Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to complete our survey regarding the academic calendar for the 2015-2016 school year. The perspective that you shared has been helpful! It is very clear the divergence of opinion on when school and should start and end will make it virtually impossible to create a calendar that everyone is pleased with. I wanted to take a few minutes to clarify a few things and share some insights.

Each year when we begin formulating the calendar a few families will comment that they wish we would start school after the state fair because of all the work their children have put in to prepare an exhibit. My response has inevitably always been, "No problem, your child can go to the fair. There will be no penalty for missing the first few days of school. They will be excused". This past year, I had one parent say, "Thanks, but you really don't get it. My child doesn't want to miss the first day of school either. They like school. They also enjoy the learning that goes with the state fair and deserve to have the opportunity to compete in this event." 

Good point. Yet that balancing act creates quite a challenge when planning the calendar.

This year when I first started to look at the academic calendar for the 2015-2016 school year, I realized that if we followed the same formulaic template as the past we would be starting school on August 13th. This of course just happens to be the first day of the state fair. I began to wonder if there were other options that could or should be considered. Some were mentioned in the survey that many of you completed. 

Some of you have opined that the state fair shouldn't dictate when school starts, but also believe that we should start a little later. If we have the opportunity to apply for a waiver, I would be inclined to recommend to the Board that we do so. At this time I don't know if we will apply for a waiver or not. That is a question for the Board to answer. We also don't know if we will qualify for a waiver based on the premise of a significant negative educational impact. That is a question for the Department of Education to answer. (I believe that too should be a question for the Board to answer, but will save that discussion for another time.)

Therein lies the paradox. A school start date that requires a waiver may still seem a bit early to many, but in my opinion starting later creates a significant negative educational impact. I suppose that is why the Department of Education has now decided to define exactly what constitutes a significant negative educational impact. My opinion and your opinion might be different. I just wish they would have waited until the 2016-2017 school year so we didn't have to start over from scratch.

For Hudson, it all comes down to aligning our calendars with the local colleges, particularly the end of the semesters. If we start school after the colleges have started, many of our students wouldn't be able to participate in concurrent enrollment and Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) courses. This by the way is another reason we want to finish the semester by winter break. If students are still finishing first semester courses in January when the second semester begins at the college, we have just compounded the challenge of providing the aforementioned courses to our students. Then there is the AP conundrum. Students take the AP exam during the second week of May--all across the nation. This date isn't set by the school district and we must follow the prescribed curriculum. If our students aren't ready we simply can't move the test back two weeks. Starting later could mean at least two weeks less of instructional time for these students. With an AP course you can't skip a chapter or two if you get behind, because all of that material is going to be on the AP exam. These are among the most rigorous courses that we offer in our school!

Does this constitute a significant negative educational impact? Well, I suppose it depends a bit on your perspective. From my perspective I think it does.

Although we are now permitted to count our calendar in hours, we still rely on days of instruction. What exactly do I mean by this? Well, 1,080 isn't the benchmark we are trying to reach--180 is. Within the confines of a 180 day calendar we exceed  the minimum number of hours required by law. That is because the length of our day already exceeds what is required under the 180 day calendar and always has. If we decided to use 1,080 hours as the benchmark, we would actually have less contact time with students than we ever had before. Hopefully you will all agree that this would create a significant negative educational impact!

Further, I am not sure making the day any longer is a wise decision. Our young learners need much more rest than we do. They are exhausted by the end of the day, and those of you that have young children at home know what I mean. Again that is just my perspective!

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