Diverse views sought for calendar committee | October 26, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 26, 2012

Diverse views sought for calendar committee

Student-parent group to survey Palo Alto school community, advise on future school calendars

by Chris Kenrick

Hoping for a calmer discussion when it's time to adopt future Palo Alto school calendars, the Board of Education Tuesday called for diverse viewpoints to be represented on a calendar advisory committee to be convened this fall.

The committee will survey student, parents and teachers about their satisfaction with controversial calendar reforms enacted this year and offer suggestions on whether those reforms should be retained in future calendars, beginning with 2014-15.

This year's reforms, adopted in an emotional 3-2 board vote in 2011, moved the school start date to mid-August so as to squeeze in the first semester before the December holidays. That format will be in effect through 2013-14.

Supporters advocated the calendar change as a way to give students — particularly high school students — a work-free winter break, as most other public and private high schools in the area already have done.

Opponents argued that the new calendar intrudes on traditional family time in August and creates the added stress of finals for high school students in the pre-holiday period already crowded with college admissions work and extracurricular activities.

School officials are preparing to gather data on satisfaction with the new calendar as they lay the groundwork for a board vote on future calendars, projected for November 2013.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers will take applications from interested community members to compose a committee that includes four high school students, two high school parents, two middle school parents, four elementary school parents and two school administrators.

The committee will help design surveys of students, parents and staff — planned for both January and August of next year — regarding the new calendar.

In addition to diverse representation, board members asked Bowers that the committee create a list of agreed-upon values to guide the calendar discussion.

"Last time our process for the calendar didn't really work. It divided the community," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said. "We've got to get ahead of it this time."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2012 at 8:32 am

Perhaps it is time for us to become leaders rather than followers.

Perhaps it is time to look at the reality of changing to a trimester system. With a northern hemisphere calendar, it makes sense as there are natural breaks in December and Spring which automatically cause breaks in the school year. The natural way to do things is to follow these breaks and make 3 trimesters rather than the unnatural 2 semesters.

Posted by Paly Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 9:08 am

Re this statement above:

"Opponents argued that the new calendar intrudes on traditional family time in August and creates the added stress of finals for high school students in the crowded pre-holiday period."

This argument is preposterous. PAUSD is a college-prep district. Those who want their low-level academics and party time should move elsewhere. We need to lessen stress for our students. I graduated from Paly in the early 80s and the level of schoolwork has changed. The teachers expect so much from students these days that there is hardly any free time for our children to relax and hang-out. They are teaching from college textbooks now in regular lanes.

Posted by Adds stress, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

What day the school year starts on does not affect student stress as much as the day the semester ends and is why there has been so much push back against this new "stress-free" calendar.

Remember, the stress that the Xmas break stress is to relieve according to two years of student surveys is an average of 4 hours of school work during 2+ weeks of break. That's it.

What high school students get in exchange for a hoped for release from those 4 hours of work (I say hoped for because we won't know if teachers will still assign work or students will still work ahead until January) is:

- Thanksgiving plans cancelled so students can study for finals then instead

- For seniors, an entire December without a breather studying for finals, taking finals AND, for the multitudes who aren't just applying to CA public colleges, immediately afterward that finishing up all their college applications due a few days later, and

- 4 weeks in May that have back to back, and on top of each other, AP tests, finals, theater and music performances, athletic games, and graduation festivities.

Phew. Just reading about all the students have to push through now without time to look up is stressful.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:16 am

I think the goal was a "stress free" winter break. The amount of work the student does is not the same as the amount of stress a student feels. With the pending finals hanging over their heads, many students feel the stress. Sure, some are lucky enough to not have the academic challenges that others face and can just take a two week break both mentally and physically from school, but others cannot if things are still left to do (finals). Some worry about forgetting, others just worry in general. I don't know which approach (finals before or finals after) is better for students but I am wanting to give it a real try and see what students think after having this schedule for at least two years. I am disappointed that they are already talking about the impact of the schedule when they haven't even experienced the full semester yet. Life for our high school students this week would be the same no matter when they started and when finals were going to be. In my opinion, there needs to be at least a year of the schedule before you can pass judgement.

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:36 am

the question is: is a work free winter break worth a doubly stressful fall semester. our family's answer is NOT AT ALL!

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

I recall that when this committee was first envisioned by the board last year its goal was not going to be to generate surveys, but rather to look far and wide for calendar solutions that do better in addressing the big picture, not just taking stress from one spot and inserting it into another. For one, there was to be a serious consideration of trimesters, or two semesters with an intersession in January, or other creative approaches. I hope the group when it forms doesn't get bogged down in generating survey questions but takes a big step back and opens up the discussion to new ideas.

