District still undecided on finals before holidays | November 12, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 12, 2010

District still undecided on finals before holidays

Pre-break finals a possibility, but earlier school-year start, end dates a 'no go'

by Chris Kenrick

When the dust settled after Tuesday's rancorous Palo Alto Board of Education meeting, during which an expected vote on changing the academic calendar for 2011-12 was postponed, two issues seemed evident:

A clear majority on the board supports the notion of holding first-semester finals before winter break as a strategy for easing high school students' stress by giving teens a two-week study-free break from school.

But a majority will not support other calendar changes necessary to achieve pre-break finals and still have two roughly even-length semesters — a school year that begins in mid-August and ends before June 1, with a winter break that spills into the first week of January.

Those accompanying changes cause problems for too many families, board members said, encroaching on traditional August vacations and forcing working parents to scramble for scarce child care in the first week of January and early June.

The Tuesday board vote on the calendar was postponed after dozens of parents and students showed up to voice their opposition to the proposal, which had the 2011-12 school year convening Thursday, Aug. 18, and ending May 31.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he would return to the board Dec. 7 with a new recommendation after consulting with the district's teacher-dominated Calendar Committee to ascertain whether teachers could work with semesters of up to 20 days' difference in length.

Whatever the outcome, next year's school start date is likely to be Monday, Aug. 22, or Tuesday, Aug. 23, similar to the recent past, board and staff members said.

Several students and their parents Tuesday argued that first-semester finals in December would exacerbate, not reduce, their stress levels. They said there have been no empirical studies to support the argument that pre-break finals ease stress and criticized as unscientific informal polls indicating a wide margin of Gunn and Palo Alto high school students favor December finals.

But board members appear not to buy that argument.

If teachers can live with uneven semesters, a board majority appeared ready to join a clear Bay Area trend toward pre-winter break finals. In the immediate area, nearly all high schools have made the shift, including Menlo-Atherton, Los Altos, Mountain View, Woodside, St. Francis, Castilleja and Menlo.

Parents and administrators at M-A, Los Altos, Mountain View, Castilleja and St. Francis have said students and teachers are so happy with the shift they would never go back.

Attention shifted to the high-performing Fremont Union High School District, which has achieved both pre-break finals and a late-August start date by sacrificing semester parity.

This year's first semester in that district, which includes the top-performing Monta Vista High School, is 80 days long and second semester is 100 days long.

Palo Alto board President Barbara Klausner, who previously appeared cool toward pre-break finals, said her opinion changed after conversations with board members, parents and administrators in Fremont Union.

"I called them because I had issues with whether pre-break finals are actually important," Klausner said.

"I wanted to know if students' grades had suffered by not having enough time to study for finals, or if there'd been a problem with college applications. I didn't hear it; it wasn't a problem.

"There really was not an underlying current of complaint, and that carries weight with me," Klausner said.

But Palo Alto should not move to uneven semesters if it means teachers will be forced to cram excessive material into the first semester, Klausner said.

Board member Camille Townsend, who has been the most vocal in questioning the merits of pre-break finals, said teachers in Palo Alto as well as in the Fremont Union High School District should be consulted on a future course.

"We can't compromise instructional integrity," Townsend said.

"There needs to be a conversation with teachers particularly. If unequal semesters undermine instruction, that's problematic. And I don't want people pointing fingers at the teachers and saying, 'They're the bad guys here.'

"I still have some deep reservations about pre-break finals," Townsend said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Teacher Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Re: Studying for finals

If a students has done their homework and studied throughout the semester, they will not winter break to study for finals; Therefore taking finals before winter break shouldn't be an issue. Starting fresh in the New Year could be very motivating for many students.

Posted by Junior, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2010 at 1:55 pm

The fact of the matter is that people are going to use winter break to study no matter what they tell the teachers to do in regards to post break finals.

The only solution in that regard, is to have pre break finals, which the vast majority of my friends support. Although the polling that has been conducted by the school publications might not be "professional" they reflect the student majority, and if you listen to the students everyone in the majority wants finals before winter break.

