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OpEd: Don't sacrifice August by forcing early school start

Original post made on May 6, 2011

The August summer break for Palo Alto schoolchildren and their families is on the chopping block, and little will be gained from the sacrifice. Whether it will live or die will be determined by a vote at the school board meeting on Tuesday, May 10.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 7, 2011, 11:01 AM

Comments (111)

Posted by David Shapiro
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Great editorial! My family is one of those that will be very adversely affected by an earlier start of school in August: we will lose our annual, most treasured vacation trip with friends (the date cannot be changed). There are real costs to calendar change that cannot be mitigated, so we need to be certain this is necessary before doing it.

So it is a great idea to test out pre-break finals without calendar change first, especially since the case for the proposed change is so lacking convincing evidence. We know only that 43% of high school students study for finals over break (district survey), but we don't know how long they study, which among the four years of students are doing most of that studying, and how many students actually want that additional time to prepare and don't want to lose it with December finals. The proposed calendar change would compress too much into a shortened first semester and especially December, and not just for seniors. It is telling that the only school board member with a child who had December finals this year (as a sophomore at a private school) was very unhappy with how it went.

There are alternatives for doing this that have not been explored by the school district. One I like is to have first-semester final exams for year-long classes before winter break, while keeping finals for semester long classes where they are now in the third week of January. This would preserve equal length semesters for semester-long classes. It would move the "meatier" finals before winter break, and there would be no need to worry or study over winter break for the one or two semester finals that the students will be taking later in January.

The only objection I've seen to this idea is that the students would cut the semester classes on Monday and Tuesday of finals week in December to study for the other classes' finals, but this is a solvable problem (e.g., don't hold semester classes that Monday/Tuesday, and make up the 2 days by starting school one day earlier than now (a Monday) and having a special schedule the Friday in January before semester finals in which only the semester classes would meet.

The school board should create a task force of high school teachers to figure out the best way academically to test pre-break finals without calendar change, and try it next year. The district should also survey students in early February about how it went. Then we will know if the change was good and how it could be better, including whether changing the calendar is necessary.

Posted by Carol Zink
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

My children, graduates of Paly, are married now, but I am still quite interested in the school schedule issue. I teach at Harker. We moved our finals to December. We start our school year around 8/23, and finish in early June. We solved the problem of senior stress by not requiring seniors to take finals. This whole system works very well. Teachers give enough assessments during the fall semester so that a final is not necessary. Colleges haven’t objected at all to this.About half our kids go to UC’s, most of the rest go to Ivy League caliber schools. No colleges have expressed any concern over the fact that seniors don’t take finals (they don’t take them in the spring, either). Our semesters are pretty much even. Additionally, we don’t make any kids taking AP exams take a spring final.
The start date varies. It sort of depends on when Christmas is. But generally, teachers have to start somewhere between the 15th and 20th of August, and students start a week or 2 before Labor Day. We have 16 weeks of school before December break, so the deciding factor is when December 25 falls (because we get a week before Christmas and the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so they count backwards 17 weeks from that to get the start date for students.) Our students get Thanksgiving week off (teachers do parent teacher conferences Monday and Tuesday that week). We have 2 more weeks of Semester I in January, and 17 weeks for second semester (so we get out in early June). In addition to the November week and the 2 weeks in December, we have a one week Feb break and a one week April break.

I think it is wrong to cut summer short, and wrong to make kids take finals after the December break. Our parents (and Paly parents, or at least most of them) would make our kids study all break. So they never get a rest.
If you polled independent schools in the area, you’d find that nearly all have their finals before break and none start mid-August!

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Excellent article and follow up comment.

One thing that has not been mentioned is that the week before school starts in August has required school activities. Orientation, registration, picture days, music camps, and sports are all reasons to be back in Palo Alto with nothing on the vacation schedule for the week beforehand. If school starts the second week of August, then everyone with middle and high school students will feel the need not to vacation at all in August.

For many families, this will mean that they are completely unable to connect with families abroad who traditionally have August free with school and work commitments in July and September. So, our kids will in effect lose connection with extended family.

Posted by Christine M
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

PAUSD should be able to make this a win-win for everyone involved, not just 2800 high school students. I am against the calendar change being proposed but I do support the idea of Winter break finals within the context of a traditional calendar year.

While I oppose the calendar change for a variety of reasons, the most important is that this is the only time our family is able to take any extended time together due to my husband's work schedule. Typically August is the time when his financial company slows down (I know that our situation is not unique). We value this time together and have over the years built some of our best and most irreplaceable family memories together during this time frame.

This proposed calendar change wreaks ALOT of havoc on families that are looking to find balance and reduce stress in their families. I urge the school board to seek an alternative to what is being proposed and I urge anyone who cares about the outcome to speak up about this issue in person at the school board meeting on Tuesday May 10th. Your voice will matter.

Posted by Caroline
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Anything we can do at this point to influence the board? Indeed, loosing August would be sad. I am from Europe, school calendar is longer, and we have July-August off. That works great.

Posted by Mary Doran
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Wish that the school board members could have spent even just one day in an un-airconditioned classroom earlier this week. These kids were like wilted flowers at pick up. Can only imagine how focused they are going to be during the hottest days in August.

Posted by Jennie
a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

YES! You can make a difference by going to the School Board Meeting on Tuesday night, MAY 10 and say NO to the early start calendar. If no one shows up, we will be stuck with this lousy early start calendar. Please come and support late August start and insist the District find a way to create a pre-break final system that actually works. The two are not mutually exclusive. COME AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

Posted by Al Yuen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Thank you Sally and Tekla for a well written editorial. It's clear that a lot of thought went into your article. I seem to remember that the whole calendar discussion started with our desire to reduce stress on our high-schoolers. If moving the finals to pre-holiday serves that purpose, then that should be the focus of the board. Surveys show that high-schoolers do prefer that vs. having to "study" over the holidays. It seems that if we can accomplish that goal without changing the calendar, we could come up with a win-win solution for all.

Posted by Lester Mulvaney
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm

I understand that many people are reluctant to embrace change (we usually call them conservatives, but I wouldn't want to accuse anybody in Palo Alto of being a conservative), but the arguments put forth against this change seem less than compelling. Disruption of traditional vacation plans is not a valid reason to block a change that will benefit children's education. Focus on learning and what benefits students; not whether you'll lose you cherished August spot for you beach house.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I am curious about the reference to high schools that are on the trimester. Could you please let us know which High Schools are on a true trimester. Trimesters are an intriguing idea so I would be interested in knowing what High Schools are actually running this system. I have searched and haven't found any in California, so would really like to know the names of the schools to which you are referring.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on May 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm

@Lester: Change can happen within the current calendar, and if change is warranted, that's the right way to do it, not by a method that will cause a host of problematic side effects that do not actually benefit children's education. Scalpel instead of hatchet.

Posted by David Shapiro
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Lester: although it seems on the surface like a mom-and-apple-pie issue, it is not at all clear that the change will "benefit children's education." Which children? Not the K-8 children during the K-8 years--who comprise most of the children in the district. Probably not high school freshman, most of whom don't need to study for finals (I have recent experience with this, having a freshman son). Probably not high school seniors as a whole, due to their unique demands in the fall and especially December to visit and apply for colleges. Now we're down to the junior class and maybe sophomores, but some of them actually want the extra time to review, or to complete assignments before taking a final. We don't have enough information about the "problem" except that this year more high school students reported doing assigned homework over winter break (50%) than reported studying for finals (43%; District survey). That is a problem that is fixable immediately; why not do that now for next year and then get some reliable, relevant data on the "problem" we are trying to fix.