Posted by give it a try..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 11:14 am

The new calendar was adopted to give our high school students (freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors -- seniors are only 25% of high school students) a work free break. Districts in this area and around the country have adopted a finals-before-break calendar and have liked it. Palo Alto has a serious problem with academic stress, which is why Project Safety Net recommended finals before break. That's why the board adopted it, and that's why it is a good idea.

The Time to Thrive group has certainly grabbed the megaphone and blasted the city with the idea that the sky is falling, that the calendar is a TRAGEDY! But they haven't been active in trying to limit the use of timed math tests in elementary school (source of stress). They haven't been active in trying to improve counseling at Gunn. They haven't been active in trying to limit homework. They haven't been active in trying to address test and project stacking. They haven't had one thing to say about any of this stuff.

Those who oppose a work-free break would be a lot more persuasive if they ever cared about any of the other stressors. And to see Heidi Emberling taking this position is just sad, since she is supposed to "serve on" Project Safety Net and finals before break was a PSN goal. It is important to stand up for kids, even if it isn't the most popular. Kudos to Mitchell, Klausner, and Tom for voting the right way here.

Posted by Cathy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 24, 2012 at 11:24 am

To Paly Alum. You say "PAUSD is a college-prep district". No, it is a unified school district, serving students from K-12 - from age 4 to 18. The school board needs to look at the impact of a policy on the entire student body, not just the vocal few.

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

Planning transparency was reqested regarding semester courses at the high schools (English and Social Studies). The district came up with absolutely nothing in response to that request from the School Board. Most schools do not have semester long core classes which must finish a defined amount of material in a single semester.

Posted by Adds stress, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm

give it

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

As to Time to Thrive, it sure seems like it is getting things done (isn�t this calendar advisory committee its idea?) and not riding on the coattails of work that was already in progress. You might want to ping them to see what other things they are working on before accusing them of being a one issue group that does not care for kids. I suspect that they use quiet and polite diplomacy which usually is more effective than screaming.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

The trimester system is worth a try, and it is so much more logical.

The rest of the world has a much longer school year (and school day), with two distinct breaks. With the economy no longer based on agriculture, why do the kids need the whole summer off? Why do they need more holidays than the rest of the working society? Western Europe gives school kids August and December off--that's it. The longer school year and school day require far less homework, as a bonus, because most of the work,is done IN school, the optimal place for it.

Since we are supposed to have a highly-rated educational system, why don't we continue to lead the way with an innovative, more efficient school calendar?

Posted by give it a try..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm

@stress -- " I suspect that they use quiet and polite diplomacy which usually is more effective than screaming." are you kidding? Did you watch the board meetings when these folks were down there complaining? I'm sure you were one of them, so I don't doubt it, as your posts are drawn right from their manifesto.

I invite people who have not had the pleasure of seeing what real incivility looks like. Phil Mahoney said that the board would have "blood on their hands" because students would commit suicide over the new calendar. Then he used Barbara Klausner's daughter to slam her by saying that she would be a recruited athlete so somehow that made Barbara not care about the calendar. Then when they did not get their way, they actually yelled and stomped out of the meeting and slammed the door so hard that it is audible on the video tape.

Is that your definition of "quiet diplomacy"? Is that who presumes to lecture the community about collegiality and civility? You alienated so many potential supporters with those shenanigans that you made it impossible to do the mitigation plan because you turned the whole issue radioactive.

All of that was over 6 days in August. If Phil Mahoney ever came down to 25 Churchill street to argue for any other stress reduction measure other than those 6 days, it has not been captured in video.

How about if we move on and just try to find a way to start later and still have pre-break finals.

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Wynn Hausser is a registered user.

@Adds stress: Where do you see any information provided by @GiveItaTry that they are affiliated with We Can Do Better Palo Alto? I don't see any. All I see is a gratuitous slap from you at parents who are trying to make changes in the community.

Regarding the Committee, all I ask is that we stop going around in circles. This discussion has been ongoing for at least 4-5 years. There is no chance of pleasing everyone. I do think surveying to see how people like the change is a good idea. But I suggest waiting for the survey until we've gone through an entire year first. Let people experience both the new winter break AND having the full month of June available for families. This year summer was shorter - it won't necessarily feel that way come next August.

I like the idea of looking at other models such as trimesters. But regardless, we should retain the same goal of reducing stress over the winter holidays.