The problem with the proposal is that the elementary and middle school parents seem to place the value of not altering the calender above the best interests of the high school students. While I understand that they might not like the change, when their own students get into the same situation, they will realize that pre winter break finals are the best way to go.

I find it disheartening that the voices of 30 of these parents can displace the opinions of 1900 students at both Gunn and Paly where the calender change actually effects the well being of the students. Frankly, if I was in charge of the entire thing, just go take a formal poll of every high school student, and you'll realized that upwards of 70 or more percent of the student body supports pre break finals.

Hopefully, these parents will realize that they can move their family vacation back a week in the summer and that whatever small frustration that they have with a small change will pay off when their own children get into Paly or Gunn.

I hope the school board doesn't let the small minority of parents influence their decision, they have children in the district and have the first hand experience of how finals after winter break can put unneeded stress on the student body.

Posted by Future Gunn parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2010 at 10:53 pm

I think most parents with elementary kids support prebreak finals, they would just rather have unequal semesters instead of a dramatically altered calendar. Unequal semesters don't affect elementary kids as much as high school, so for us that's the better compromise.

I strongly support this even if we had to change the calendar, but I don't think we have to.

Posted by appalling, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 14, 2010 at 9:49 am

Again...childcare will arrive when the need is there. I am not concerned at all about entrepeneurial spirits filling that gap.

I continue to be appalled that our Board is reacting to a few adults upset at replacing June time off for August time off.

I really hope that the Board won't let a few folks derail what has been in the works for years.

Or force us into a "count the bodies at a Board meeting" match to determine community support.

Posted by appalling, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 14, 2010 at 9:54 am

Junior...I just read your post.

I am sorry that you have to see this happen in our community. It is quite unfortunate. You are correct..with just a little stretching of emmpathy for their kids' in the future or for other kids right now, there would be a number of adults who would stop and think "wait a sec..would I want MY kids to be having stuff hangning over their heads all winter break?"

The comments of "just manage your time" have clearly not had kids who are high achievers in AP/Honors classes averaging above 4.0 and aiming for top schools in the nation. Those teens can't rest as long as school is "on". Some of them choose to use their "off" time continuing their studies, of course, but at least it is no longer PAUSD sanctioned workaholism at that point, and a bit more easily managed by parents when the PAUSD support is there.

Maybe hundreds of students from both schools could show up at the next meeting and beg for a rest????

Let those opposed look in your faces and say "no".

Posted by Future Gunn Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I'm not at all sorry Junior has to see this happen in our community. It's good for kids to see how things get done in the real world.

I think it's wonderful that the Board took this important need to reduce stress for the high schoolers seriously, and when the initial proposal of changing the calendar was such an apparent hardship to some parents, they are now talking about how to reach a compromise with the semester durations.

This is about as good a dialog as you can expect between the public at large and a governing board like the BOE. Good for them for really listening and trying to work out the best way to achieve this important end (finals before the holidays).

Now, if only they'd do the same thing over Cubberley and the high school construction!

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm

As the parent of a current Paly student and a former Paly student, I take issue with the assumption that the only way to relieve stress is to have pre-break finals.

When school started after Labor Day, finals were in late January or early February, a full month after the end of winter break. There is no way anyone would want to study for finals so much ahead of time. It makes no sense.

That leaves only the possibility of assignments due after break. I think could be substantially minimized for most classes.

When it comes to AP classes, they require more work, but no one is required to take those AP classes.

In our family, we are not in favor of pre-break finals and adamantly against having to go back to school in early August.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm


I don't know where you get your statistics of support for the calendar change. They are dubious. For example, my Paly student was NEVER asked for his opinion. So, I dispute the validity of the numbers you are floating.

Honesty would require you not to say that only 30 families are against the calendar change. You you don't know that. (Personally, I suspect they are many more).

Posted by Junior, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm

If you were informed about the school board meeting, you would know that it was 30 parents who stopped the vote. Thus the 30 parents.

Secondly, I grabbed my 70% based on my friends, as well as the survey that the Campanile published, which you can see in the graphic for the story below. Furthermore, that says 78%, so I'm actually taking that number down. Like I said before, the publications may have some statistical significance taken away due to the number of those polled but still, you get the point quite easily.