Disruption of family vacations, which you so readily dismiss, has a genuine human cost. That is not sufficient to oppose the calendar change if we were confident, with good evidence, that it would really make a significant improvement overall for the district as a whole. But no one can have that confidence with the current lack of data, which may be one reason why the district survey showed that students, parents, and K-9 teachers all opposed pre-break finals if they meant the start of school had to be moved up. The personal costs from shifting the calendar are certain; this fact requires that we only make this change if we are confident it is necessary and will be effective. That is why a trial period of pre-break finals without calendar change is the best course.

Posted by David Shapiro
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Sorry, I meant to say, many freshman don't study for finals over winter break! they do need to study for finals, as my son did!

Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

This year the high schoolers had already finished their finals before winter break,I believe, I asked my kid,he told me they already did that,moved all the tests before break,so the question is "Can we lose some days in August?For a little bit inconvenience and we can make our kids worry-free in the whole winter-break?"

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Another aspect which has not been addressed is what absenteeism will take place in August as a result of the calendar change to an earlier August start.

My older children were in elementary school at the time the calendar changed to before Labor Day. In both my kids classes for several years there was absenteeism until after Labor Day. The parents valued their August break more than the first week of school activities (which was basically 4 days for the first couple of years). The first week or two of school particularly at the elementary level is not educational as far as parents view. The teachers may be evaluating students, but there is a lot of time spent on review, classroom rules and getting to know you activities.

I suspect that an early August start will once again cause a great deal of absenteeism for the first 2 weeks of school at the elementary level. It would be very useful if someone at Churchill can verify that many elementary students do not return to school the first week.

Posted by Carrie Maser
a resident of Professorville
on May 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm

It seems to me there has been no solid argument put forth for making this change. "Reducing stress" is in they eye of the beholder. For my senior at Paly, the 2 week winter break each high school year was a time to recharge, regroup and spend a bit of time focusing on the classes in which she felt behind. Had she faced finals, family holiday celebrations and the huge pile of essays and college apps, I think she would have come unglued this past year. Not to mention that hearing that she didn't get in to her early decision choice (a typical occurance among her group of highly accomplished friends) and having to face finals would have been daunting, to say the least.

I want my remaining child to have a normal summer for the next 6 years. This change will rob him of 2 weeks of summer somewhere along the line. Is the School Board going to come to his class and justify the loss of his 6th year at summer camp to him as he swelters in the August heat in an aircondition-free Jordan classroom? Please don't make change for the sake of change on a flimsy theory of "stress reduction".

Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

In Europe and many other parts of the world, the summer break is two months long, July&August, the hottest months north of the equator. School resumes in September. I never understood why we resume school in August, particularly since not all classrooms are equipped with A/C. August is the least proper month to be at school.

Posted by Just posted this elsewhere
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I just posted this on a different PA Online thread but it seems appropriate for this one too:

4 out of every 5 PAUSD high school students do not want school to start earlier in August. While a large majority like the idea of pre-break finals, about 2/3rds oppose it if it means an earlier August start.

Web Link

Both PAUSD and Challenge Success have both spoken out on the calendar's relationship to stress saying that there is no solid research on that point.

Web Link (Denise Clark Pope on pre-break finals: "There hasn't been hard core research where you have a control group, do follow-up and check stress levels. That hasn't happened")

Web Link (PAUSD: “there is no empirical research that investigated the relationship between stress and pre-break finals”).

As to the calendar and heightened academic performance, in PA Online forum posts last Fall there was a memorable discussion about how brain researchers established long ago that breaks enhance learning.

From the February PA Online thread:

UCLA Psychology Professor Bjork: "Bjork called the study - break - study pattern 'interleaving.' Put that word into Google and what pops up is a study psychologists call 'classic' and 'extremely influential' by Shea and Morgan (1979) (I think cited in one of Bjork's slides) testing a 10 DAY break. After 10 days, 'participants who had practiced under interleaved conditions performed far better than the blocked practice participants ... who appeared to have learned virtually nothing.'"

Posted by Just posted this elsewhere
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Another important data point to add into the mix for those wondering how much work over break the district thinks is too much, necessitating this controversial districtwide calendar change.

PAUSD asked students how much school work they did last winter break and it wasn't much: 4 hours was the mid-point (half did less, half more) with 58% doing no more than 4 hours, 81% no more than 8 hours and 88% no more than 12 hours. That is over 16 days.

The district did not ask the students whether they preferred having the break to work or minded it, but when asked to select the one thing that they disliked most about pre-break finals 37% said they disliked that pre-break finals didn't give students an opportunity to catch up (50% disliked more that pre-break finals conflicted with college application deadlines).

Posted by Agreed
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Add me to the list of people who think it is important for our kids to also connect with family friends and relatives, sometimes across the country and overseas. This happens in August for many families, including mine. We don't want it taken away.

There has to be ways to reshuffle the finals schedule (since that's the real issue) without starting early or earlier in August.

Posted by Mom of 3
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm

The second post by Carol, re Harker's schedule sounds good, but perhaps PAUSD has more Staff Development Days than Harker? We appreciate the extra days off during the year.

This is a good idea of Harker's for stress-relief: "No colleges have expressed any concern over the fact that seniors don’t take finals (they don’t take them in the spring, either)."

Carol, have you written to the PAUSD BoE with the ideas?

I hope PAUSD will understand that students need the true Winter Break and don't cave in again to the minority of squeeky wheels who object to pre-break finals.

Posted by not August!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Sally and Tekla,

Thank you for getting this out there,

By losing August, we're not just losing any regular month

we're losing the longer days of summer. I would bet that this not only has logistic problems, but physical effects

our kids will lose the sun, and the beneficial effects of "charging" up during summer

any doctors out there that can comment if starting early August may also mean that kids will need to take vitamin supplements to compensate for the loss of sunshine and outdoor fun lost to classrooms?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on May 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I am very disappointed at the attitude and sense entitlement that I hear from some of these posts. If you oppose pre-break finals because of a concern for kids balancing holiday activities, commitments and completing college applications, then I have respect for your opinion. Although we wouldn't really know how pre-break finals would impact these things, I believe you have a valid concern. BUT the people who are more concerned about their own personal vacation really make me wonder about the selfishness of our community. My own extended family lives in a state where school starts Aug 7th and gets out the friday before Memorial Day. We have NEVER been able to attend the family gathering that happens in early June. We just have to make other arrangements. Please leave "vacations" out of the discussion, every family has different circumstances and no family vacation should be more important than another.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on May 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm


Even with vacations deleted from the balance sheet, there are other reasons why time off in June isn't equivalent to time off in August. Speakers at the last board meeting talked about debate and other camps their students wouldn't be able to attend, for example. There are enough problems with the shift that it shouldn't have even been contemplated until other options were tried. And they weren't even seriously discussed, much less tried.

Posted by Hays Mom
a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Great Op Ed!

We should at least give the "traditional calendar" a try WITH pre-break finals before changing everything. It is a great compromise and allows us to see whether it meets the real objective: reducing student stress.

I'm not reticent to change in general, but this seems like a big disruption without any clear benefits.

Let's establish some measurable goals and take steps to evaluate whether we've met the objectives with each change that is made.

For the schools without air-conditioning - having classes in August really should be avoided.

Posted by not August!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Parent Palo Verde,

What you characterise as a sense of entitlement and selfishness on my part, because it happens to fall under the term Vacation is motive for you to patronize?

