Editorial: The new school calendar | May 13, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 13, 2011

Editorial: The new school calendar

Moving semester break to December and the start of the school year to mid-August will be neither a panacea nor a disaster

Nothing arouses more parent opinion than messing with the school calendar, and as Palo Alto school board members found out Tuesday night, there is especially a lot of understandable emotion wrapped up in when summer vacation ends and the school year begins.

For a community that claims to thrive on innovation and an openness to new ideas and experimentation, the debate over whether the mid-year semester break should occur in December or January created more angst and despair than genuine out-of-the-box thinking.

The idea of moving the end of the first semester to coincide with the December holiday break has been vigorously discussed in Palo Alto for years while many other school districts quietly made the change without controversy, divisiveness or horrible consequences.

The theory is that middle and high school students and their families are better served by having a winter break with no school obligations, projects or finals hanging over them during vacation and return to start a new semester more motivated when they don't face final exams in mid-January with no break afterwards.

Opponents to this idea don't like shifting the school year earlier and compressing the first semester, and believe the current calendar allows winter break to be a "catch-up" period for students needing it, as well as time for high school seniors to focus on completing college applications. Much of the debate has centered on whether families can shift their traditional August vacations forward, as has occurred long ago in most school districts.

No new alternatives

After lengthy discussion last year, the school board was unable to navigate to a decision and instead asked for more study, surveys and new ideas on how to avoid encroaching on summer vacation time in August. Regrettably, administrators didn't respond with any new creative alternatives similar to the ones offered by two parents in a Weekly opinion piece last week, so little changed from the debate last fall.

While expressing frustration that a more creative calendar couldn't be developed that addressed parent objections, the board Tuesday finally made its long-overdue decision. All five trustees should be credited with weighing the data and input and casting their votes as they saw fit, rather than continuing a probable futile quest for consensus through more study.

But the school board's 3-2 split (Klausner, Tom and Mitchell voting for the calendar change, Townsend and Baten-Caswell voting against) reflects the sharp divide in the school community, at least among the most vocal.

Important work ahead

While we expressed support for the calendar change in an earlier editorial, we think its importance has been overstated by many, and are concerned that the divisiveness over the issue could get in the way of the more important work that lies ahead in addressing student stress and school climate and culture, including policies on homework and school projects.

We are also worried that some are characterizing the calendar debate as dividing along high school lines, with Gunn parents supporting the change and Paly parents opposing it.

The school community must strongly reject this notion. While the Gunn community may have organized more effectively in support of the change, parents from both high schools were on both sides of the issue and both sides articulated legitimate and well-reasoned arguments. Neither side should be shamed for its position.

Lots of other school districts have successfully moved to a calendar similar to the one adopted Tuesday night and there is little reason to believe that our experience with it will be significantly different. And the change is for only two school years, beginning in 2012-13.

The new calendar is not perfect, and there are many variations that might be worthy of trying, including a few that surfaced for the first time in recent days. Some, such as switching to trimesters similar to the Stanford calendar, are interesting but come with their own set of problems. We look forward to the new calendar advisory committee looking at these other ideas.

The school calendar issue has consumed an inordinate amount of time, energy and emotion over several years, and should be put to rest for now. It's time for parents, teachers and administrators to pull together and work toward successful implementation.


Posted by Open letter , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

Letter to the Daubers and SHARE,

Please tell me how your push these past few months to change the calendar will improve the life of my child.

As Dr. Skelly mentioned at the last board meeting, our high school students only worked 4 hours average over the two week winter break. Was saving students from 4 hours of work (pretty close to as "work free" a break as you can get) worth the vitriol and huge battle that now most assuredly gives our high school students a calendar that will stress them and their families out MORE?

- It cripples kids by now requiring them to do the same amount of school work (and seniors, college applications) in the Fall with 20 fewer free nonschool days to do it in (a Challenge Success no-no),

- It negatively impacts hardworking parents at companies with June 30 fiscal year ends who ache to spend more time with their children,

- It provides immense financial hardship on single and working families with young kids - from increased child care costs to having to go to back to court to alter custody arrangements,

- It eliminates the only 3 day weekend kids have in a 10 week span, and

- It was seen by others who care about kids (teachers, nurses, coaches, City Youth Leaders, PTA presidents), some of whom sit on Project Safety Net's advisory board, as not doing an ounce to address your stated stress concerns while doing lots to set other significant problems in motions.

Web Link

If you don’t have kids in high school, you may see some merit it testing it out for a few years as long as it is not your kid that is being tooled around with. I had hoped you would be more empathetic; there are 4,000 kids who will be affected by this experiment just so 3 board members can scratch an itch you created – answering the question, repeatedly answered no by prior boards, of whether pre-break finals as envisioned by the board with the earlier start is better for our community.

No matter how much I may agree with you on some points, I cannot trust your other initiatives now. I operate from reality, not hope. I want change that will make a difference, not change for change’s sake.

