday, Aug. 13, appeared to take it in stride, while not exactly rejoicing at the early start.

"I don't love it, but I understand why they're doing it," said Susie Deutsch, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, as she worked to assemble her classroom Monday afternoon.

The hotly debated early start date is the result of a shift in the academic calendar to squeeze in the first semester before the December holidays. It also means the school year will end earlier than usual -- May 30 instead of mid-June.

"It does make sense to me, but it's been a short summer," Deutsch said, adding that teachers were extensively polled about their views on the calendar before the change was made.

Juana Briones librarian Julie Griffin said "the jury's still out" for her on the new calendar.

"Obviously it cuts vacation time and all that good stuff, but in the end, when we're finishing the year in late May it might be really nice.

"It will be interesting to see how ready the students are."

Ready or not, Palo Alto students flocked back to classrooms on Thursday.

At some schools, the early start date was overshadowed by massive construction projects right in the middle of campus.

Jackhammers and backhoes thrummed earlier this week at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in a space between classrooms and the school's gym that's typically a major gathering spot for students.

JLS students can look forward to the end of construction in early 2014, when they will occupy new science labs and 10 classrooms in a new, two-story building.

As officials work to modernize campuses and keep up with enrollment growth, major construction also is underway at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, Jordan and Terman middle schools and Fairmeadow Elementary School, with a groundbreaking for major construction at Duveneck Elementary School likely in January 2013.

The district-wide construction, which will touch all 17 campuses, is being funded by a $378 million school-facilities bond, which was approved by more than 77 percent of voters in 2008.

With the recent enrollment bump showing no signs of slowing, school Superintendent Kevin Skelly will ask the Board of Education next week for "authorization to start preliminary work on exploration of a fourth middle-school site," possibly at the old Cubberley High School property.

As for this fall, "with the exception of kindergarten and fifth grade, we are very tight at every grade level," Skelly told school board members in a preliminary report on enrollment Aug. 10. Some classrooms will exceed by one student the standard class sizes of 22 in first grade, 23 in second and third grade and 24 in fourth grade, he said.

Kindergarten enrollment is expected to be down over the next three years as a new state law is phased in requiring that children be 5 by Sept. 1 of the year they begin kindergarten. Previously, children could enter kindergarten if their birthday came by Dec. 2.

The district will take an official 2012-13 headcount after Labor Day.

"It seems that whether we're in a boom time or recession, families continue to move to Palo Alto so their children can receive our quality of education," Skelly said in remarks to teachers as they convened Monday morning before scattering to their classrooms.

Though Palo Alto's first day of school was its earliest ever, it was not the earliest in the area.

Back-to-school dates for public schools in neighboring districts ranged from Monday, Aug. 13, at Los Altos and Mountain View high schools to Tuesday, Sept. 4, in Menlo Park elementary schools.

Los Altos and East Palo Alto elementary students, as well as Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high school students begin school next week on Thursday, Aug. 23.

Nearby private schools' start dates vary: Aug. 23 at Menlo School, Aug. 27 at Pinewood School and Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, Aug. 30 at Castilleja School and Sept. 4 at Mid-Peninsula High School.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm

This has also been the first Thursday start to the school year. Many of the kids have been to various activities at school this week. It has been a very strange 3 days and can hardly be thought of as summer break as there wasn't enough time for camps or other meaningful activities.

Like this comment
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

mmm when I was a kid in the 50s in the South, school was out by the end of May and started right after Labor Day. But the intensity of the academics was not what it is today. We also did not have a winter break, other than a week off at Christmas, nor a spring break. Not to mention NO A/C in the buildings--open windows, sultry days, floor fans blowing in the classrooms.

Like this comment
Posted by Sally
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

More kids than usual missing from the first few days of class as families on vacation didn't come back in time for the first day of class.

Like this comment
Posted by feel the heat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm

"Not to mention NO A/C in the buildings--open windows, sultry days, floor fans blowing in the classrooms."
Welcome to Palo Alto Elementary schools!