Web Link

Please be aware of what you are talking about before you accuse someone of grabbing numbers out of the air.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm


The way you twist numbers does border on bad faith.

Having 30 families show up at the board meeting does not mean there are only 30 families opposed to the calendar change in the district. However this is what you were trying to imply in your prior post. Undoubtedly there are many more than that. Otherwise we could also say that the number of people in favor of the change can be counted by only taking into account any supporters that showed up at the meeting. Would that work for you?

Also, one more time: no statistically valid survey was done regarding the support/lack of support of the proposed calendar change. Neither the Campanile study nor the Facebook poll were statistically valid. Period.

So you can get off your high horse.

Posted by Junior, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Like I said, that's where I got my 30 from, I don't dispute that there are more people who oppose the idea...

Frankly, if you don't think that two editorials, Campy and Voice, in favor of the idea, along with two surveys that are overwhelmingly in support of the idea, I don't know what would convince you at all.

I already acknowledged that there were problems with how the surveys were completed, however you can't possibly discount them completely, they are the only source that students have actually had input on at all. As I said before, if I was in charge of this, I would formally poll every high school student during advisory/whatever Gunn uses.

If you don't want to listen to the students, w/e, but it effects us far more than any of the adults.

Posted by one size does not fit all, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2010 at 11:12 pm


I want to listen to the students, and there were only 2 that spoke at the meeting - against the proposed calendar

2 busy kids willing to take time to speak up makes a difference, not 1 student spoke in favor

and while you want to see it as a high school student issue this issue actually affects more Elementary and Middle School students, which means adults are affected - for this and other reasons the facebook surveys and the high school editorials are only a part of a bigger picture.

Posted by The students are watching, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2010 at 7:26 am

To Paly Parent - there have been schoolwide surveys that have reached nearly every student on Paly's campus. But alas, (I'll save you the writing...) they are a few years old.

2 years of solid data from Paly's SOS survey years showed a near 70% of the student body supported pre-break finals (only slightly less support if the school year needed to start a week earlier. It's entirely possible that "Junior" was a freshman the last time this survey was held.

The surveys stopped when students expressed frustration with constantly being asked for their input, degree of support, or ideas only to be discouraged by "adults'" unending debate and lack of ability to enact any of these initiatives.

Happily, PALY finally - after many years of discussion, surveys and advocacy (and student disappointment) - was successful in bringing about a late start and block scheduling to their campus. And with this school year, nearly 2000 students have a less stressful schedule, more manageable homework and testing experience, and are a bit more rested and ready to learn. Environmental measures like these (what some critics call "rearranging the furniture") are extremely powerful and effective ways to reduce academic stress and increase engagement at school. Pre-break finals is just one of many of these opportunities. It has never been proposed as the solo-shot answer to reducing student stress.

And while the (yes) valid data is a few years old, common sense and experience have us recognizing that student stress has only gotten worse. Pre-break finals CAN be brought to Palo Alto without the extreme start dates of this proposed calendar, AND with strategies that mitigate other valid concerns. To do so in a unified K-12 school district requires inquiry, outreach, planning, advocacy, communication and leadership.

We hold our youth to an extremely high standard for their academic effort, quantity and quality of their work. Seems fair that community adults and District leaders should be held to those same high standards. Time to get it done - well (please).

Posted by life lesson, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

"I continue to be appalled that our Board is reacting to a few adults upset at replacing June time off for August time off. "

Email Messages to Calendar@pausd.org
School Start Date
Support the Earlier Start Date in Proposed Calendar 85
Do Not Support an Earlier Start Date 221

One of life's lessons is learning to accept it when you're wrong.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

The problem with the current survey "data" (besides a small sample) is that survey did not provide a full description of the impact. (Not unlike the HSR issue we are facing in town).

Did any of the students surveyed know that they would be asked to return to school a week earlier than now? Did they understand that the pre-school registration, orientation would be a week earlier than that?

So an 8/16 start date would actually require students to return to pre-school meetings, etc. around 8/10 or earlier.