Especially disheartening is that with all your access to the public and school board, none of you used it to push the district to make sure there were fixes to the calendar’s known adverse side-effects BEFORE they voted.

Why did you go on soft on that, despite your repeated claims that PAUSD has failed in prior efforts to reduce stress? You must have known that it is very likely they won't be able to fix these either.

Why was ideology more important to you than reality?

Thousands of kids’ health and happiness are at stake.

Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

The importance of calendar is only overstated only if you take out the sloppy and incoherent process at the heart of the divisiveness it has caused.

How stupid are people expected to be that no alternatives are offered for a "care-free" break because 2 subjects can't work with uneven semesters?

It would help if your reporting and opinions would not dwell on the controversy and actually explain in great detail why there are no alternatives.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of University South
on May 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

"the change is for only two school years, beginning in 2012-13."

My child will be a senior in 2012-2013. She'll have a shorter summer (not a shifted summer), a compressed fall semester, and will be trying to fit college apps into that mess. Tell me how I'm supposed to buy vague promises that the district will somehow figure out how to make this better for her and the other seniors--when in all this discussion no one has come forward with an idea as to how that could possibly happen? Tell me how I'm supposed to feel better because it's only for two years and if it's a mess we can change back later?

This was a completely irresponsible move on the board's part to cause problems first--and they did recognize that this change would cause problems--with the idea that the problems will be fixed later. I urge the board to rethink this, and table calendar change until it's clear that these fixes you fantasize about actually exist.

Posted by Paly parent , a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The editorial is correct in regretting that the district staff did not provide any serious alternative to moving the start of school up by 2 weeks, other than ruling out strongly unequal semesters. The district admitted this; the staff's stated reason for not looking into any other alternative involving pre-break finals (PBFs) without changing the school start date (which it states in its meeting materials) is that the level of unsupport for this shown in a question in the district's survey ruled out any such option. That reason is patently false, as even a cursory inspection of the survey data shows. Apart from problems with the question itself, the students supported such an option, the parents were evenly split, and only the high school teachers opposed it. Any why did the teachers oppose it? We don't know, and the staff made no effort to find out. Perhaps their objections could have been answered by one of the variations of this option. I suspect the staff advanced this ridiculous justification because it felt a need to try to justify why it did not do what the school board had specifically asked it to do, and there was no better reason available.
It is clear that the district staff was solely interested in pushing its preferred option and not gaining any information or analysis that would lend support to a different direction. So the school board and the school community were deprived of the serious inquiry into the potential options that the school board specifically charged the staff to do in the fall. This disservice by the district staff is truly deplorable.
The editorial strays when it claims, on the basis of absolutely no evidence, that there is no significant Paly/Gunn difference on this topic. The student-run surveys done separately at each campus strongly indicate the opposite. The district has the data to show whether there are significant differences in the answers to questions among parents, students, and teachers at the high schools on the survey the district conducted, but it has not performed that analysis or made it public. The question is relevant, because if true it would suggest the value of trying to craft school-specific solutions to the winter break problem. With a full exploration of the different ways to implement pre-break finals without changing the school start date, each high school might have been able to craft a viable, school-sensitive option for a one-year test without imposing the certain harms of calendar change on many district families.
Which is why the editorial's point about how it's just two years is hollow: it's a lot of certain harm with an uncertain benefit, when we could have achieved much more certainty of benefit with a one-year trial of pre-break finals without calendar change.

Posted by Elementary Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Here's a suggestion to the school board:

Next time have a more inclusive process. In our elementary school, this calendar discussion was barely a blip on the radar. Many feel like there was no discussion of impacts outside the high school level.

I watched the school board meeting. Knowing that one member was swayed by a survey done by a Gunn student is very unsettling. I applaud the student for trying to help - but the school board member should have considered many more factors. In fact, why wasn't there a survey done at all schools? Or at least a representative sample of students?

I won't be surprised when school board elections come around if this issue doesn't resurface.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I am another parent who will have this calendar for my child's senior year. This child is not happy that the last school summer will be only 8 weeks long because this is the first summer this child will be old enough to get a job and work to earn some money.

The other issues haven't sunk in as yet. But, since we have older kids it probably won't sink in until the homework load, studying for finals, holiday traditions as well as applying to college all happen at the same time when it didn't happen for the older siblings.

We have not, as yet, heard how performing arts and various sports will adjust their December calendars, but things like the Madrigal Dinner can only be done in December since it is based on Christmas music and themes.

Earl Hanson (not sure of the spelling so I apologise if it is wrong) has pointed out that the early start will have adverse affects on sports in August, but did not mention sports in December.

This editorial is timely and I thank the Weekly. But, there are so many questions that have not been answered as to the implementation of this calendar that I can't understand how the Board could go ahead and vote without some of these answers.

The really annoying thing is that a decision will have to be made before the end of this trial 2 year period as to whether to continue or revert back. So this trial 2 year period is not a trial when we will not have 2 years to decide whether or not we like it. To say that after 2 years we can change back is wrong because it can't be done for at least 4 years unless we make that decision before the end of the first year.