Posted by give it a try..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Here's a little stroll down memory lane for Palo Alto, with some quotes from "quiet and polite" members of Time to Thrive:

Posted by Phil Mahoney, a member of the Nixon School community, on May 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

Let the RECALL begin! Our so called 'representatives' failed to listen to overwhelming parental rejection of this calendar even when given a time tested trimester approach alternative. Think there are some 'angry voters' out there, you bet! Destroy family bonding time, force working families to hire daycare in June and Jan when the real world works, and force college apps to happen during finals, nice work Board. Hopefully , you will soon be a former Board ! Your arrogance is trumped only by your lack of flexibility. Your sending K-8 kids to hot August schools is very insensitive. You threw away a chance to deal with the real causes of stress ; too much homework and not enough sleep. Now you deserve to be dismissed from class.

On November 29, Phil was back, having not yet fully threatened, yelled at, or disparaged our volunteer boardmembers. At that point, as the Weekly reported, "Three of the 20 [Time to Thrive members] who spoke even suggested the new calendar could lead students to "do the unthinkable," a reference to a string of Palo Alto teen suicides in 2009 and 2010.

"There are lives on the line here," parent Phil Mahoney said.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I personally have calendar fatigue and no for your information I am not a member of We Can Do Better at all but I am sick of you calendar people and your one issue. We have stressful schools and I am for anyone who wants to do something about it. I am voting for Ken Dauber because he will keep finals before winter break but also try to act in a sane manner to move the start date back. He supports trying out trimesters or other ideas.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I would hope the next calendar cycle isn't so narrowly focused on the winter holidays; my kids were very much in need of a real spring break, yet had homework assigned due the first day back. Moving finals wasn't a magic pill to fix stress, and caused more stress in certain other places of the calendar. This time let's look at the big picture.

Time to Thrive is indeed focused on how a school calendar impacts students' abilities to balance schoolwork, family time, extracurriculars, and rest. The group is very interested in and aware of what the homework committee is doing, but yes, the focus has been the calendar, because the group sees the last calendar process as being a travesty, undergone without real data, and with little consideration of the big picture. Right now, the calendar is the biggest creator of a time crunch. Counseling and many of the other issues you list are not directly related to balancing family, school, extracurriculars, etc.

Posted by Duveneck dad, a resident of Duveneck School
on Oct 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I have seen postings from this Time to Thrive group from time to time and I also see the same overheated language like "travesty" in the post above from Paly parent (I missed the accusations that the new calendar is literally deadly the first time around but I am not surprised). I don't understand the obsession of these parents with this few days of change. I would prefer to start later but I appreciate that our high school students need some time off without work, and my daughter is after all going to be at Paly some day. The idea that the calendar is more important than homework is laughable, since homework happens every single day. I have also noticed how negative these people are -- I have not seen them do any actual work to come up with something better.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I am all for waiting for a year to see how it goes, but unfortunately we don't have a lot of time to wait and see. The calendar for this winter break is very different from the calendar for the following year due to when Christmas falls. What may seem fine this year may not feel the same next year.

Another thing to remember is to ask how things went while they are fresh in people's (student's minds). Already August seems a long time ago and so does Labor Day. I know our Labor Day weekend was used to do some back to school shopping, hair cuts, etc. that were not done before school started. If we leave it until the end of the school year, a lot of the details of the December rush will be forgotten. So yes, we need to start thinking about how to evaluate the calendar as it happens, not when it is forgotten.

Likewise, anyone know how the choir and music performances are handling the holiday season? Do we have madrigals and holiday concerts? Also, how are the sports for December/January coping? Will the winter break be any more free or less free for basketball and other winter sports?

These are all relevant to student stress.

Posted by Gunn parent , a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm

They say the new calendar is a fix for stress. All it does is make the stress move to different times of the year. So since if it isn't the fix for overall stress for high schoolers (like homework, test scheduling, group project assignments, too many AP's, palo alto parents riding their kids to get into the schools THEY attended when it wasn't as hard to get in 20 years ago), WHY IN THE WORLD aren't we focused on fixing THOSE REAL issues and leaving the calendar alone? Why make 8,000 kids suffer with horribly times summer break, winter break and school start for 4,000 kids that deserve REAL changes that involve teachers working together to manage and coordinate tests and projects for our stressed out kids??? Why should families with Kinders suffer this calendar when it doesn't even really fix the problem? I feel sorry for all the families who are suffering because of this calendar that at first glance seems like a vallient effort but really proves to just be PAUSD following along with other districts who have DIFFERENT community values than we do. Lets keep PAUSD a special district and so what is write for OUR culture and kids.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I would like a sincere look at the big picture as well. There are a number of students who had exams on the first day of school based on summer homework assigned at the end of the previous school year! If the end of the school year doesn't ensure a work free summer break, what makes anyone think that this calendar will magically ensure a work free winter break?