I think once people understand that the proposed school calendar change impact stretches beyond just 1-week...and will, in fact, have impact all the way into the 2nd week of August...

Not going to happen.

Posted by non-teacher parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2010 at 11:00 am

Dear Teacher Mom,
There are students who need the two weeks of Christmas break to survive first semester. Those students use the two weeks to catch up on reading and projects. They are not the compulsive students the calendar proposal is out to protect. They are in survival mode in PAUSD. Cramming the first semester material into a shorter time frame and requiring final projects to be done without sufficient review time while still assimilating new material is detrimental to these students. We are already under watch from the state because we have too many minority students in special ed. Any teacher "who has done her homework and studied throughout" her career should know this.

Posted by Happy Medium, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Life's lessons are usually a bit more complex than just simple right/wrong. And there's usually a heaping amount of common sense and wisdom involved.

Pre-break finals can be a reality for Palo Alto youth without the extreme start date IF PAUSD is willing to go back to the drawing board and give this community something more palatable to support(complexity).

The health risks that Palo Alto teenagers currently experience are real (and lying in wait for current elementary students) - and current school structures and practices are PART (complexity) of the problem.

We have a unified school district - K-12 - and should be capable of problem-solving and leadership (complexity) when it comes to this issue - instead of pitting elementary against secondary or forcing parents into camps pro or con (simplistic).

At least 62 of 74 public schools around us have made this change - most without extreme start dates. Common sense would suggest that these schools have insight that would be very beneficial to our discussion and problem-solving - but that requires time and effort (complexity?).

Our district leaders did not do their homework and as a result, put forward a calendar too extreme for many, creating confusion over the real issues and a rift within the parent community. Parent input without benefit of hearing a strong rationale and informed responses to common concerns is useful only as a baseline, not final, measure of parent support.

I sincerely hope the District can make some necessary changes to the calendar, resolve the concerns of parents and bring Pre-break finals to our students at last. Life lesson - you snooze you lose; hard work pays off; everyone needs a break from time to time.

Posted by life lesson, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I agree, we should be able to just "copy them" or at least use their schedule as a starting point.
It seems ridiculous that PAUSD has to come up with it's own solution when there are many districts that have already solved it. At least they are now talking to Fremont Union High School District.
This isn't going to be solved by pitching one group of parents against another. It's a change that benefits a very small minority of the K-12 student population. So is a hard sell from the get-go.
Unfortunately the pro group litter their arguments with comments such as "and lying in wait for current elementary students", which are immediately divisive and will reduce the possibility of change.

Posted by for pre-break exams, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Dear Junior,
Thank you for a well thought out, well articulated post!! I agree with your points. I was at the meeting and I was disappointed at how many of that actually rather small number of 30 were against this new calendar because it would interfere with their summer vacation. Don't they realize how self centered that is? They can change their vacation. They can go earlier. This is a complicated situation and their summer vacation should not be part of it.
Several parents said that it is hot in August. Actually it gets hotter in September- Indian summer. That should also not be part of the equation. There are fans and air conditioners for that very problem.
Again I compliment you on your post!!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:11 pm

It would be great if it was as easy as just changing to the calendar that Fremont Union (or another like district has), unfortunately the reality of having very imbalanced semesters 80 vs 100 is a big concern for many of our semester class teachers. Since this is a negotiated issue, the district cannot just say "this is the calendar" it has to be approved in some way by the teachers union. It is worth noting that when some school districts first made the change to pre-break finals they started school a week earlier (ie Sequoia Union started on Aug 18th this year) but once they decided that pre-break finals were going to remain in the next calendar cycle they decided to have greater imbalance in their semesters in order to move the start date back again.

Posted by non-teacher parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Students who can be successful without working over break should be mature enough to do so. This is a situation where many students, like yourself, are not exercising self-control. Students who are able to control themselves and pace their studying are being asked to forfeit a part of their summer vacation for students whose characters are not as strong. Students who need the two weeks to catch-up in this demanding curriculum are being put further at risk to benefit compulsive studiers.