However, changes can still be made for the 2011/12 school year in respect to using Calendar B with a twist.

Posted by Cathy, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Once again we have an article about the PAUSD calendar which completely ignores the 6/13ths of the kids in Elementary Schools. You may be correct in saying that many of the High Schools have switched to an earlier August start without any drama but these are High Schools, not Elementary Schools. I recall at last week's meeting there was discussion about how some of these High Schools had recently delayed their start dates in order to more closely match their feeder Elementary Schools. Indeed, I just checked the calendar for Menlo Park Elementary Schools and they are reporting a start date of 4 September for the 2012-13 year. Our kids will be in school more than 2 weeks before their Menlo Park friends in 2012!
Also, the argument that we Elementary School parents should support the new calendar because it will benefit our kids once they get to High School is a little hard to take. For a kindergartener entering the district in 2012, unless we can change the calendar back, they will have to live with this calendar for 9 years before they get any of the percieved and, to my mind very dubious, benefits.
Finally there is also the argument that there is no difference between vacation in June and vacation in August. Well, I for one can attest that for me and for many, many working parents there is a world of difference between being able to get away on vacation in August and trying to get away in June. They are not equal.
In summary, this is a horrible, family unfriendly, working parent unfriendly and international parent unfriendly calendar and I so, so hope that we can get it changed back to the original one as soon as possible.

Posted by Elementary and middle school mom, a resident of Community Center
on May 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I was present throughout the process from November through May 10. From where I sit, the board should have been very disappointed with the calendar committee for coming back with essentially the same calendar which was rejected in November, and they should have refused to vote on the calendar until the committee created other calendar options, as they told the committee to do last fall.

But that didn't happen, and now we have this mess to deal with. The board left open the matter of what teachers will do to relieve the added burden on students from the compressed fall semester, saying they want a report on this in November. They also want to know what additional help the students will get with their college apps. And lastly, they want to know how the elementary schools will deal with the summer heat. This is all clearly wishful thinking and simply a way for those who voted yes to feel like they somehow did right by the community. They stopped short of claiming the right to re-vote on the calendar should those reports not suffice, once again failing the community and especially our children.

We, as a community, need to consider this calendar issue to remain open. It's not a done deal if we don't let it be a done deal. Continue to write to the board, and stay tuned to what those reports say in November, and be ready to comment out loud.

Also, for those who are up for re-election next year -- vote them OUT! (I am not sure who will be up for re-election, but those who voted for this awful calendar were Klausner, Mitchell, and Tom.) These folks have failed us.

Posted by Cathy, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

By the way, I also don't believe this is just a two year experiment. To get the calendar changed back to where it was before would mean approving a 12 week summer (or two 11 week summers if we were going to do it gradually) or somehow inserting two more week's vacations during the year. This would be a hard sell, even to those working parents like myself who are so against the new calendar. I have a horrible feeling that we are stuck with this thing until our children leave the district.

Posted by not again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Palo Alto Weekly,

Why not write about the calendar option "B with a twist" that was ignored by Klausner, Tom and Mitchell?

We have companies with names like Yahoo, Google and Twitter, Palo Alto can have a calendar option called "B with a twist."

Posted by Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I have been so upset since the Tuesday board meeting. The reality is at the first vote on this last November, Kevin Scully said it all when he said, "the new calendar was a done deal." It wasn't at that time because it did not pass for this year. Clearly the boards intent was no matter what at any cost vote this through when so many did not want it . I was so offended because we vote our board members in and hope they will be our voice of their constituents. He obviously did not, nor did Tom, Klausner, or Mitchell care what the majority of parents and teachers felt about the hardship this would put on families in our community. What can we do about it? VOTE THEM OUT!!!!!!

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

It is the fact that we have a dividing high school line.Anyone can see it clearly.It is up to our community to bring our community together,especially this media.Please do not support anything that would divide our community in the future,

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm

@Open Letter

I just want to respond that this was not a major issue for us. We did support the move to a work free break, but I met for several hours with parents who were against the change and told them the truth -- that I felt that they had good points, but that on balance I think pre-break finals is very important, though I could see how you could decide this the other direction. Ken did come down and advocate for the work-free break, but if you were there (the district cut his audio feed so you couldn't hear him at home) what you would have heard was that he also stated unequivocally that we are in favor of implementing Project Safety Net Item P-8, and that we feel that there are bigger ticket, higher impact items that would better reduce stress.

I still adhere to my view that pre-break finals is an important value that I am willing to have an earlier start in order to get. But this is not and was not We Can Do Better's big issue. And in fact, Ken has taken the Board to task on several occasions for the handling of the calendar issue, stating repeatedly that had this been considered by a P-8 Task force rather than in isolation it could have been better addressed.