Posted by district teacher & voter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2012 at 6:42 pm

It's great to read a 'dialogue' about trimesters. Been there, done that. It works and it works well. During the last go around with this calendar drama, there was a cadre of teachers asking for this to be considered and, to me at least, the idea was ignored. Yes, it would be a difficult transition the first year and teachers would have to change up curriculum (gasp!), but it benefits the children. And, students would have the opportunity to explore perhaps six electives as opposed to four. *Please* consider this option!

Posted by Honest question, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Advanced Placement tests are valued by a large number of families in Palo Alto - as evidenced by the numbers of students who take them, and the national rankings that are tied to them.

AP tests are completed around mid-May each year - and it is a common opinion that, for all intents and purposes, "class is over" once the test is taken. While student stress concerns drive many to advocate for finals before winter break, there are others who see an earlier beginning to the school year, and the earlier end, as providing what is necessary for a school system that has a lot of students taking AP courses. (More time to educate prior to the test, potentially higher scores, and less time "wasted" after the test is taken).

Might doing what's best for APs be the motivator, at least for some new calendar supporters? Might this explain PAUSD's extremely early start date (extreme even for schools who, for YEARS, have had finals before winter break)? If it were the motivator, would anyone admit to it? If it made a difference in our children's ability to score higher on APs, and increased our rankings, would parents be more supportive or less critical of the new calendar?

Posted by Gunn Parent , a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 24, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Re:ap's: This is a unified school district. This means we have kids age 5
At the mercy of this calendar. Look around the country at other high
Achieving schools and you won't see early August starts. You won't see cramming a semester in before holiday break. If AP's are the driving force that is unfair to the approximate 9,000 students (approx 4k high school students assuming approx 3/4 of them take ap')s that aren't taking ap's! Again, we can't take family time away from families in August when companies around the world slow down and allow for family time. The Stanford calendar is totally out of alligment with pausd now too which is horrible for those families as well. There are other ways to support the ap's! Our ap scores are phenomenal - we don't need to take away family time for even more attention to ap's!!!! I wish people would start thinking about the whole family in this picture , on the developmental assets our district has told is to work on with our kids.

Posted by CrescentPark neighbor, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm

BRAVO to the district for creating a committee of well represented parents (K -12) in the PAUSD school district to look at the school calendar. I especially agree that having a "list of agreed-upon values to guide the calendar discussion" is important since it appears that the last time a calendar decision was made there was never a clear idea of the apparent value or an approach to measure it. I'm hoping that this committee can research and recommend other ideas that haven't yet been explored thoroughly and that the district will take their recommendation seriously. Looking forward to some fresh and alternative ideas with solid recommendations for implementation.

Posted by committee fail, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2012 at 7:12 am

This committee includes no teachers. As a teacher, I was shocked and appalled that teachers were excluded and there is no way that a group of parents alone is going to be able to propose a calendar that will have any chance of being adopted or working. How could they? Parents don't know anything about when anything happens or what the constraints are. If you think it was chaos last time just wait until this committee spends a ton of time working out their fantasy calendar only to have it summarily rejected by the teachers who weren't consulted. Melissa Caswell proposed having teachers on the committee, but then when Dr. Skelly said no, she just backed down and didn't try to argue for her view she just silently dropped it like she always does. That's not collaboration, that's being ignored. Does she think he was collaborating with her when he just told her no?

Posted by gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

maybe skelly was trying to protect his staff when he said no to caswell

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2012 at 9:37 am

Without teachers on the committee, they're just paying lip service to the parents who think they might have any say in the matter. In the end, I think the district will just say thank you, pat them on the head, and go on their merry way to do as they please. There are key participants who control what proposals are formulated and have a vested interest in making the alternative solutions look bad.

Posted by Parent of a Gunn grad , a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 25, 2012 at 9:45 am

High school students may take up to seven classes. If the first semester offered only six classes & the second offered eight classes, could school start later in August & still end the first semester in Dec. because the number of instructional minutes would be more per class? Would having a "double class time" possibility in the Spring work really well for some classes? Could PAUSD families accept an unequal number of classes in each semester?

Posted by give it a try..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 25, 2012 at 10:07 am

Deb Whitson wanted to be on the committee last time and was kept out. That's how we didn't get trimesters or any other creative ideas. The board members (Caswell, Townsend) who supposedly support creative alternatives didn't try to get her on this time either. Melissa made one half-hearted suggestion, saying "I would vote to have teachers on," but then there was no vote. How would you vote? Did you make a motion? Did you have a proposal? You would vote when? Just saying "I would vote" when there is no vote is talking to yourself.

And what about the beginning of the meeting when Dr. Skelly said:

"It would be helpful if you just affirm this as opposed to if we hear 5 different various thoughts on this and then we try to cobble that together. Your help is just saying yes would be very helpful."