Posted by credibility lost, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

"Several parents said that it is hot in August. Actually it gets hotter in September- Indian summer."
Web Link

Why do so many people post without verifying basic facts?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm

non-teacher parent

I have found that the issue over Winter Break is not studying for finals, it is homework, reading and in particular, group projects that are hard to coordinate during the regular school year. (Physics at Paly anyone). There are families who cancel their plans to visit other family members during winter break because there was not time to be gone. Teachers are not supposed to assign work over break that is due the week they are back, but if you assign a project that will take 20-30 hours, what do you think happens?

Posted by Happy Medium, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Life Lesson - perhaps my words, "lying in wait for elementary students" were over the top - and I truly apologize if they upset you (or any other reader). That was not my intention.

I hope you will not let my words close your mind or eyes to the current plight of Palo Alto teens. This is a pressure cooker - and many, many students are hurt by it. The consequences range from unnecessary stress and pressure, sleep deprivation to "checking out" of school and self-medication to full-on anxiety and depression, and self-harm. (Many students who graduate consider themselves "survivors").

PAUSD started its SHARE committee 10 years ago in direct response to yearly increases of PAUSD students needing assistance due to anxiety and depression. On the recent California Healthy Kids Survey (Feb. 2010), 30% of our h.s. students reported signs of depression, and 18% say they've "seriously considered" suicide. 30% of 4000 = 1200; 18% of 4000 = 720.

These numbers are scary. And common sense and caring suggest we should be looking at EVERY opportunity to reduce unnecessary stress IMMEDIATELY - for today's teens and for our elementary students coming up behind them. Today's high school Freshmen were in Kindergarten when the SHARE committee was launched and in 3rd grade when SOS (Challenge Success) began urging schools to address this serious health and learning issue. Pre-break finals will not be the only answer - but it has been shown to be an immense relief for students at other local, high-powered schools.

I believe we can find a way to give high school students a real break without the downside of an extreme start date. Please try to find common ground on this. ALL children/students will ultimately benefit.

Posted by Junior, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 15, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I hate this, cliche, way of addressing people however...

non teacher parent:

You are seriously disillusioned that people will stop studying for a two week period, then come back at full force ready to go into "dead week" (which I would argue isn't really "dead") and then into finals. I by no means am a compulsive studier, my gpa is below the palo alto average, I'm sure, but I also know that if you can take two weeks off anything, and then try to do something, it is rather difficult.

For example. Bob, a wonderful adult, stressed out by the realities of life decides to take up running. His end goal is to run a marathon at the end of a period of time. Now Bob has two choices, run the marathon before "winter break" or take a two week break before attempting to gain 9 or more weeks of fitness back in a week before the week of the actual marathon.

Now if you were Bob, which would you choose? I know I would go for the marathon before "winter break" but that's just me.

The summer ending sooner is one solution which would avoid the 80/100 issue, I highly doubt that people can reasonably say that elementary and middle school students will truly notice any change at all. Without a landmark such as finals ending the semester, with the exception of perhaps 8th grade, there really isn't any student landmark. You get out earlier anyways in June. Big deal. I still contend that it is the parents who are pushing back on this due to issues such as their own agendas or work, not that I discount that as an issue, just that it's clouding judgment beyond what is necessary.

I am aware of most of the issues, I know what I want, and what I believe is best for everyone in general. I can't really say a whole lot more.

Another key thing is that since I'll be a senior next year, if this even gets approved, it won't even effect me very much at all, I truly believe that the students coming after me and my peers will benefit from such a change.

Have a nice day. :)

Posted by retention, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Is there a feeling that a student can not take a two week break from their studies, come back for review and take an exam without having to spend all of that time studying what they have supposedly already been taught? My question would be how well did they get taught or learn the material in the first place? It would seem that if they had really learned the material then this issue should not be such a big deal. However, if they must take a test immediately upon completion of a unit, then I would question how much retention is actually taking place.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Let's see.

In many other countries, finals mean the last exam of high school or the last exam of college. Finals mean just that the final exam of four years' work. Yes, four years work being examined. Do you think that these students don't take a break for four years?

These are mid terms testing half a year's work. If a class only last's a semester and it is going to be forgotten in a couple of weeks, I ask myself "why bother"?