I don't think that there is going to be a calendar that pleases everyone. I also don't think, as I told "no change" advocates, that this is a catastrophe either way. If it had been this way when I had high schoolers, they would have missed some tournaments and football practice would have started earlier. I don't think it's a big deal either way. I think they would have liked pre-break finals. I hope our teens appreciate that all the parents in the district are trying to get a good result for them, even if they disagree.

No one is an ogre here and I really wish we could move on. This is what democracy is. I didn't like the health care bill -- I wanted single payer. I didn't like renewing the Bush Tax Cuts even though I got one. I agree with the Weekly's editorial. It could have been better handled, but ultimately the Board voted in favor of pre-break finals. Let's have closure. You can certainly work for different school board candidates. Or you could wait and see whether it turns out to be as bad as you fear and then decide in 2012 how you feel about it.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2011 at 8:26 pm

You got what you want, and you can move on to future,what about those families?Why can not we have a third option?

Posted by Hope and Faith, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 12:21 am

Wow. Sad day when the PA Weekly has to play ref with community adults - telling us all to "play nice" and "there, there, it really isn't so bad (even as it's not so great)... you kids are BOTH right... two years is really not that long...TRY it, you might LIKE it...and if not....well? we can go back to the drawing board in 2 years" And THAT was BEFORE the comments came flying in - sheesh!
(Thank you Weekly for trying to help us do what "we" seem unable to do on our own - calm down and move forward - at least on this Forum. Ridiculous.)

Then let the adult tantrum-ing ensue...

@ Open Letter - I'll take hope and optimism every time over inertia, futility and paralysis. Especially when there have been YEARS of actual reality (neither ideology nor imagined outcomes) with this calendar working very well in every other high school district in our two counties (PA and Campbell will be all alone in 2011-12).

Maintaining the status quo (the reality) of all pressure and no break for high school students is not acceptable. Lack of any action - calendar or otherwise - to relieve the undeniable pressure on Palo Alto's youth has been bordering on cruel and is an abdication of our responsibility as adults.

Our surrounding communities have high school seniors held to the very same college app deadlines, semester classes, divorced families, child care arranging, Stanford families, "hardworking parents at companies with June 30 fiscal year ends", elementary families, etc. etc. - living, breathing, functioning examples who are actually happy with this type of calendar. But they have one thing our teens don't - a true break between 2 very rigorous periods of study.

Their reality is what gives many of us who support pre-Break finals - (though neither a Dauber nor a SHARE (?)) - hope - and the audacity to try and bring this same, well-deserved relief to our young people.

And PALY's proven ability to successfully implement block scheduling and a later school day start (with a full year to plan) gives me complete faith that the sites (and families) have what it takes to ensure a smooth transition to the 2012-'13 calendar.

Posted by Open letter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 1:58 am

Hope and Faith,

"inertia, futility and paralysis". The school board has tweaked the calendar to address stress every two years for close to a decade now (remember Ski Week, the most recent and famous of PAUSD school board anti-stress attempts that didn't work?). Paly made major adjustments to its bell schedule. Gunn implemented programs to help make a big school seem small. In my Merriam Websters "inertia" means doing nothing, but looks like yours defines it as not doing exactly what you want it to do.

"status quo (the reality) of all pressure and no break " Only 4 hours of school work in two weeks of break sounds like ample break time to me and many.

You and Dana Tom may be the only two in town who buy that PAUSD should lead by following. Certainly makes decision making easy and gets you out of that messy place of having to address our differences that has bothered others, including the district staff, so much.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 6:45 am

@Hope and faith

Do not blame weekly especially after you used it.

Posted by An Opportunity?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 7:00 am

Thanks Michele for clarifying that the calendar wasn’t really all that important to your group.

Right before the vote, Becky Beacom (SHARE and Project Safety Net) enumerated a long list of problems the new calendar brought with it. She urged the board to have plans in place to address her concerns (in PA Patch interview).

It is so sad for our kids that, post vote, even those who pushed for a change remain concerned.

I suspect everyone is remembering how little success the district had with its last stress-reducing directive (its “no homework over break” policy) and are wondering what will happen if teachers again don’t get around to implementing a new, more complicated and certain to be viewed as more intrusive set of yet-to-be-determined calendar fixes?

We aren’t talking about a situation where one structural change will fix it. What will be needed is changing the actions of every teacher in each classroom in all grades in both high schools. Lots of teachers with autonomy. Lots of teachers to micro-manage. No teacher buy-in. No consequence for non-compliance.

Sure makes the Weekly Editorial’s hope for the overarching win-win calendar seem imminently more practical and much better for our kids.

What would the win-win look like?

- Even later start (students, parents and most teachers happy),

- Even semesters (all teachers happy),

- Finals right before a semester break (students, teachers, and parents happy) at the end of January or in early February, both slow months (college-applying seniors and athletes happy), in a semester that gives kids lots of days off/breathing space (all students, including college-applying seniors and struggling kids, very happy) and

- At least one week off (a “real break”) the day after the first semester ends (everyone happy, again).

This is just one of 4 possible win-win flavors that have been suggested (including trimesters, calendar B with a twist, and Gunn’s suggestion to split finals with some before and some after break).