So this is the great governance "reform" that Camille has been bragging about -- now the staff just comes and says straight out, please rubber stamp this proposal? I don't want to hear from the Board what you think, just say yes and let's move on. Camille said in her Weekly endorsement interview that she was making improvements to governance by having staff say ahead of time what they wanted. Apparently that means that the staff will tell the board that it is to rubber stamp, not discuss, and just get it over with. Not one board member objected to being treated this way -- they giggled. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2012 at 11:57 am

Parent of a Gunn Grad,

I really like your idea. I hope that you can suggest this to the panel for deliberations. It may be one of those innovative ideas that could work and may well be copied.

Thanks for your input.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Why isn't the comment above that is disrespectful of Baten Caswell and Townsend removed?

Posted by vetoed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

@Parent of a Gunn grad,
Unfortunately, the reason that asymmetrical semesters were rejected last time was:

Since the only way to accommodate pre-break finals and to keep the school start date no earlier
than two weeks prior to Labor Day is to have uneven semesters, the Board wanted to understand
what teachers thought about the uneven semesters and how the disparity in instructional days
might impact the instructional program. The feedback gathered from teachers during the
department meetings with District staff indicated that uneven semesters did not pose a problem for
those departments with year-long courses (e.g. world language, mathematics, science,
visual/performing arts). However, teachers in these departments were quick to mention that
although the difference in semester lengths was not an issue for them, they would not support
uneven semesters if the English and Social Studies departments felt that they compromised the
curriculum in their semester classes.
Teachers in the English and Social Studies departments articulated serious concerns about the
difference in instructional days between the two semesters in calendars that didn’t move the start
date. These concerns focused on the major compromises in curriculum that would be necessary 4
when there were as many as 20 to 22 more instructional days in the second semester in some
years. With few exceptions, teachers in these departments felt strongly that the integrity of the
semester courses was at risk when whole units would need to be eliminated from the curriculum to
accommodate the fewer days in the first semesters. The teachers pointed out the difference in
semesters could also create scheduling issues as students dropped and added classes in an effort
to get certain classes in the short or long semester."

Board packet: Web Link

It would be better to do the survey earlier. We got lucky this year with a cool late August. You don't want parents taking this survey when their elementary school-aged kids are sweltering in ancient classrooms with no AC.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I do like the idea of having a different number of electives or half semester classes in each semester and it could work. Since we have block schedules where classes vary in length, the schedules would be adjusted. Instead of looking at the number of instructional days for each class, we would be looking at the number of instructional hours for each class. With less classes, the homework load would even out if there had to be a slightly shorter time for each assignment. If there were similar classroom hours rather than classroom days, the same amount of material could be covered even if the number of weeks were different.

I am not sure if this would mean that we would need more teachers and classroom space for the second semester or not? I can't get my brain round that one. But the idea does deserve more thought than immediate dismissal of the idea.

Posted by committee fail, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Resident -- only one of the high schools has block scheduling, Gunn does not. So while we at Paly do, Gunn teachers and students don't have that advantage. With all due respect, your back of the envelope calculations are not of much use for teachers who are down in the trenches trying to get lesson plans etc to fit the bill. Uneven semesters was very unpopular with teachers, esp at Gunn last time around.

Posted by Adds stress, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Well I guess it isn’t OK to mention that We Can Do Better is not the only group in town which advocates for kids’ social emotional health (that gets deleted, but why?) but when “get it” posts inflammatory statements about an organized group which also cares about kids his post stays in.

With the hope that this does not get deleted too, here’s a note to “get it”:

Your platform is identical to We Can Do Better’s from casting doubt on those who are running for school board to pushing the district to get rid of timed math tests, so you should consider joining them.

I know some of the Time to Thrive parents. Take a look at their Facebook page and you may too. I don’t know the gentleman you mention and I don’t see him as one of their group’s Facebook members. The ones I know are quite nice and do lots to support students in our schools.

Why would you suggest that one person, who clearly was frustrated with things as it sounds like you are too, represents the 300 Time to Thrive fans? And why the accusations? From what they’ve told me there is no “manifesto,” no incivility, not proselytizing, and to your point, many more than one issue they are concerned about.

Mr. Mahoney probably was very worried that the additional stress the calendar creates might push a child over the edge. He has his right to that view, especially in light of the fact that this calendar was passed to address student stress in an attempt to stave off student suicides.

Your colorful language dismisses 100s of people’s heartfelt concerns.

I happen to be one of them. I have a student who will be a senior one day and I can tell you that no Xmas stress relief marching up to that year is worth the extraordinary pressure my friends with seniors are enduring right now. It isn’t pretty. Even if you aren’t empathetic because your child is not there yet, be clear that your child will be a senior someday and you’ll wish you hadn’t been so dismissive.