It is beginning to sound that the educational system is not much good if a student can't retain material over a break. Good job our students aren't attending high schools or colleges where real finals at the end of four years take place - like in the countries where our immigrant engineers and doctors are being educated.

This discussion is getting into silly territory.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I wish the board would look at starting school after Labor Day and therefore make finals end of January which would make the break a non-issue. Take out all the silly Local Holidays to gain the days back. I know this is too radical and will never happen.

Posted by Nadav G, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm

To Paly Parent:

Finals are currently scheduled for January 18-20. That is pretty much the end of January. Would moving it one week on make the type of impact people are looking for? Would this extra week be used for review or for teaching new material?

Posted by Paly Senior, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I personally am strongly in favor of starting school after Labor Day, having winter break the last two weeks of December, and pushing finals back to January 25-27. Three weeks of school after Winter Break are more enough to study for finals and would be much more conducive for studying than December, which is strewn with a myriad of extracurricular activities. Under such schedule, school would end the 16th of June which is far more reasonable than an August 18 start (and a few more years down the road, August 12!).

Posted by The students are watching, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2010 at 7:48 am

A post-Labor Day start date is another option. Its downside would be for those who take or teach AP classes - less time to teach or learn prior to the national exam date. Would this affect PAUSD performance on AP exams? Perhaps not. Would it affect pace of instruction? ?

It has been said that, psychologically or otherwise, teaching/learning/school is over once the AP exam is taken (first 2 weeks of May). Is this true?

Many students take AP classes (as evidenced by our schools' ranking). Curious if a post-Labor Day calendar would be a minor or major downside for AP teachers, students or parents.

But it's another option that would take some of the pressure off at Winter Break and likely satisfy the concerns of elementary parents.???

Posted by Paly Senior, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

I do not believe a post-labor day start would affect student performance on AP tests. As someone who has taken over 6 AP classes so far, I can attest that in every single one of them, the material was covered within 2 weeks of the AP test (for one) and a month or 2 for the others.

In fact, many of the equally or high performing or "better performing" schools such as Thomas Jefferson, Stuyvesant, Phillips Exceter, and Whitney all start after Labor day, to name a few and manage to do very well on AP testing.

Posted by The students are watching, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2010 at 9:07 am

Thanks Paly Senior... can you share your experience with the commonly held perception that "school is over once the AP exam is taken" - as there would be another 4-5 weeks of class if school started post-Labor Day?

Is this a misperception or an accurate representation?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

Some AP classes are "over" when the test is done and some teachers continue to assign projects and also give a final in the class. It's up to the teacher. (Menlo actually lets their seniors be "done" with school after AP testing, I think the rest of the year is "independent study" time).

Posted by middle & elem mom, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I have remained neutral on the calendar. Our family will adjust as needed. And I do hope that the professionals will do a careful, considered job of creating a reasonable calendar for our K-12 district.

I understand that the primary impetus for changing the calendar is reducing stress for high school students. I support our high school students and truly want them to have a positive educational experience. However, as we address student stress (and I think FAMILY STRESS is worth acknowledging as well), as we concentrate on high school I have seen the "preparing for high school" demands creep younger and younger.

The families of elementary students do deserve a voice in this conversation. They are not necessarily speaking only from a selfish perspective. And, yes, their concerns will be different from those of high school students.

Posted by Paly Senior, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Most AP classes are not "over" after AP testing but the level of stress does go down significantly.

AP Chemistry - There has historically been a final lab and a final exam which are worth 40% of one's grade of the class. Due to a change in staff, the class is easier this year and will most likely be less stressful after the AP exam.

AP Spanish Lang and Lit - Very little work after the AP tests. Consists mostly of watching spanish movies and writing short responses/reflections.

BC Calculus - There is one test after the AP Exam, but no post-AP final. Class goes over basic differential equations and topics that will be covered in Calculus D.

APUSH - There is a comprehensive final and a final project, but no new material. Students are giving two weeks of free class time to work on the final project which is presented over two weeks of class. Not too stressful.

AP Art - Students work on their portfolio after the test. It's basically independent study time.