Seems simple enough. But is it too late?

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 7:53 am

If it is just like you said,why change at all?

Posted by Hope and Faith, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 8:13 am

OL - By inertia, futility and paralysis I was referring to an attitude and perspective that is closed to any positive potential, that disparages hope, that automatically rejects any future initiative supported by the Daubers or SHARE because a vote didn't go your way? - and worst of all, that is willing to allow our teens to continue to suffer under a calendar that contributes in a major way to their stress. The stress we are talking about is not about the amount of homework over break - and you know it.

If I am one of two people in town that still believes we can and should learn from others' real life experience -- I'm proud to say so... This is not about leading by following -- it's about inquiry, study and learning -- and you know that.

When given the opportunity, I'll take thousands of people's reality, problem-solving and experience into account over imagined outcomes any day.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 8:15 am

@Hope and faith

Just do not blame weekly,go blame yourself.

Posted by parent/teacher, a resident of Addison School
on May 16, 2011 at 8:28 am

I think our job as members of this community is to really hold the PAUSD board and admin accountable for analysis of this change. I would really appreciate if they hired an outside firm to do the surveying and analysis given the biased approach they took with the surveys and combining questions together which were unrelated to validate their opinion. I wish they would look in a math book and see the definition of biased surveys....

Posted by Hope and Faith, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 8:45 am

amom - sorry my attempt at humor missed the mark. Not blaming the Weekly. Thanking them for trying to be the adult in the room - sad that they have to be.

Thank you, again, Editors.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 16, 2011 at 8:47 am

Do not tell me, explain to them.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 8:51 am

Weekly,I thank you for not deleting my post,because you are still caring about the whole united community.

Posted by Better calendar, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

I also appreciate Michelle's comment that the calendar change wasn't their top priority. I am intrigued by the calendar suggested above by An Opportunity? It looks win/win to me with a one week semester break occurring after exams in February. It has pre-break finals with a week off to recover, but school could start at a late Aug/early Sept date. Seniors have plenty of time for applications in Dec. Athletes can have pre-season training in August and won't have exams overlapping with final sports competitions in May. Teachers have even semesters and still plenty of time to prepare for APs.

Posted by Yawn, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 9:49 am

It's only 8 days earlier. Consider that some countries attend school year-round. Imagine that.

Elementary schools did publicize the issue. But elementary school parents aren't in the trenches so they cannot understand the value of pre-break finals when their children have zero to 30 minutes of homework each night.

I applaud the Daubers for having the courage to speak up against academic stress.

Implementing Everyday Math was more of a disservice to the community. Great way to teach children to dislike math at the basic level before they even touch the difficult math.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2011 at 9:53 am

@an opportunity?

Great points! The PA Patch articles highlight concerns (from SHARE, PSN, Challenge Success, We Can Do Better,YCS, many parents, etc.) that still exist... that the calendar doesn't address... and perhaps the calendar now exacerbates.

"I suspect everyone is remembering how little success the district had with its last stress-reducing directive (its “no homework over break” policy) and are wondering what will happen if teachers again don’t get around to implementing a new, more complicated and certain to be viewed as more intrusive set of yet-to-be-determined calendar fixes?

We aren’t talking about a situation where one structural change will fix it. What will be needed is changing the actions of every teacher in each classroom in all grades in both high schools. Lots of teachers with autonomy. Lots of teachers to micro-manage. No teacher buy-in. No consequence for non-compliance."

If teachers were not able to create a work-free break before, I seriously doubt they will be able to be even more drastic and cut curriculum/workload to fit the compressed semester. Which of the 20 or so books that Pierre had to study will be dropped? None. The teachers have already said they didn't want to drop material if the semesters were uneven. I can't believe they are happy with the board's directive to do so now.

Posted by observer, a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 16, 2011 at 10:07 am

It's not about the 8 days earlier. It's the issues it creates as a consequence.

I agree that the curriculum stays the same. No teacher wants to cut English books in the fall and no teacher wants to fill class time in the spring.

I wonder whether the board will do anything when they find this out, because there have been no consequences for non-compliance in the past... in the meantime, the students are the guinea pigs.

Posted by observer, a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 16, 2011 at 10:19 am

@An Opportunity?

I hadn't considered a later start option, but it sounds very appealing. Surprising and sad that it was never tabled before. It creates enough of a distance between winter break and finals to disconnect the perception of pressure over break AND also offers a real break between semesters. Am I missing something

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2011 at 10:33 am

Opportunity and Observer

Yes, this is another of those ideas that our leaders never considered.

If a real break is so important, then why isn't Spring Break being discussed also?

Our leaders are not leaders, they are sheep. We need true leadership not followers.