Vacation is, in fact, a family priority for us. Long days in summer are a gift I take seriously, not to work on my tan, or to lie around drunk in front of a swimming pool.

I enjoy hiking, camping, eating outdoors with my family, pretending the day will last forever. No other months provide this gift as July and August.

I'm not against the pre-break finals, but I don't need to feel shame for not wanting to give up vacation time in August. What sounds offensive to you, is invaluable family time for many in this community. I can't possibly be alone in seeing the health benefits of vacations in August.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on May 6, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Won't school be 180 days no matter which day is the first? An earlier start means an earlier end, right?

I believe I also heard that the governor wants to reduce the number of school days to 160.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Not August,
I agree that family vacations are very important(and a priority in my family as well) but why should one "family" vacation be more important than another? Some people have extended family that live in a state or community where school does start earlier in August and these families may prefer to have their gatherings in early June. We shouldn't base our school calendar on individual family vacations and gatherings, since there are way too many people with different needs. I don't feel that vacation preferences should be a factor in our school's academic calendar.

Posted by not August!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Parent Palo Verde,

I'm not judging or arguing that one vacation is more important than another.

Calendars and calendar planning is meant to bring about consensus, would you schedule sports calendars to conflict with school?

Would you schedule a wedding on Thanksgiving day?

The whole point of calendar planning is to take into consideration different needs of different people, and organize around that.

"there are way too many people with different needs" Yes, but we're not martians, most people have roughly similar habits, and relishing longs days of summer is not exactly a "different" need.

When the elementary and middle school students are gasping for air in classrooms in August, the long days of summer will turn into the long days of school in August,

Vacation preferences, summer weather should absolutely be among the many factors when considering changing the school's academic calendar for 12,000 students and because vacations, family time are part and parcel of that what the calendar change is intended to do, to reduce stress.

Posted by curious
a resident of Community Center
on May 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
For me, I am so happy with this change. I have been petitioning the district for years to change the school calendar because my favorite friends go on vacation in the first week of June ("pre-summer" as it is known here in Palo Alto). Finally my pleas have been answered. Thank you, Palo Alto, for finally caring about my vacation.

Posted by not August!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm


""pre-summer" as it is known in Palo Alto"

I'm getting the feeling that the vacation topic is a cultural divide

one through which we will see kids swimming across it, in the heat of August

Posted by Good grief
a resident of Green Acres
on May 7, 2011 at 3:28 am

Oh no!!! We would lose August time and gain June time, like most schools in the USA!! What percent chools get out end of May, and start beginning of August, in the USA? How on earth do they survive such an awful calendar!

Horrors!!! To battle!!!!

Good grief.

Posted by not August!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2011 at 6:52 am

what is the actual percentage? "most" is just you talking.....provide data

are we talking about Alaska or other weird weather patterns?

Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

I have casually heard that Los Altos and Mountain View high schools moved to pre-winter break finals (and early start and early finish of the school year), and it is working great!

By the way, there ARE highly established and excellent camps and valuable student commitments that take place in early June, as well as in July and August and spanning these 3 months. I'm not sure you can discern one time from another.

I remember, when PAUSD added that ski week in Feb and extended the end of the school yr out into later June (sorry don't have exact yr in mind) that one of my kids, who had previously attended a top quality summer activity NO LONGER COULD DO SO. I know for certain that many students DID attend this activity from states all over the U.S., but nobody from Palo Alto could continue. It was unfortunate. To me, it seemed Palo Alto was out of step with all these other states.

Wealthy families with ski cabins love odd-time breaks, but for the main body of PAUSD families, sure there will be some differences about vacations, but I still recommend an early start, pre-winter break finals, and early finish. A "real" winter vacation is worth a lot.

Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2011 at 11:42 am

@not August!
I recall Texas starts and finishes early. There was a circumstance when I had some contact with educated Texan teens and was impressed by what I learned about their education. (These were teens from nicer city and suburban areas, not rural)

Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with Sally and Tekla. I'm planning on attending the school board meeting on Tuesday evening to voice my opinion!

Posted by kate- district teacher
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Quite a few wonderful posts here, more rational than some threads on this topic have been. I think the debate needs to be re-framed and take vacation out of the equation for arguments' sake. There will NEVER be consensus on this topic.

So, trying to think outside the box:

1. It seems to me that there is a lot of emphasis being put on FINALS when there is valuable discussion going on about how to minimize stress for students. Finals are being made out to be HIGH STAKES exams when they really should not make or break a student's education: 'OMG! Finals are here!! I MUST pass this test with only an A or the entire semester of learning will be lost!' No, authentic assessment must be throughout the semester.

2. Why even have finals, especially when colleges and universities, e.g., Harvard, are moving to eliminate finals altogether? Why not project-based learning, which is more real-world experience anyway? (fyi, A local private school is moving to drop APs and focus on project-based, problem-solving learning...)

3. Why not trimesters? (Teachers of semester courses need to shift their paradigm of only semesters. Lots can be learned in a trimester and if you can't redesign your course to meet the needs of the students... hmm... Yes, it's work, but that is why we are paid so well in this district: to work hard to meet the needs of our 'clients.'

4. Teachers who are not abiding by the agreement for work-free vacation need to be held accountable by administration.

5. And, not a philosophical question but a practicality: I was in a classroom with middle school-ers this week without air conditioning and it was *tough* to get any sort of quality learning going on any time after noon.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

This is about a LOT more than finals. Even a class without a final (many, many of them) still has projects, tests, etc. As a parent of a senior, the stress over break is not so much studying for finals, it is that the semester is not over. Even with out a lot of work, you are still thinking about the projects, tests, etc. that await you when you return. After Winter Break, it is a new year and most of us are ready to start something NEW, not repeat the same old, same old. But for PAUSD kids, it's just back to the grind. The semester ends in January, the kids get 3 days where they truly do not need to even think about school or classes. 3 days out of the whole school year.

Mentally, most of our teenagers have school to think about from August to June with a 3 day break. We should either extend the break at the semester or end the semester before Break. We're smart people, we can figure out how to do that without starting school in the beginning of August.

Last week and next week are AP tests and STAR tests in the high schools. That is 10 school days where most of the Junior and Senior classes are not covering new material because too many kids are taking AP tests and would miss it. Those ten days easily balance the difference in the semesters.

Posted by L.M.
a resident of Nixon School
on May 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm

No on is talking about how hard this new calendar will be on Stanford families - the first two weeks of June are busy for many Stanford employees and there are no options for taking off work just before Stanford commencement. This creates a real child care problem. Stanford is a huge employer with a fixed calendar - it isn't like a Google or Yahoo - Stanford will always be very busy the first two weeks of June.

Also - what is this about the calendar shifting so school won't start until the second week of January. Stanford classes are in session by then - and so, again, it's a childcare nightmare.

So now I'm supposed to put my 7 year old in an all day camp? How does that lower stress? She'll be exhausted. Not everyone has the luxury of granparents/extended family nearby.

It often feels that Palo Altans only like Stanford families when it comes to voting on the parcel tax or other educational votes - the rest of the time we are supposed to be quiet. I wish the district would see that there is a huge difference between Stanford the Corporation and Stanford families - the people who work and play and make positive contributions to many aspects of life here. It's disheartening that this messy calendar not only doesn't appear to truly address stress, but doesn't bother to consider the fixed rhythm of one of the largest employers.

Posted by Interested Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm

@Sally & Tekla, Thank you for a great editorial stating what a lot of us feel.
@Kate - district teacher. Love your thoughts. I hope the board is paying attention.

Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Unfortunately Stanford families are not the only ones who are not being considered. It seems that the whole community is not being considered or heard. There seems to be a different agenda to changing the calendar The pretext of stress is just unacceptable. There are no studies done that point to it. I do not think that the community is being irrational in opposing this proposed calendar. They all have valid points that should not be ignored. Putting so many families in difficult situations by changing the school start date is inconsiderate and frankly irresponsible.

If the district truly wants to eliminate stress then they should avoid having the finals before the winter break. My High school children do not get stressed over the winter break because they have finals in THREE weeks. However, I can say that my Senior student would have been very stressed if she had to study for her finals while working on some of her college essays.

Posted by Diana D
a resident of Community Center
on May 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

This is a very well though-out article with which I fully agree. I certainly hope the board is paying attention to these facts and figuring out that a move to an early August calendar is not in best interests of most of the community. It would create hardships for our family, as we have close relatives and close family friends in 5 other areas of the world, all of whom have children, none of whom start school before the last week of August. We don't want to see these important bonds broken.

I have also heard that an organized group of Gunn teachers has been asked by their teachers' union to support this proposal. This has apparently led these teachers to become much more vocal (as we saw at the last meeting), and has also made those teachers who are against the change fearful of voicing their views. It's reprehensible that some teachers would try to use our kids' so-called stress to try to gain themselves the work schedule they prefer.

Some excellent ideas are in this article. I wish the calendar committee would take the time to consider them, and to work with teachers to come up with something that works for the bulk of the community, rather than appearing to simply regurgitate the same schedule we rejected last year. It's incredibly frustrating to have to deal with what this committee has produced yet again. How about a new committee next time? Meanwhile, I hope the board will realize what's really going on, and listen to what's really needed and desired by the community.

Posted by MS Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Why do people keep saying the change will only benefit HS students and not K-8?

My 7th grader came home from school one mid-January day this year, flopped on the couch, and said, "Why does the semester end after winter break? Wouldn't it make way more sense for the semester to end before winter break? It's so confusing to be in the middle of a unit and then have two weeks off. It's hard to remember what we were in the middle of. Also, wouldn't it be a lot easier for the teachers that way?"

I'm not making this up & as far as I know she has no idea about this calendar debate. I wish I could remember exactly what she said, because I actually thought she enumerated very well many reasons why the semester break and winter break should be aligned for the average middle schooler.

I would just like to put out there that, at least in our family's PAUSD experience, aligning semester break with winter break makes academic sense for 6-12 grade, not just 9-12.

Posted by k
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Dear MS mom,

It is possible to have both - pre-break finals AND keep the current start date. Come to the School Board meeting and tell them you want the current start and end date, and you want to have pre-break finals.

Posted by ForeGner
a resident of Barron Park
on May 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm

60-70% content of Palo Alto weekly with max participation are actually blogs of how to "reduce stress" and well being of our children. there is a reason why other diatribe and private school with great amount of working parents and world travelers changed the schedule. That will give less time to tiger (oh how much lately I hate the title) moms "prepare" kids for exams and more time for other kids to actually REKAX AND ENJOY 2 weeks break. We are complaining about loosing 2 weeks in August after 10 weeks break, but it will gain 2 REAL VACATION weeks in between. Nobody is taking it from you and your family. I agree with Harker teacher. It's all up to us to actually do something for our kids, rather than vine and post research.

Posted by Junior
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm

1. First of all, by moving finals before break you will be taking an incredible burden off of all of the highschoolers in the district. Although some may choose not to study during break, the threat of looming tests does not allow us to rest in the slightest. Furthermore, the time during the break, if anything, makes students forget what they have learned. Personally, I have returned from break after studying a decent amount of time knowing less than I had known coming into the break. Lastly, a break should be a BREAK. I can attest that the curriculum in our high schools is at best demanding. These past few weeks of APs, SATs, essays, and just plain old tests has left me and the majority of the student body with little to no free time. This "FML school blows" stage, as many call it on their facebook statuses, takes place at the end of both semesters. Adding a break that is truly a break after first semester will allow us students to take some time off after a challenging few weeks.

2. Expanding from my point at the end of the previous paragraph, having a break after finals is essential. It is a statistically proven fact that grades drop in the third quarter. As a highschooler I can tell you that this is due to burnout from the previous semester. Currently, we have only a three-day weekend between our two semesters. To put finals before break would ensure that we have ample time off after first semester in order to get a fresh start come second semester.

3. In the article, the authors stated that although finals would be moved before break, there would still be a large homework load given to highschoolers over the days off. In my personal experience I have never had a teacher in any of my classes give out homework after a major test. Quite frankly, it would be virtually impossible for any teacher of either a semester class or a year long class to give a large amount of homework right after finals. This is due to us not being able to start a new unit until after break, ensuring that at most we would be assigned to simply look over the worksheets for the units on inclass.

4. Another argument that the authors had was that going back to school in early August would mean that we would be stuck in hot classes. Quite honestly at this point I thought that they were getting a bit desperate. The difference in time that we are talking about here is only two weeks. I may be wrong but in my honest opinion I don't think that a difference of two weeks will have much of an impact on the type of weather that we will be suffering through in school. Also, the weather does tend to be rather mild in this part of the world.

5. "May is an issue — already one of the busiest months of the year with AP testing, end of season sports competitions, and end of year performances/recitals/celebrations, May has no room to add finals into that mix." I agree that May is an issue, in five days I have had seven tests and an essay due along with league finals for swimming, however finals will hardly impact this. Of all of my classes, the only ones that will be/have offered finals will be math, AP stat, and history. I have had tests in all of these classes in the last week, including a final in statistics. The fact is that if you are in an AP class you will be studying for the AP test anyways, so having your final at the same time will not do anything but help you. Also, those non-AP classes that will have finals already have unit tests during may and will most likely move their finals back a week or so in order to not interfere with AP tests, which require absence from classes to complete.

6. Just to wrap it up, having finals before break will not only eliminate some stress but will also give students a time to recuperate after a hard semester. I think that you will find that the majority of students agree with my views and I urge you to not listen to the small vocal minority that think otherwise.

Best Wishes,
A Palo Alto Junior

Posted by another teacher
a resident of another community
on May 7, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Palo Alto junior, I hope you are going to the school board meeting on Tuesday night! Some sane people need to attend. The trend when it comes to calendars in PAUSD is that the vocal minority wins. I remember many years ago that most people voted against ski week, then what do you know, the vocal minority threw a fit and we got ski week!

I am now teaching in a district with a high API and we managed to move finals to before winter break last year. It is wonderful! This is our second year and I asked my students how they feel about it and they love it. It isn't even an issue. No one has complained, no one even seems to remember that this is only our second year of it. I asked the seniors if it was a problem (most of our students go to UCs) and none felt stressed about applications and finals in December.

I take offense to the suggestion that teachers are pushing this to make things easier on us. Right, because we really want to be starting school at the beginning of August. Sure, we would all love to start in September but as professionals we want to do what is best for our students! In this case the best overall plan is to start earlier in August, have finals in December, then out at the end of May. This is my professional opinion.

Why has it worked well for us? Well it gives more prep time for APs. Also, fall sports for us now start after we have been in school for a couple weeks. Sure a coach could have unofficial practices before then but those go on all summer anyway. Our actual tryouts start after school starts. The only things we require before school starts is registration (where you pick up your schedule but we do a lot online now so most get away with not coming), Link Crew training and freshmen orientation. That's it, everything else waits until after school starts. I thought about meeting with my students for a retreat but we can easily do that after school starts before things get too busy, I want my summer to last too!