Whomever “get it” is, there are many others in town, PTAs, Site Counsels, Time to Thrives, Project Safety Nets, and even PiE who are working hard to help kids every day in many ways other than on videotape. The ones I know care, a lot.

Posted by palo verde parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 25, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Adds Stress says " I have a student who will be a senior one day and I can tell you that no Xmas stress relief marching up to that year is worth the extraordinary pressure my friends with seniors are enduring right now. It isn’t pretty. Even if you aren’t empathetic because your child is not there yet, be clear that your child will be a senior someday and you’ll wish you hadn’t been so dismissive."

I am not sure how having finals in December and starting school 5 days earlier this year is the cause of stress right now. The bottom line is that applying to college is STRESSFUL. October will always be stressful because of the Nov 1 early application deadline. I can guarantee that seniors are not worrying about their finals and December at this point. The workload in the classes will be the same in October no matter when we start or when we end. It is important that we link the correct cause and effect together. Many applications are due Nov 1, popular standardized testing dates are in Oct and Nov, and yes, they do still have to worry about their classes. Please don't blame this on the early start and when the semester end.

Posted by vetoed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm

"I am not sure how having finals in December and starting school 5 days earlier this year is the cause of stress right now."

I can see how adding finals before the break whereas previously they were after break is adding to this stressful period. The earlier start wouldn't do it, stressing about looming finals on top of STRESSFUL college applications could easily tip someone over into not being able to cope. We'll just have to wait for the surveys to see.

Posted by Parent of a Gunn grad, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Some clarity to my thought -- semesters would be different lengths BUT the number of instructional minutes for each class would be the same in both semesters. By having six classes instead of seven, you would have more minutes in each class period the first semester, but not more than the number of minutes in the second semester; the distribution of minutes would differ in each semester, but the total number would be the same in both semesters.

And, mandated testing in the second semester eats up a lot of class time so second semester classes will have their students for fewer minutes than first semester classes, if the semesters are equal.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Important correction: the change in school start this year was 12 days. School started on 8/16... the rollover calendar start date would have been 8/28.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2012 at 7:35 am

Marie is a registered user.

As far as I know, almost all colleges, including Stanford and Cal have switched to a calendar schedule with finals before the winter holidays. I attended college in the 60's when this transition began. High School and my first two years of college had finals after winter holidays and the last two years my finals were before winter holidays. The last two years were significantly less stressful.

Similarly, my kids went to colleges where finals were before winter holidays and also reported what an improvement this was over Paly's schedule. I think I read an endorsement of Ken Dauber by Paly students, which included thanks for his support for the calendar change.

Does anyone know how many high schools in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties still have finals after winter holidays? My impression is that PAUSD is one of the last local schools, private or public, to have switched to an earlier start date in August in order to have finals before winter holidays. I have one grand-niece who just started at a Bay Area elementary school on Aug. 1! So the times they are a changing. Los Altos elementary has pushed back their start date, as well, I think to be consistent with their high school district.

Does anyone know of any school anywhere that switched back to January finals after trying December finals?

In the end, I think the schedule needs to be what benefits the students most academically, not what benefits the vacation schedules of parents, teachers and students.

That being said, I think PAUSD should seriously consider a quarter system like Stanford's, which would mean finals before winter holidays and consistency in calendars for the many PA families who are affected by Stanford's calendar (although, full disclosure, I am not one of them).

Posted by vetoed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2012 at 8:35 am

If you want to follow the Stanford model, then the year wouldn't start until late September.
Web Link
"September 24 (Mon) First day of quarter; instruction begins"
So we would move back to a schedule where we start school after Labor day, which is what a lot of people want.

Posted by in good company, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm

To Marie's question: as of last year, PAUSD and Campbell were the only two districts left standing (with "traditional" calendars) among their San Mateo and Santa Clara County high school counterparts.

Rechecking for 2012-2013, I could not find any public high schools in these 2 counties with finals after winter break. Same was true for the well known private high schools.

Posted by ..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Oxford Academy: 27th August
finals after break

Mission San Jose High School: 5th September
finals after break

University High School: 24th July
finals after break

The Preuss School UCSD: 20th August
finals after break

Posted by in good company, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm

To "...",

No argument that there are schools throughout the Bay Area and US who still have finals after break. I just couldn't find any in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (per Marie's question).

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm

@adds stress

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff due to quoting a third party without verification possible.]