This isn't just about 8 days, it is about a gradual encroachment into summer. When my older kids started kindergarten, it was after Labor Day. Now we are talking about a month earlier start. The theory is that if it happens incrementally we won't notice. But, I notice. When my first kids started PAUSD it was like 6th September, it is written on their transcripts as when they entered PAUSD. Now we are talking about 6th August. Not very good at math, but even I know this is not 8 days, but one month.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

@An Opportunity
A post Labor Day school calendar has been something many of us would love and I'm glad you bring this up again. Why wasn't this ever considered? Finals would fall in early February far from the December break. Friends and family back east are amazed at how early we start school here.

Secondly to the board, why do we even have final tests? Isn't that the root of all the pressure kids are feeling? Why not a final project, paper or presentation where they truly learn something.

Posted by tRm3, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

I keep thinking that this is more of a "CMA" action by the board. Does anyone know if the district is being sued for anything related.

I followed the months leading up to the vote. Those apposed had several valid questions and concerns about such a change. I appreciate that the two board members that voted against the change raised many important questions.

My concerns come when those in favor where not able to give strong reasons for the change. I have lost all respect for Dana Tom, who sat there silent 90% of the last months. Like dead weight...if he was such an advocate and the sponsor of this vote, why did he not play a more leadership role in giving the community evidence and solutions to support and bring the community together. He has divided our community and does not represent the type of person I want guiding the schools of our children.

Yes, there will always be opposing forces, but to vote on a complex issue with a simple calendar change and NO accountiblity, checks and balances...this is irresponsible. And something is out of balance when you has so many opposed, yet ignored.

Posted by Lauren Bonomi, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

I have previously posted in other threads about the 3 directives the board used to "qualify" their vote. The first issue is how the teachers will deal with a condensed calendar and uneven semesters. I went back and looked again at the two calendars that were on the table... the 86/94 and 90/90.

I think the assumption is that with the PBF (86/94) calendar, they will have fewer teaching days in the fall than they have now. Not really.

From a teaching perspective:

If you take out days for CAHSEE and Star tests (2 days in the fall and 6 days in the spring), teachers have the same number of teaching days in both calendars. The 86/94 PBF calendar becomes 84/88. The 90/90 calendar becomes 88/84. BUT the 90/90 calendar has ~4 days of review supposedly wasted in January... which makes it 84/84. The teachers have always maintained they want the semesters to be equal in terms of course content. If the most they really had before was 84 days..... well, they still have it. There is no reason anyone should expect teachers to reduce the curriculum.

So with the PBF calendar, students have 128 days to learn the SAME material with 42 non-school days (weekends/holidays).

With the roll-over calendar, students had 150 days to learn the material with 60 non-school days.

That's a 22 day difference in calendar span and 18 fewer days off.

Sounds like students have no room for error... no getting sick or opportunity to to catch up if they fall behind. Is that really how we want to support students?

Posted by Marielena G-M a member of We Can Do..., a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

I fell your pain. I do not like the idea that my niece/daughters in elementary and middle school are going to have to go to school two week earlier. I do believe that the Gunn students deserve to have a winter break free of worries abut finals or homework, but I do not agree the decision of starting school earlier. There are so many things they could had done by investigating how other schools do it. One of my kids attend Middle School At Foothill, and the students do not start school before Labor Day, and things still work, they have their finals before winter break and not have any homework during this time. I wish our school officials and Skelly would had done their homework by visiting schools like Foothill Middle College and others private schools like Crystal Springs (my older child attended) they have finals before winter break, and free of homework or studying. The officials had a lot of time to do it, and here we have the results. This way they could had come out with a much better plan to have the finals before winter break without affecting everybody's school schedule, but since they did not, and this is all they could think off, now many parents are upset and I do understand their frustration.

Posted by Parent of three young chilren, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm

With all the discussion and supposed "thinking" on behalf of our School Board and their support staff, I am just left speechless. Hearing Dana Tom at the meeting last week, state that he "called other schools who have adopted similar calendars to see how their students and families were doing with it"... and that the response he got was "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" then went on to say "So, well, this is good enough for me." THIS was a good enough answer for Dana Tom? Shame on him. This is EXACTLY the kind of attitude that complaisant bureaucrats take. Those other schools likely HAVEN'T polled their students and parents. They probably DON'T have the kind of community that truly is an international mix of TRUE innovators. Those schools probably don't have as many engaged parents and students as we do. I am not trying to be elitist here. I grew up locally in San Mateo. Aragon High School offers a great education. However, it just doesn't have the same patchwork of families that make Gunn and Paly stand out. We should be listening to the woman that spoke at the School Board meeting who took it upon herself to ACTUALLY CONTACT PARENTS AND STUDENTS AT SCHOOLS LIKE MT. TAM where they have this new calendar yet STILL found LITTLE improvement. Their students are still stressed and overworked. They have tragically had students take their own lives as well. The conversation that the mother who spoke at the meeting is the kind that I would expect our ELECTED officials to have. Just calling another school board member, hearing that they have NOT polled their students and just blankly taking that as a "all is great with the new calendar" is pathetic. Was Dana Tom listening to this woman who actually did the REAL research?
There was one Gunn student who came with a poll...stating something like 74% of the students he polled wanted pre=break finals. Did they know the consequences of this? How many people did he poll anyway? I was shocked that that is the one piece of information that Barbara Klausner seemed to absorb from the public comments that night...and why? Well, you have to believe it is because she already knew how she'd vote and was pulling from the audience ANYTHING that would support her vote. Hard to do since around 50 people spoke against the calendar and about 8 people for it! Absurd.
Further...I did not hear a single board member speak about the fact that other districts that have adopted this calendar are NOT UNIFIED. For instance San Mateo is a Unified High School District. Their decisions do NOT EFFECT K-8. 6/13th's of the FAMILIES AFFECTED ARE IN k-8!
I am so frustrated that the School Board tabled their vote last November but did not take the last 6 months to turn the calendar upside down and figure out WHAT WOULD ACTUALLY HELP WITH OUR BOTTOM LIKE PROBLEM: STUDENT STRESS. I am baffled.