Yes, it can be hot in August. It can also be hot in September, February, March, April and May. We all can deal with it, it's Northern California, it's never really that hot. As for your vacations, you may actually get better deals traveling in early June. My sports team actually does a great fundraiser by doing a kids camp that first week after school gets out so that parents don't have to worry about finding expensive childcare. Great fundraiser for us, fun for the kids. As more districts move to this schedule, more camps will have to make the shift.

Good luck!

Posted by deal with it
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm

I am a Paly student. An anonymous student because I really don't appreciate all the backlashing that is going on with these parents about vacations. Isn't this a student issue? I believe we should start school in September for in August it is much too hot and no kid wants to be in school when it is hot outside. This way finals could be in February and we would have no need to study over winter break. We would have all of January to prepare. It seems quite simple really. Also, college apps are due in January, so the students this applies due could complete their college apps over break with no final stess. Honestly, I am a freshman and did not deal with studying for finals until the week before. I am sure other students did otherwise, but I still got all As. GO VIKINGS!

Posted by Confused?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Hi, I'm confused about the math -- I gather from the comments that now we start school almost in September, after August is basically over, and we'll be moving to "practically July", basically dead in the middle of summer. That sounds like about six weeks earlier to me, but when I look at the calendar it seems to be about five to ten days earlier. What am I missing?

Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2011 at 7:16 am

My high school student has missed out on several great sports camps because they start before Paly gets out for the summer.
When my kids were elementary school students, it was clear to me that the minute STAR testing was done in the second week of May, no real learning happened after that. An earlier start would mean an overall more productive school year for younger students.
It would also mean we could finally join our family on the East Coast for a summer vacation for the first time since we moved to Palo Alto.

Posted by N Miller
a resident of Woodside
on May 8, 2011 at 9:24 am

The state of Michigan funds schools only if the start date begins after Labor Day. For several reasons: 1) Tourism is one of the few industries that has remained steady during their many recessions. With August start dates, the recreation industry was suffering. With a shorter summer season, businesses were really suffering. 2) With a uniform start date, families were more likely to be able to synchronize vacations, child care, etc.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

I'm wondering about the history of the calendar change proposal, as I read in a related post that

"This calendar shift idea has been fought over for years."

I'm getting that sense that the calendar change is less about stress reduction for the proponents, than maybe about preferring "pre-summer" or June for vacation.

Years ago the stress issue was not even on the radar, and you'd think that if it was, that there would have been a better case for tying this change to stress.

Years ago people were worried about stress, and the only thing they could focus on was calendar?

how did this calendar lobbying get started in the first place? "years ago"

Posted by Teacher at Gunn
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

One key point I see left out of this entire argument is that a later start date with finals before winter break will result in unequal semesters. The dates vary but it can be as large as two full weeks of instruction. This alone seems like a reason to promote an earlier calendar start.

In addition, since so many of our students are taking AP coursework they must complete the majority or their studies before AP testing in May. An earlier start date will allow extra time for these students to excel.

Many suggestions have been made about when to give finals, but when all teachers don't adhere to a similar schedule, it spills over into other courses. Students cut class and fall behind to study for other courses, adding to more student stress not less.

I can't believe all the comments about vacations. I was under the impression that parents valued education in this area. As teachers we are trying to deliver a balanced and equitable education for your children. I would hope that you could find a way to adjust your calendars, just as all the camps, and support activities will. Please help us in doing our jobs. If the demand is to have finals before winter break then the concession must be made to move the calendar forward.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 11:54 am

Gunn teacher,

"In addition, since so many of our students are taking AP coursework they must complete the majority or their studies before AP testing in May. An earlier start date will allow extra time for these students to excel."

It would be helpful to understand why AP testing and AP coursework should influence the entire school system, when APs are actually one of the main issues surrounding stress.

Is this about AP's?

aren't there other ways to reduce the stress about AP's?

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm

It is not about Aps.It is about parents who want to push their kids into taking Aps as many as possible without knowing if their kids can handle it or not.

Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Schools all over the world, excepting perhaps some areas in the southern hemisphere, start school in September. September is the logical month to start the school year, in our case right after Labor Day, and July/August are the logical summer break months.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm


If we lose August, we can always say it's so that AP' scores will be higher because the early start most benefits AP performance (less stress for the AP test takers, better scores) and accomodates to the AP calendar. Schools will be ranked better if kids do better on APs, and so much for stress reduction!

At least they should be honest about the reasons if they take away August, because everything except the AP calendar has a potential fix regarding reducing stress.

amom Palo Verde,

the early start is not about how many kids are taking AP's, it's to reduce stress and improve performance for anyone taking AP's. See teacher posts regarding this point.

Other schools likely changed calendars to improve AP scores too. And the early start for Palo Alto seems to be motivated by the same strategy.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Oh,you just know that?.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

amom Palo Verde
"Oh,you just know that?."

that the AP calendar is the reason we'll lose August?

I am getting this from a related thread (Web Link

which includes "language from the 2006 Board packet regarding the proposed calendar describing the reasons the change was being considered"

it's a long list, see the thread but what stands out to me is

"¾ Later school starts reduce the number of instructional days prior to high stakes exams

held the first two weeks in May."

High stakes exams is code for AP's,

Everything else listed as a reason for an earlier start, and calendar change either has nothing to do with stress reduction, or has a potential fix that would not require losing August.

The only constraint related to an early start seems to be the AP calendar.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm

amom PV,

If your question was about the other schools,

I don't have their data but would not be surprised if they are districts concerned about AP scores and rankings as well.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I have no preference,but if it can improve our schools' AP scores and reduce stress for those who take too many APs.It is a not bad idea,except we need to ask all of our elementary schools' parents to approve this because this is a big life style change,I hope they will come to understand this when their kids go to high schools.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Greene Middle School
on May 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Students should be in school most of the year to make up for all lost time spent on field trips, unnecessary busy work projects, and staff development days.

Students need this time to make up for lost basic skills in reading, writing, and math.

Give them 2 weeks in August.

Many parents spend thousands of dollars a year for tutors just to bring their kids up to level.

The students from families who can not afford tutors really suffer when they reach high school...if they don't drop out.

Posted by FYI
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I just learned some background info about school calendar at Menlo-Atherton, part of the Sequoia school district. They had moved their start date from late August (like current PAUSD start) to earlier August 18 this school year. Next year, they return to start date of August 25. (See below)

Aug. 11 Arena Check-In (9th & 12th graders) at Menlo-Atherton High

Aug. 12 Arena Check-In (all grades) at Carlmont High

Aug. 12 Arena Check-In (10th & 11th graders) at Menlo-Atherton High

Aug. 14 Arena Check-In (9th graders) at Woodside High

Aug. 16 Arena Check-In (10th, 11th & 12th graders) at Sequoia High

Aug. 16 Arena Check-In (10th graders) at Woodside High

Aug. 17 Arena Check-In (9th graders) at Sequoia High

Aug. 17 Arena Check-In (11th & 12th graders) at Woodside High

Aug. 18 First day of school

Sequoia Union High School District

2011-12 Calendar

Aug. 25 First day of school

Why the move earlier and then back again? From what I was told, it had to do with school construction.... not final exams. Finals were never part of the equation in determining when school started in the fall (or to be more accurate, summer).

When I asked about finals, I was told that they have always had finals before break.... no issues with uneven semesters whatsoever. But they also don't have a lot of little days off during the first semester.

Why is it so impossible to create a school calendar?

