Trustees consider new calendar

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With this school year under way, administrators are already
mapping out a game plan for the next one, and students might have a
shorter summer if trustees decide on a calendar that sends them
back to school earlier than usual.
With this school year under way, administrators are already mapping out a game plan for the next one, and students might have a shorter summer if trustees decide on a calendar that sends them back to school earlier than usual.

The Gilroy Unified School District has convened a committee to weigh the pros and cons of two different calendar proposals: one that begins in mid-August and ends early in June and one that begins later in August and ends after the third week of June, similar to the current calendar.

The committee addressed contractual issues that would affect the district’s bargaining groups and considered such pressing questions as whether to start school on a Thursday – it did this year, what the hottest month of the year is – August, they concluded, and whether or not a high schooler will actually do homework over a long holiday break – probably not.

The committee distributed 11,077 surveys to staff and families. Of the 2,236 surveys that were returned, 1,200 favored the traditional schedule – which has students beginning toward the end of August – and 1,036 were ready for a change.

Bumping the beginning of school up by a few weeks would allow secondary students to finish their semester prior to the winter break and spend a carefree holiday season unfettered by the burden of homework. However, it would put exams in the midst of the holiday scramble and would shorten the summer of 2009 for students.

If the board decided to stick with the traditional calendar, no one would have to adjust to a change – an advantage, according to the committee – but it would perpetuate the practice of holding semester exams after the holiday break, a tradition many students feel hinders learning.

An overwhelming majority of the Associated Student Body and leadership class at Gilroy High School favored the switch to an earlier calendar, said Mark Foley, student trustee.

“You have time to recharge and start the second semester fresh,” he said.

GHS Principal James Maxwell said a majority of his staff agreed.

“I’m completely for moving the calendar up,” Maxwell said. “We want finals done before the winter break. It’s good for the kids, good for the staff.”

After GHS students return to school on Jan. 5, they spend the next two weeks learning new material and reviewing for exams, Maxwell said.

“It would be more of a relief to go into vacation knowing I’m free,” said GHS senior Jonathan Higgins.

The switch would also allow students to get a jump start on preparing for the Advanced Placement and high school exit exam. All other standardized tests would not be affected by an early start.

Morgan Hill Unified School District has already adopted a school calendar similar to the one GUSD is looking at, where students start early, finish their first semester before winter break and get out of school early in June.

“The great majority really like it,” said Jay Totter, assistant superintendent of human resources at MHUSD. “We finish our last instructional day before we leave for winter break and we’re done.”

But he was careful to point out that what works for one district may not work for another.

And several teachers took to the podium to tell the board why it didn’t work for them.

Sue Gamm, a teacher at Rucker Elementary who has put four of her own children through Gilroy High School, said that the winter break is a good time for students to catch up on their studying instead of taking exams during the holiday rush. She also bemoaned the extra hours of work that would be tacked on to elementary school teachers’ days before the holidays.

“I’m only human, only one person and I can only deal with so much,” she said.

However, Gilroy Teachers Association President Michelle Nelson sat on the committee along with representatives of other district bargaining groups to ensure that neither calendar violated the current contract.

Other opponents of the change reminded the board of the 100 degree heat that sets in come August, and how teachers are asked to limit their air conditioner use.

Heat or no heat, Trustee Denise Apuzzo was in favor of the current schedule, and even brought up the idea of pushing the first day of school to after Labor Day, a practice many schools have on the East Coast, where she’s from.

Meanwhile, a parent coalition, Save California Summers, is conducting a statewide campaign to petition the state legislature to pass a law pushing back the school year until after Labor Day, under the slogan “School is cool, but not in August.”

And Trustee Pat Midtgaard reminded the audience at the board meeting that, at one point, students didn’t start until mid-September.

“In the – ’70s, we didn’t start school until the prunes were picked,” Midtgaard said.

Trustees plan to decide on a calendar at an Oct. 2 board meeting.

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