AP Chinese, Env Science, - Very little work.

AP French - Little work. Similar to AP Spanish.

So to some extent the period after AP testing is much less stressful. It is a time when many teachers assign comprehensive projects and lecture about topics that students will cover later on in college. Moving back the school year really wouldn't affect AP classes that much as many classes already begin their post-AP projects before the AP exam. In BC Calc and AP Chem material on the AP test was covered over a month prior to the exam. In fact, in AP Chem, none of the material covered 2nd semester was on the AP exam. It was all post-AP by then. Moving the year a week back, however, would push finals testing and projects back to only a week after AP testing causing increased student stress.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm

You people need to stop criticizing others for their opinions. If you all had such a strong feelings about the school calendar, you should have taken the time to show up so you could have voiced your feelings on the issue. I was there, and what was said by many people was very passionate and thoughtful. It was not only about being selfish regarding summer vacations. It was also stated that many of us did not have high school students and we would feel differently if we did. I have a high school sophomore as did many others who spoke out. My son is not in favor of this change, as well as many students I have taken the time to discuss this issue with. Next time you should actually show up so you can be part of the discussion!!!!!

Posted by member, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I'm wondering how the changed and/or shortened first semester would effect the whole college application process for seniors?

Posted by How will schools do it?, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm


Great question. I was wondering the same thing. How will high school staff who help 400+ students with their applications (registrar, counselors, etc) manage the same load with 1-2 less weeks to work with? Seems like tons of work for them as it is.

Posted by Happy Medium, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Wouldn't it be nice to have our/your questions answered - first by schools or students who are experienced with pre-Break finals?

Could that be arranged? Even if you aren't in support of the current calendar - doesn't it make sense to at least hear the answers?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Do you really think that the college counselors help all 400 kids with their college applications? They meet with most of the kids once or twice. Do you know how many people hire outside college counselors for their students?

The registrar process should be a lot easier next year because much of the current paper shuffle will occur online.

Posted by gunnsenior, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm

To answer the question of the added work load for the registrar and counselors:
This year, the registrar would not take college packets or any forms relating to the college packet until mid-September. Changes are the date she begins to accept forms will not change with a shift in beginning of school. I met with my counselor once in early September (All of my deadlines were shifted up due to a scholarship competition). Every senior that I know had their senior meetings in October. As far as college guidance goes, many of us have outside counselors as well, meaning we don't take up much time working through college lists with the school guidance department.

Regarding the "dead zone" after AP testing, my three AP classes watched movies for about a week, then entered into a low stress project that ultimately raised my grades for every class. These projects were due the week before finals, leaving a stress free week. Last year, of my seven classes, I had only two finals during the normal allotted time. (And during the winter finals, many of my teachers administered the test before break anyway, leaving an un-used two hour span during the normal finals after break)

I really want to emphasize that most of us are not lazy students. Whether or not we support the calendar shift, Palo Alto students on average have very high test scores and many college acceptances. Being told to simply "manage my time better" is rather infuriating, because I take four AP classes, have extracurriculars every night, and babysit in lieue of an allowance. I am mature enough to pace myself. I support the shift because, as Junior said, its really silly to spend two weeks off and expect to come back full steam, no matter the retention rate.

Posted by parent, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2010 at 11:06 pm

I am not clear why it is so critical for family vacations to be in August, rather than June. No one will be losing summer vacation time, it will just shift if the changes are adopted. Why is it harder to get childcare the first week of January than the end of September? Programs set up to fill this need (camps/childcare) will adjust with the school calendar.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 20, 2010 at 9:35 am

Parent- since there are many families with Stanford connections (out in mid-June, back in late September) and European extended families (school thru mid-July, off thru end of August) the dates do make a difference. I agree that the Palo Alto based camps would adjust their times, but most of the world of camps does not revolve around Palo Alto. Many of the camps for older kids take place in August.

As far as January child care, employers expect workers back at the beginning of January.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Registration now open!

Registration is now open for the 33rd annual Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run and Walk. This family-friendly event which benefits local nonprofits serving kids and families will take place on Friday, Oct. 6 at the Palo Alto Baylands.

Register Here