School Board Members if you are reading this: Please focus on the bottom line problem: overworked, overstressed students. Piling finals on to holiday activities, college applications and sports is NOT a solution. You are are missing the point. I'm sure you know what the word on the street is about your vote: that you need to do "something" in order to look like you are doing your job. People think you all had your minds made up prior to hearing the public comments. WE ELECTED YOU. YOU SHOULD BE TAKING OUR COMMENTS INTO ACCOUNT. Kevin Skelly started the meeting out by stating that he just wanted to "vote and move on because there are other issues to deal with like the budget"... well Mr. Skelly, this is Palo Alto. THE OTHER ISSUES YOU SHOULD BE WORKING ON IS HOW TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF OUR STUDENTS. In Palo Alto we don't take things at face value, particularly when it comes to our children and their education. Mr. Skelly you are not listening to the people, ALL OF

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Please do not blame anyone, we need to look at ourselves first.

Posted by Paly/Hays Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm

What about the stress the kids will face once they realize they have a compressed 1st semester? They will not only stress over a couple of weeks, but over an entire summer. Hmm.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

One side is too aggressive, the other side is not cooperative. We need both sides to find a solution.

Posted by Parent of Three Young Chlidren, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

i blame the board for NOT looking at "ourselves first". that is exactly my point. the community is trying to come together and think this through, offer other solutions, ideas for other ways to relieve stress (fewer group projects? limit aps? start school later in the morning?) express hardship, paint a realistic picture of what the calendar change will mean in "real life", express in detail the effect this calendar change will have on individual families...that is exactly my point. we do need to look at ourselves and how expectations are projected onto our kids. that is why this fight is so furious. people are in fact thinking deeply about this issue and are baffled as to why the slim majority of the board isn't doing the same.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 5:27 pm

It is too late,I like CP DAD's and Paly Parent's suggestions,but it is too late.The Board knew it was too late.So do not blame them.

Posted by Parent of Three Young Children, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

amom I hear you, but at the meeting on Tuesday Barbara Klausner stated that she would move to take a "re-vote" if she is not satisfied with what the teachers present to her in November. She wants to see a clear plan for reduced stress or she will essentially change her vote. She stated this very clearly. It is not too late. It is somewhat of a far fetched idea that the teachers will be able to come up with a plan within this new calendar that will reduce the inherent December crunch created by this calendar. We elect them to dissect these issues on our behalf, they are the end of the line and should be held accountable.

Posted by amom, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I do not know about this,I just want to see our kids living and studying in an easy environment.Like I said I have no preference.I want peace.that is all.

Posted by Geez, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 17, 2011 at 6:41 am

I am astonished at the comments that say "next time have a more inclusive process" or "more options" etc.

We have had YEARS of discussion on this issue..this is the 2nd cycle of discussion in 4 years to only just my knowledge, and the first time I researched and found that it had been a discussion point for at least one cycle before.

Everyone has had an equal opportunity to address concerns for YEARS. It has been on PaloAltoOnline and in our notices from schools.

At this point, it looks silly to complain because you were not aware of it or because you figured someone "else" would do the opposition work.

IMO, get over it, adjust, adapt, prepare for the next cycle. At which point, you will then be in the public eye, get mud slung, be accused of railroading, and have people complain that the process wasn't "inclusive" or didn't give enough time. In the meantime, you will have put in hundreds of hours of work, many meetings with the Board, research, sponsored surveys and had letters to the Editor in our local media.


Posted by idea, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2011 at 8:12 am

Why don't we get the Daubers and Denise Pope to go after the UC's to shift their deadline from two weeks before our new finals week? That would be useful.