This whole saga has caused a lot of unnecessary arguments, accusations, and questioning the judgement of people. It is improper to question the value a student/family places on vacation, extracurriculars, or academic commitment. I think we all want the best possible education for our children. We all have different and valid priorities in how to achieve that.

I don't hear anyone jumping up and down saying, yay, take away vacation time. I do hear some people saying they could manage an earlier start and others saying it is too high a price to pay for their family.

As for finals before or after break, if M-A and many other schools can manage it without starting school earlier, then why are we incapable of figuring it out? This lack of creativity on the part of the school district is deeply worrisome when we are being told that our students, the workforce of the future, need to be creative problem solvers.

Please, enough of this band-aid solution to the perceived problem. Keep the current start and end dates.... that's not broken so don't fix it.

As for finals, why not try exams before break and then a smaller unit test for new material after break. No need to change the curriculum, just a few tests. Or think a little harder and figure out how to have the semester end before break without making all the K-8 families pay the price for the AP schedule. There are many ways to do this, but it requires effort.

It's time to come up with some thoughtful solutions.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Jordan parent,

for pete's sake, now the issue is that the calendar change is to intended to close the achievement gap?

why don't they just say so, why mislead?

why do you happen to be in the know, and it's not made clear to everyone?

my conclusion is that the district is not to be trusted with their proposals, and what they actually do is sales jobs..they know exactly what they want to do, and get it done

I hope the BOE can see through this mess, and when they make their decision come clean with the real reasons.


Thanks for this info, I bet that besides AP's there are many other reasons that schools fiddle with calendars but at least they they don't deceive.

as Daniel posted
....... many other parts of the world, the summer break is two months long, July&August, the hottest months north of the equator. School resumes in September. I never understood why we resume school in August, particularly since not all classrooms are equipped with A/C. August is the least proper month to be at school.

I'm almost positive that the only reason we can't is because of the AP calendar...the "high stakes tests taken in May" that would benefit from an early start.

We are AP floosies and will do anything to get higher scores. Fine, kill August but at least let's be honest about why we are doing it.

Posted by Another Working Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I am working parent in support of moving the calendar for finals before winter break, and am fine with school starting in early August. Not everyone is against it.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 9, 2011 at 5:54 am

Another working parent:

Best I can tell, their only a few against it, but they are very very vocal and angry ...about losing August vacation time. Some are upset about perceived increased stress on kids who are involved in extracurricular activities having finals/end of semester homework and projects at the same time as pre-winter break culmination activities such as concerts, plays and football finals.

Well....I am for the change, but we don't tend to be as vocal. I think we keep assuming that of course the Board will vote for it because it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a real break is the only way to give the kids a real rest. Anything else is window dressing.

I just want the kids to have a real rest..

And, good grief, if it is not a good idea, we will know the first year. There will be enough kids who did it both ways to tell us what the effect was of the change on their lives come January. Were they rested or not? Were they ready or not? Were they less exhausted in February and March or not? Batteries need to be recharged to keep going, and so do the kids ( and adults)

Posted by It's About APs? Really?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 6:29 am

Here's what the district says on calendars and APs:

"providing additional instructional time before high stakes advanced placement tests in late April and early May ... These tests are significant factors in college admissions and affect college merit scholarships and financial support."


First, AP exams are always the first two full weeks of May (in the last 10 years or more, they have not been given in “late April” or only in “early May”).

Second, it is hard to beat PAUSD’s AP test pass rate under the current calendar. With the later August start and June dismissal, 93% of PAUSD students get 3s (out of 5) or better on their AP exams - passing scores that can earn students credit at colleges which recognize APs.

Schools in the Midwest and East Coast start in SEPTEMBER and manage to get top AP scores too, with many fewer school days than either of the proposed PAUSD calendars provide between school start and the national May exam dates. Two PiE Benchmark Schools: Wellesley High School - 92% of its students who score 3+ with a September 1 start. In Edina, 86% score 3s or better with a September 7th start. Like Paly and Gunn, Wellesley and Edina are considered among the best high schools in the US, have tons of kids taking APs, and send students off to top colleges and universities.

Third, many PAUSD teachers finish up all they need to teach for APs well before the exam so adding two weeks in August will just mean that teachers will finish up with what they need to teach even earlier.

Or teachers will fill the time with supplemental curriculum (which adds to homework, stress, etc) that kids taking AP classes in other schools across the US don't have to master to get the same grade.

The only thing the earlier start will do for APs is allow more semester-long APs to be taught in the second semester because it will be long enough to cover the material by May.

Those advocating for less stress should consider this before embracing an earlier start calendar.

Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Southgate
on May 9, 2011 at 7:08 am

I understand that many of you would rather enjoy your summer vacations, and I completely agree. However, please keep in mind that your choice to do this directly destroys the winter vacations of every ambitious high school student in the district.

I question the fact that you seem more focused on keeping your summer break at the same time, when almost every other school district in the area has changed the schedule to pre-break final exams, with extremely positive results. Perhaps you do not remember what it is like to be in high school. However, as parents of students who will one day be in high school, I would appreciate your support in sacrificing a bit of your break to help our district stay competitive in education.

a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2011 at 7:19 am

Listen parents,
I understand that you have issues with your ability to plan your summer vacations. Yes, ONE summer would be shorter during the transition phase, but that's just not the point. THE STUDENTS NEED THE CHANGE! School is not about you any more, it is about US. So please, don't be so selfish, and choose what several surveys have proven is the student opinion, choose to SUPPORT THE SCHEDULE CHANGE AND THE EARLY START.


ps: I am a Palo Alto High School (Paly) student earning a 3.87. I am in the highest possible classes and I am still able to spend plenty of time with friends and family, but I did spend a significant portion of my break studying for finals. All of the parent speculation is useless. This is actual evidence.

Posted by change doesn't mean sacrificing August
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2011 at 8:21 am

WNC, you might like to actually read the article. You can have change without sacrificing August by forcing early school start.

Posted by change doesn't mean sacrificing August,
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2011 at 9:35 am

Web Link

"...keep the current calendar, have final exams before the winter break, AND use those last two weeks of the semester in January for meaningful project based learning..."

Posted by Teresa
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 9, 2011 at 10:38 am

I completely agree - AUGUST IS SUMMER!! Please don't take it away. What's happening to our childrens' childhood? Summer has become increasingly shortened over the last several years, with the start date to school creeping ever earlier.
My high school Freshman tells me that the greatest cause of stress in her life is the constant heavy load of HOMEWORK. She did not feel the need to study for finals over the winter break and did just fine.

Posted by Catherine
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

Although my daughter is still in Elementary School, and we have extended family in other states and other countries, I do think as parents and/or educators, we should put kids' educational and emotional needs first when it comes to school calendar, especially high schoolers' needs, since they experience the most pressure during the K-12 period. If most high school students prefer December finals (Dec finals is the case in most part of the world btw), we should find a solution to enable it -- be it early start in August, adjust workload distribution between the two semesters, no final exam for senior, etc.

Summer vacation is important, but so is winter break for the kids to recoup, and to explore their individual interests and priorities. With finals in January and holiday activities, I wonder how much a break our kids really get during the "winter break" as it is.

There are actually advantages of going on vacation during early June rather than mid August, to avoid peak travel season for one, and to avoid super hot and humid weather in August in other parts of the world as well. For family reunions, since most schools around the world have July off, we can find the time.

It is true in Palo Alto, we can have a few hot days in August, and most classrooms have no A/C, but since we and our kids enjoy such great weather (probably the best in the world) all year round, having the kids experience some hot working days will prepare them for their future life, I believe.