We need to have teachers on the committee so that we can get to a good compromise that preserves pre-break finals and improves the implementation.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Time to Thrive's subtly named yahoo group: notthiscalendar@yahoogroups.com: Web Link

Phil Mahoney's comments from October 2011 Board Meeting: Web Link

Phil Mahoney's post to notthiscalendar group 2 weeks ago asking for the positions of the candidates as to the calendar: Web Link

Posted by black kettle, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 29, 2012 at 10:29 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by compare to similar schools, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm

If you look at other high performing high schools with k-12 districts and a relatively similar demographic, they ALL have finals AFTER winter break. 3 of the 4 start school AFTER labor day

Wellesley - School starts 9-4, Finals 1-31
Edina - school starts 9-4, finals 1-24
Scarsdale - school starts 9-4, final 1-24
New Trier - school starts 8-22, finals 1-16

Posted by Ok, but..., a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm

@compare - ok, that's interesting. But really we should compare to the schools around them, to figure out if this tells us something about high-performing schools, or just something about schools in those parts of the country, right?

In the Boston area, just about all schools (good and bad) start after Labor Day - the weak Boston City schools, for instance, have pretty much the same calender as outstanding Wellesley. Ditto for New York - the New York City schools start about the same day as Scarsdale.

The schools in our part of the country (the Peninsula at least) overwhelmingly start before labor day and have finals before. The schools in Florida (just to pick a for-instance), just about all start in mid-August (some earlier I believe).

I continue to believe there is no "right way" to set up the school calendar and this is a good example of a distracting mountain being made from a mole hill.

Posted by Honest question, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Thousands and thousands of students and hundreds upon hundreds of teachers and administrators throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have years of experience with a calendar that ends first semester at the Winter break.

They celebrate Christmas at the same time as PAUSD. Their seniors apply under the same deadlines - and get in - to the same colleges and universities as Paly & Gunn students. They seek local summer jobs and internships and their families need to arrange child care, summer camps and plan vacations, too.

But a presumption that PAUSD has little or nothing to learn from these other local schools and communities - and that we can only look to Wellesley, Scarsdale, New Trier and the like - has kept us from local practical wisdom, and entrenched in endless debates that could have been substantive, educational and brief. Instead, our decision-makers have been paralyzed by emotional arguments based mainly on what parents either can or cannot imagine about this calendar - when experience, insights and answers were nearby all along. Heck, a number of former PAUSD teachers, counselors, and top administrators now work in these surrounding districts.

I do understand why PAUSD compares itself to "benchmark schools" like New Trier, Edina, etc. But the attitude that we have nothing to learn from our neighbors abounds and has cost us dearly.

Posted by See Saratoga High, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

Honest Question

The difference is that PAUSD has far more students applying to colleges with application deadlines that are in late December through the first week of January than any of the schools around us which makes the December crunch really hard on our students.

The high school around us most that is most like Paly is Saratoga High, which our district said it would be studying to see how its pre-break calendar is working out for them.

Saratoga has 60% of its senior class attending state and community colleges which have simple applications to fill out with deadlines that are rolling or fall in November, weeks before finals. At Paly, only about 30% are in this boat.

Seniors who attend private colleges with lengthy applications due right after finals: 30% at Saratoga and about 60% at Paly.

And just in case you think everyone at Saratoga High is loving their new pre-break finals calendar, read the article some Saratoga students wrote for their high school newspaper right after last year's finals.

Entitled "Finals Before Break Not Worth the Stress" they wrote that "even though many teachers had been forced to cut down the material taught, there was still little time to study...The new schedule came down especially hard on seniors...the period before the break became extremely stressful and hindered the holiday plans... The schedule that was intended to bring more cheer to the holiday break ended up increasing stress and lowering spirits."

Web Link

Saratoga High's calendar has very uneven semesters -- a 14 day difference -- and a later August school start, an extra long weekend in October, and a June school year end so that students can have a few weeks off between AP exams and finals. PAUSD's new calendar has none of these stress-releasing features.

Posted by in good company, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 30, 2012 at 10:36 am

There are many more local schools available to learn from than just Saratoga High (especially since last year was their first year with the new calendar).

SeeSaratogaHigh's percentage data are interesting and should be put into the mix, but they are beside HQ's point that the experience of these other school communities has direct value to PAUSD. No harm in asking...:

What was the main motivation for your school district to move from a traditional calendar to one that has finals before winter break?

What was it like the first year you changed to the new calendar? For teachers, for students and their families, for athletics? What specific advantages and/or disadvantages have you experienced?

Now that you've had the calendar for "x" years, what is it like for teachers, for students, for athletics? Have the advantages and/or disadvantages changed or remained the same?

Is there anything you could have done differently in your first year to help make a smoother transition?

What have you heard from seniors and how the calendar affects their college application process? What are you doing to support them, in particular?