Posted by Patricia Chang, a resident of College Terrace
on May 17, 2011 at 11:46 am

I just want to avoid the label of a "work free break". My kids never work during the break because its a break! They work in the two weeks before the finals in January. There are going to be kids out there who work during the break regardless, and parents who will push them to do so. Its not a "work free break". I really think that the suicides aren't due to stress and schools don't "create" stress any, more than the rest of life, work and family does. Its how we react to our work loads and priorities that creates stress. And that begins (although doesn't end) at home. Its up to us parents to emphasize and teach proper work life balance (do they do that in their own homes?) Its up to us to put the brakes on if the kids are taking a load that is too heavy or engaging in too many sports or other activities. If we showed more individual responsibility towards our kids we wouldn't have to impose our parenting insecurities onto the rest of the community through the school board. School boards are poor substitutes for parenting. Parents who think policies can reduce stress for kids are heading in the wrong direction.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Patricia - it's great if your kids never work over break but not all kids have that option. Many students have major projects, tests and papers due a couple days after break ends and they have to work on these over Winter Break. A classic example is the group Physics project that requires 15-20 hours of work as a group - when else can you find that much time?

I don't want the school board to parent my kids. I do want them to hire and retain teachers who provide actual instruction during class time, assign meaningful, non-busywork homework, return project/papers in a timely manner and are respectful of students. I want them to get rid of teachers who are unable or unwilling to do the above.

Posted by been there, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

"Everyone has had an equal opportunity to address concerns for YEARS. It has been on PaloAltoOnline and in our notices from schools."

And the board went with the option that was only backed by one high school. And you call ignoring 80% of the students in the district inclusive?

Posted by Geez, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 18, 2011 at 5:43 am

Patricia: This isn't the Board parenting our kids, it is the Board ending the semester BEFORE winter break, lettiing our kids have an actual break, instead of using it for projects and finals studies.

Been There: No clue where you get the idea it was "one school" and "ignoring 80% of the kids". Guess you didn't see the results from Paly last spring, nor attend any meetings until, perhaps, the last couple when all the rest had already been heard and all that was left were the last-minute petitions.

Get over it, and if you still don't like it in a year, start gathering your data and presenting to the Board for the next calendar shift.

Posted by been there, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

Geez, it was one school, Gunn. Get real, you saw the Paly teachers trying to work with the parents. Contrast that with the Gunn teachers attitude of "all or nothing an then it's your fault". If you attended the meetings, you would also know 99% of the parents speaking were against this change. The only people speaking in favor of the final result were a group of Gunn teachers.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2011 at 10:45 am

huh. I wonder if the new schedule Paly has this year, which seems to be a huge improvement over the old, terrible schedule, has made enough of a difference to reflect different opinions about calendar change?
I don't know Gunn's current schedule, BUT I know awhile back, when I checked, at the time it was BETTER than Paly's! Things seem to be in a flux a lot - just look at how changing the principals at Paly and Gunn changes the schools. That's a biggie, too.

Posted by wow, seriously wrongheaded, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Late to the discussion. This compressed schedule will be disastrous for Seniors. First semester grades will be heavily impacted by the college application process. Adding to the pressure, those final grades will be available for early admission reads. So not only will the prior summer be filled with application angst, but students will have to be prepared to gun the academic throttle.

It is far less stressful to let the fall semester unwind at the usual pace. That way students have time to get the apps out of the way in the Fall and over Winter break, and then have the month of January to finalize first semester grades. A break can be scheduled in late January or February after finals, if needed. PAUSD Seniors will be at a serious time/work disadvantage with the new schedule. Not healthy at all.

Posted by geez, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 1, 2011 at 9:44 am

To "been there"..

It doesn't matter who showed up to the meetings to yell.

We have a representative democracy precisely for the purpose of allowing us to do our daily lives while the representatives think and vote. It isn't supposed to be a "finger in the wind" flash vote, based on a raising of hands from whoever happens to show up at a meeting..it is supposed to be a long considered, much information taken, best representation of the constituents' vote.

Fortunately, our Board did it correctly, thought over info from several years, added in their good sense, weighed the consequences of doing nothing, or doing this, or starting over yet again for a different solution, and came up with, in my opinion, the right choice.

Doing nothing continues to hurt untold numbers of, at the least, exhausted high schooleres who take no rest over winter break.

Doing this allows us to at least compare and contrast for a couple years.

Big deal.

In every choice, even a choice of "do nothing< there are seen and unseen consequences. We elect people to make the best choice of the field they can, and then we do it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2011 at 10:11 am

And, if we don't like it we can vote for someone else next time.

Couple of things. Firstly, politicians are famously watching out for themselves and future prospects rather than doing "what they think is best". Not saying that our BoE are budding politicians, but if they are then we have to be careful of this.

Secondly, school calendar was not an electioneering issue last time there was an election. If we remember correctly, there were no candidates for the last election so the status quo remained by default. The previous election was a close fought race and there was a close call for the last seat.

The BoE have also extended their present careers by switching election years. Otherwise, we would be having an election this year and I feel sure that the present Board members are pleased to have this extension because otherwise the calendar (among other things) would be very hot topic issues.

All this means that this particular BoE is not as democratically representative as some are trying to make us believe.

No candidates give us no choice and ultimately more of the same. I sincerely trust that there are some wise individuals who are pondering their abilities to stand next time.

Roll on the next election.

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