Hope the school board will make the decision based on the kids educational and emotional needs as priority, and the family community embrace any change this may bring.

Best regards,

Posted by a parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

Someone suggested to reduce frequent "off" days during the fall semester to enable Dec finals. I wonder if it is possible to group staff training days right before or after each semester, so we can achieve Dec finals with less or no overall calendar changes?

Posted by Sacred Summer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

Interestingly, I spent the last 2 weeks of every August in Palo Alto when I was growing up. Frequent trips to Europe and Hawaii were not in the budget. We were from out of town and the rest of the family lived here. My cousins took me to the baylands. My aunts and uncles took us the parks. I even liked the trips to the dump - I couldn't do that at home. Perhaps, I'm still a kid at heart, but July and August are sacred months. Would scheduling finals before Christmas really have enough of a positive impact that it is worth losing August as a vacation month? Perhaps parents and the district need to de-emphasize AP, straight As, SAT classes, and the Ivy League. The question is whether or not high school is preparing kids for life, not for more studying. Excellent post by Ms. Kadifa and Ms. Nee. P.S. I went to average (or below) public grade schools, went to Stanford, and never felt stressed about school until my kids went to High School in Palo Alto. Everyone is to be commended for focusing and working towards improvements.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

The lobby for change is incapable of contemplating "change", or finals before the break without sacrificing August. You guys can't seem to think that there can be a work free break without sacrificing August.

Though the district also seems incapable of contemplating or genuinely working on a different way to address that what the calendar change is specifically designed to do.

WHat is the calendar change specifically designed to accomplish?

No emotional stuff about High School stress, because it is only about AP's in Junior year. Seniors would be better off with no change, 9th and 10th are not in the same stressful situation as 11th graders but if they are in the Arts, Sports, it would probably be more stressful for them.

Please don't call it High School stress, this is very specific stress related to APs.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 11:37 am

Sacred Summer,

You bring up the best point, which is that stress is that which we have created about learning.

We are slaves to testing cycles, school rankings, and will do just about anything to change our lives to conform to these narrow definitions of success, which lead to narrow ideas about reducing stress.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

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

- start school in late August as normal
- Fall Semester final exams (for content taught Aug-Dec) before the winter break
- 1st three weeks of January for additional instruction and then a mid-term (if needed at all) to cover the final portions of the semester.
- absolutely no assignments or long-term projects due after winter break - teachers who break this rule will be suspended without pay

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

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

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm

CP Dad,

It's a great plan, and it would actually be an opportunity to create some interesting learning experiences for the students or even to reinforce things that will be on future tests.

Curriculum is constantly adjusted to add an item from things teachers get excited about (Everyday Math), and they are willing to adjust. This is not to add, it's to organize it differently which done right could be another win-win.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

CP Dad,
Sounds like a good idea and possibly one worth trying but teachers would have to get buy in from the parents and students on the following issues.
1) no complaining that that student has 5+ exams the last one or two days of the semester in January.
2) The semester grade could be lowered by this exam(it is much easier for a grade to fall than to be raised), so parents and students should not be saying BUT my student had an A- after the final so that "should be their grade"
3) Parents need to commit to be here for the exams during the week in December. No make ups after the break for kids who are "absent" for finals during December. Since grades are not due until late Jan, parents could easily feel that they can start their vacation early and then have their student take the final in January (since there are still 3 weeks left)
4) It should be understood that this may not address the issue of the 3rd quarter slump (we wouldn't know until we tried and had data)

I think it could be worth a try, but the expectations for both teachers (no work over break, give the final in Dec, do a new unit in Jan) and parents/students (see above) need to be clear.

Posted by Sounds too logical
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

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

- It enables the high school curriculum calendar to be independent of the elementary and middle school academic needs.
- It keeps equal length semesters.
- AND it doesn't toss everything completely into the air that a two week start-date shift would cause.

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

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

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

- With a shorter final in December and projects/papers due before break, the PBF camp gets the proverbial "real" break.
- The days in January that were previously "wasted" on review are now recovered.
- Everyone is fresh for the new material in January and can take a smaller exam that focuses on that material.
- Give everyone a 3 or 4 day weekend to regroup/grade that smaller exam and start again.

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

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

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Seems that giving up ski-week is preferable to starting school in early August. How would parents and students feel about that trade-off?

And what about the teachers’ service days, or seminars or whatever they’re called? Teachers I’ve talked to say they’re largely a waste of time, especially for experienced teachers?

Kids deserve a long summer break!

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Pat - we don't have a ski week.

Posted by mother & Stanford employee
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 9, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Excellent editorial.
Another issue that I know does not affect all families but is very relevant to some -- The earlier in August the PAUSD calendar starts the farther estranged from the Stanford calendar it becomes. A substantial number of families in our school district are employed by Stanford and affected by its academic calendar as well.

Stanford begins school in September and finishes in mid June.

Posted by AP Mom
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm

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

As the mom of kids who successfully have taken and passes AP classes, I beg you NOT to make the calendar revolve around these classes. Kids who will do well in APs, will do well no matter how you twist the calendar.

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

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

Posted by AP Mom
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Better, edited, version of the above post

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

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

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

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

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 7:36 am

Do not blame our schools,it is all of our AP parents who pushed us into this.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 7:42 am

We need to keep APs for those students who are truly excel at Aps,and it is very healthy for our kids and schools,but schools should not give in to those parents who do not know anything about their kids' level and yet still push them into taking it as many as possible.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 8:12 am

The real problem is the timing of the AP tests.

A real move should be to get the college board to move the APs into June. Having these tests take place immediately after Memorial Weekend would be a sensible idea for all across the country. Colleges have to take some of the reforms necessary to take away high school stress and one component that would be fairly simple is moving these tests a couple of weeks.

Other countries have these important high school exams in June and start the school year in September and these exams are very relevant to college acceptance. There is no reason why May should continue to be the time for AP tests.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 8:33 am

Don't blame the parents, everyone is responsible except the students who are simply responding to the competitive environment that has replaced learning. The AP industry runs HIgh Schools.

Recall the recent editorial about PAUSD leadership

"In early 2008, Kevin Skelly, then the new superintendent of PAUSD, reversed an earlier decision by the district and entered our high schools in the Newsweek "Challenge Index." The index is simple: It's the number of AP tests divided by the number of graduating seniors. Palo Alto had opted out of participating in the 2007 ranking.

According to Scott Laurence, a former principal at both Paly and Gunn, the contest would yield only "increased pressure on already stressed out students." Skelly did not share the concern about stress, deciding instead to advertise how our kids "stack up" against others. He wanted to "let folks know how good the Palo Alto schools are."

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 8:45 am


Asking the College Board to change the AP calendar would be awesome.

Also quit the Challenge Index and stop running our lives around it.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

We can do away this index thing,but we still need our schools to be known by every college.Is there another way?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 9:19 am

I don't agree that AP tests are the factor that is driving the push for pre-break finals. Many AP classes give a "final" in December already. I think there are a number of reasons for the push for the semester to end before the break. One goal of the district is to shrink the achievement gap. January finals are often hardest on our students at the lower levels (NOT AP). Many of these kids do not do any school work over the break and they find it very hard to remember after the break. January can be a very tough month for them. Another big factor for the push to have the first semester end before the break is that most kids put a ton of effort into the end of the semester tests and projects, then they are tired and need a break. If that break doesn't come then often they "slump or take a break" during the 3rd quarter. Most people are basing their opinions on what they think is best for kids and we should respect all opinions. I personally would like the semester to end before the break, but understand the various challenges that poses.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 9:21 am


Are you blind,go back ,look at those posts.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 9:56 am

Parent PV

Losing August is not about the AP class December final, but the additional instructional time gained before the AP tests in May. So, achievement gap juniors, or junior AP test takers benefit, it's still all juniors, and it's still about AP stress.