Like this comment
Posted by Laura
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

We love the new calendar and are looking forward to finishing school at the end of May.

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Posted by Dave
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

We like the new calendar. I am looking forward to getting out early and getting good flight deals instead of paying full summer prices. You think we started early, my niece in LA started Aug 8th!

Like this comment
Posted by Not Like
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Our family don't like the new calendar - weather is still so nice but the kids are back to classrooms for hours. What's the hurry??!!! Let's have 2 calendars, high schools can start early if they want. Elementary & middle schools can start late.

Like this comment
Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

Of course we would have loved some more time before school started, but that's been our experience regardless of when school starts. We are looking forward to school ending in May.

No calendar is perfect, and I hope the folks at 25 Churchill and the BOE will continue to look at any refinements that can be made, but (as someone who lived through post-Winter Break finals in college), I'm all for allowing the semester to truly end before the 2-week break.

Have the number of testing days in the 2nd semester (STAR, AP, etc.) been taken into consideration when trying to balance the class time of both semesters?

I hope that, as a parent community, we can find ways to discuss school district issues without drawing lines in the sand, creating an Us v. Them scenario over every decision point, and sabotaging (with attitudes and deeds) decisions that are made while still giving valuable and honest input as we live through them.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2012 at 9:55 am

The very abbreviated summer meant everything was rushed--and downtime with the whole family (when my husband and I could take vacation) faced the biggest cuts. Sad, as my high school kids get older and I knew relaxing family vacations were going to come to an end eventually, to have them cut back so abruptly. For my work schedule, "vacation" in May just isn't happening, so instead of family vacation time we'll have parents working kids rattling around (because their summer camps of choise don't start until late June) time.

Like this comment
Posted by Good Schedule
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I know it's hard to start school this early, but I'm really looking forward to having a real Winter Break when kids aren't saddled with studying for exams.

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Posted by feel the heat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Pity the kinders have to suffer to provide this "real" Winter Break. Turn off the AC for HS students so that we're all in this together.

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Posted by You are the 1%
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Ah yes, what a wonderful idea, Feel The Heat. Let's make everyone suffer because some classrooms don't have AC.

High schoolers are on campus for longer and many of them have sports or other after school activites (journalism, robotics, music, tutoring, etc.) that keep them on campus longer. While the kindergarteners might play a light game of Red-Light-Green-Light for PE, the high schoolers are running the mile or longer. Give them some AC while we're cramming their skulls and reminding them that the Ivy League is the only collegiate institution their parents will accept. The kindergarteners can be ferreted away to air conditioned homes or daycares at 1:15.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Aug 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

According to the high in Palo Alto today was 71 - hardly anything to sweat about.

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Posted by feel the heat
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

@1%: At last you're finally admitting that the Kinders are suffering for your calendar. And what's your response? Coddle the teenagers! Way to go.

@Mike: Then we don't need AC in High Schools.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Feel the heat - not sure how changing the start of school creates "suffering" for kinders. BTW - the kids who actually suffer from the heat are the middle school students because they have very little AC, only the portables have AC just like the elementary schools and they are in class almost as long as HS.

I personally would have been happy with more uneven semesters so finals could be before Winter Break. But we really don't coddle our teenagers - the opposite happens if anything.

Like this comment
Posted by You are the 1%
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2012 at 9:42 am

@Feel the Heat - I think the point of my comment was that NOBODY was suffering. True, the high schoolers have AC. However, the kindergarteners don't NEED AC. Consequently, nobody is suffering.

And if you're going to follow up with Mike and say that 71 degrees means we don't need AC in the high schools, then you logic would dictate that we don't need air conditioning in the elementary schools because the climate is similar. Your entire point is invalid. You're just upset because your vacation plans had to alter slightly in the name of helping the high schoolers--which your child will be, one day.

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

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