Are there particular segments in the student population that have been affected by the calendar more than others? Grade levels, athletes, high-achieving, under-performing, working/non-working, etc.? How can you tell?

Are there certain areas of study that have been directly affected by the calendar change? Which ones and in what way?

Our community is very worried about the crunch of holiday events and performances, family time and finals happening all at once. What has your school done to mitigate this?

If your school chose a calendar with unequal semesters, we'd be particularly interested in hearing how your teachers reconcile the difference, and how this impacts students and learning.

How have you evaluated whether moving to this type of calendar has been a success or not?

What is your overall satisfaction with this type of calendar?

Have you considered returning to a traditional calendar? Why or why not?

Posted by Umm, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 30, 2012 at 11:51 am

We can study all we like and compare data points - or we can just try it out and see for ourselves. Oh wait a minute - we ARE trying it out. So we'll get a first glimpse this year about how it goes. And no matter how it goes, I expect it will be better next year. And then we can noodle on it again if we like.

Many kids have been happy and successful with both schedules, so this isn't a hand-wringing decision in my book. Let's see how things play out and in the meantime, support our kids as best we can.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

@Umm. It'll be worse next year, because we'll be further out of alignment with local business closings and stanford closing for the winter break, so we'll have a lot of kids on vacation without parents and vice versa.

And another correction: It was a 12-day shift, not a five day shift. Under the traditional calendar school was due to start Aug 28th this year; the calendar rolls (or used to roll) within a 7 day window, not keep marching infinitely earlier (or we'd be starting in april eventually). The fact that this was a reset year masked the true magnitude of the change, if this calendar stays for more than another year, the 12-day difference will be far more noticeable.

Posted by Umm, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm

@Paly Parent - I think you are incorrect, it will be better. The teachers and students will have more experience with it and plan their time better, and everyone will be more comfortable.

This may come as a surprise, but both in Palo Alto and just about everywhere else families deal with school breaks that differ from parent vacation schedules. We all manage fine. I guess we'll have more experience handling that issue too ;-)

If we stop telling each other how terrible it all is (before actually going through it), we might surprise ourselves and find that it isn't so bad - heck, it might even be good.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 31, 2012 at 10:48 am

@Umm. I hope you're right. But it's not about planning time better--it's having time in the right places to start with. Reasonable people can disagree about where those places are; I just would like to see the committee look at the entire school year, not just winter break, during the next calendar cycle.

Posted by twee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2012 at 11:06 am

From the look of this thread, the same mistakes are being made.
High-school students are only small number of students in the district. They can't be the sole focus for the calendar changes, which impact every student in the district. If you aren't going to even consider middle and elementary school students the effort is doomed for failure.
At least the people organizing the committee recognize this.

Posted by Umm, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm

@Paly Parent - that makes sense to me. And I hope the outcomes is agreeable to most people.

From my perspective, I tend to think it asks a lot, too much really, of the school district to try to sort out what is "best for everyone" in terms of the calendar. Stanford vacations, ski weeks, trips to foreign lands, summer jobs, etc. - frankly, I would hope they wouldn't consider those things at all. Their job is do effectively deliver education, while meeting the statutory requirements. That's plenty. If they think they can be most effective starting in mid-August, finals in December, out by June 1 - fine. If they think starting later is better - also fine. If they genuinely think it makes no difference, then I could see the above considerations entering in. But the schools aren't designed to serve the parents; they are designed to educate the children. When they try to expand that mission, they usually make mistakes, and often compromise on their core mission.

That may be a little on the strong side, but I think that perspective is quite useful in assessing an issue that otherwise has a ton of countervailing considerations.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 4, 2012 at 5:31 am

@Umm. Well, that's one approach. Our community, however, has committed to supporting what are called "Developmental Assets," that's a buzzword (that I don't particularly like, but it is what it is) that describes things beyond the straight books and tests and classes that contribute to the student's success. It's things like family connections and connections with other adults and things like that. It is true that kids without family support of their academic efforts have a much tougher time than others. So we'd have to step away from this commitment to ignore the impact of the calendar on these kinds of ties.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I think it would be worth looking at absenteeism as part of the calendar issue.

I know of one family taking their two high schoolers out of school this week. I feel sure that they are not the only ones and I have heard anecdotally that many schools now give the whole of Thanksgiving week because of absenteeism.

Since school started on a Thursday, I wonder if there was much absenteeism - particularly in the elementary schools.

It probably will not be an issue this year as winter break starts on a Friday, but it will be interesting to see what absenteeism happens when winter break starts midweek, particularly in non finals middle and elementary schools.

Unfortunately, one year is not going to show the full picture of what will happen with broken weeks for winter break when Christmas Day falls later in the week.

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


Save $5 when you register by Monday, July 24

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