And no alternatives are on the table because every subject except Social Studies and English can't live with uneven semesters (which is baffling).

If the vote is to keep August, I hope the board will still get to work on PBF, and PBF can become the goal instead of the side trick.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 10:01 am


All subjects CAN live with uneven semesters except Social Studies and English.

It's all in the Board Packet!

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 10:03 am

What is this PBF?

Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 10, 2011 at 10:07 am

A few more thoughts looking back.
One thing that is correct is that American school calendars are not standardized. Current PAUSD parents should try to be fairly consistent with the majority of practices of school districts, though.
It also may not be a case of over-emphasizing AP tests in this district, just dealing with the reality of their scheduling. Perhaps you would like to argue with the College Board - good luck.
If we are discussing AP tests, yes, there are junior and senior yr considerations.
American seniors need to be consistent with the rest of this huge country, take AP tests and report scores promptly. That's how it's done. MANY students in American high schools finish the school year by mid-May, though, yes, others finish mid-June. IN any case, AP scores, final grades, etc. need to be sent to wherever the American senior is accepted (and has accepted), as well as to wherever they may be WAITLISTED, a much more common scenario in today's age.
Then there are decisions and more action, yes. Grads then consider what units they may receive/what classes they may be able to get past, even certain programs where they may need to consider acceptance (honor's type things for freshmen). The more time one has benefits one, like the situation of those students who graduate in May, to handle this. There are a lot of activities, tasks, online test taking for language placement (sometimes irrespective of AP) that occurs after HS graduation and before enrollment, and some of these are on deadlines. If your PAUSD kid is still in school, they are busier than all those peers who are finished and can give full attention to these vital aspects of their future. It isn't all cut and dried; btw from a post above or on related thread, I'd like to know what schools will accept 3's on APs?! for units. Even with 5's, there may be limits on the number of units that can be transferred in.
-So you are saying it is not a good idea for PAUSD to be consistent with numerous other school districts (early start, finals before winter break, earlier finish of school year), and an optimum schedule like many others have for AP tests, which I regrettably have to corroborate are important aspects of university apps/acceptances nowadays.

Not sure looking at other countries will influence what is done in America. It may not be practical to try to be like UK, where students apply to 5 unis -- MUCH simpler system --(as opposed to 20 like the States) and find out quite late by American standards where they have offers. I am surprised by the very brief time between when a student in UK "finishes" school and then starts uni.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 10:09 am

PBF = Pre-break Finals

or work free finals which would address student stress for 9-12, and keep August

This could be done if teachers would accept uneven semesters, or maybe plans like CP Dad's?

from a related thread

Posted by all for one, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, 20 minutes ago

From the board packet:

"However, teachers in these departments were quick to mention that

although the difference in semester lengths was not an issue for them, they would not support uneven semesters if the English and Social Studies departments felt that they compromised the curriculum in their semester classes."

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2011 at 10:17 am

PBF=Pre-break finals (I hate acronyms)

Uneven semester classes affect very few core classes - Junior and Senior Year you take one semester of English that everyone takes (honors or regular level) and one semester of an English elective. Senior year you take Economics and a Social Studies elective. There are some pure electives (like cooking, interior design, etc.) which are a semester long that would not be significantly be affected.

Again - 10 school days in May (those high stake test days) are dedicated to AP testing, STAR testing, and I believe CASHEE make-ups (the state test you need to take to graduate). Very little new material is covered in the Junior/Senior classes (the same classes that could be only a semester) so the second semester can easily be 10 days longer without significantly impacting learning. Seniors don't take STAR tests and have no classes during finals week, so they are already have 6 days less in the second semester.

Posted by Need Down Time
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

The kids really do need a few days off without the pressure of finals hanging over their heads.

A couple days in August really don't make a big deal if they are part of the permanent schedule that is released years in advance.

This PAUSD thing is a pressure cooker. Give the kids a bit of free time without the pressure.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

Need down time,

The pressure cooker is for Juniors. Seniors would not benefit from a change.

Fix it for those that are in the pressure cooker.

All other grade levels don't need to lose August to have down time.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

Am I getting it right?

One: keep August with PBF,needs approval from union.
Two: Lose August with PBF,does not need approval from union,lose vacation time

side line one:CP dad one

This article is not very clear.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

I think the unions have already been negotiated with, and the options they have given us are.

One: Keep August but this would not allow for PBF

Two: is what you posted....proposed change to early start, to have PBF

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Then I have no preference,either way is fine. If board choose the current calendar,I wish they can look at CP dad suggestions later or if board choose to loose vacation time,it is still good,because every kid needs to go through AP years.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of University South
on May 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

re amom:
Actually, the union doesn't set the dates of finals, even though from the coverage it sounds like that is the case. The principals set the dates of finals.

So the issue is more that the early August start date calendar would make it impossible to set finals after the break, they'd have to be before.

The traditional calendar also on the table would allow the teachers and principals to set finals before break if they agreed that that was a good thing. Or to leave them where they are. Either way, start and stop dates wouldn't change (so there would be some change in semester lengths, or a stand alone project or unit taught in January that wouldn't be on finals, or trimesters--any of those solutions would fit in with a late August start.).

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 12:24 pm

If it can be as flexible as this, why can not we try to keep August and make it an English and an social science core teacher's decision to leave the test before or after the break(only those teachers can do tests after break), it won't affect too much. Please look at palo alto mom's comment above.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm

A Pre break final goal seems to have possible solutions, but the AP and college related issues and the greater proportion of stress resulting from them are likely best served by the early start.

That's why the early start really boils down to APs, and the stress in 11th grade.

oh well, we don't have a choice anyway

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Yes,we have a choice but we need everyone to give up something for something,and it really depends on how people in this tech town view what the important thing means to them,is it vacation time or the stress from Junior year which is the most important year through all of kids' high school years.

Posted by amom
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm

BY the way, I am fine with both calendars with an option that board can consider CP Dad suggestions.

Posted by Paly Grad 09
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I'm a graduate from the class of 2009, and I wanted to throw in my voice in agreement with Junior. I was a pretty good student in high school (honestly, I'm better now, except that I'm writing this instead of working on a paper), and I spent a fair amount of time studying over winter break. The study time was pretty much concentrated at the end, since the first few days were spent sleeping and hanging out with family and friends and the next few went to Christmas. I would study starting sort casually on the 27th or 28th and continue more or less until school started, except for New Years, which I'd take off. Even so, I found that classes started, I was behind where we'd left off. The sort of slow warm-up that happens after every break is a little worse when there's almost a semester's worth of information to relearn.
Now that I'm in college and have a true winter break, I realize how little relaxation I got in high school. I have two siblings currently in high school, and while I was sitting around basking in the feeling of being home, they were studying and working on projects. My family is fairly studious, but not extraordinarily so; there's just a lot of work to be done over winter break as it is now.
I fully support having finals before break, and consider this a higher priority than keeping August for vacation or uneven semesters. I also find it slightly appalling how many people on this thread speak about teachers as if they are the enemy. My teachers at Paly were fantastic; I can name at least half a dozen that I loved learning from and were genuinely fond of as people. I was reminded of this clip:
Web Link

Anyway, it's back to work for me. Good luck, Palo Alto students! Life's pretty good now- but it gets even better!

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