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Many people and hours gointo developing school calendar

April 09, 2007

Editor's note: Once a month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff will use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written by Barbra Cecil, parent and Calendar Advisory Committee member.




Following my presentation to the Board of Education earlier this year, in which I shared the recommendations of the Calendar Advisory Committee, I was invited to write a column on this topic for the Education page.

Parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders frequently wonder how the school calendar is devised. This column attempts to explain the process used by the Calendar Advisory Committee to develop annual school calendars.

Our 20-member committee included teacher representatives, educational support personnel, administrative personnel, parents, students, parent-teacher association members and county citizen advisory members. The committee was charged with the task of developing calendars for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years.

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The committee began the process by reviewing information from prior calendar committees. A template was created that included required holidays and Washington County Public Schools contractual days.

The committee collectively agreed that maintaining five-day student instructional weeks and avoiding weeks with less than three days would be a guiding principle in the committee's decisions. This principle was based on the need to promote high student attendance and protect the continuity of instruction. Additionally, as with previous calendars, the committee agreed to build in eight snow days.

Members also sought to preserve approximately 90 days of instruction prior to high school assessments for each semester. This resulted in starting school the third week of August. The committee further decided to continue Wednesday as the school start day in order to allow students to become slowly acclimated to returning to school.

Thanksgiving break prompted a lengthy discussion. Several parents and teachers felt that students and staff should be off on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. This proposal would have resulted in beginning school a day earlier or adding another day to the end of the school year. Both student and teacher attendance data from previous school years were reviewed. Student attendance during a two-day week and lack of air conditioning in some schools in mid-June persuaded the committee to maintain Wednesday as a school day. Also, student attendance data from previous school years revealed a lower student attendance average on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The committee, therefore, designated the Monday after Thanksgiving as a professional day.

The committee agreed that professional development days should occur at the beginning or end of the week. Additionally, secondary and elementary staff trainings were scheduled on the same day to minimize transportation issues for parents. Two days in late October or early November were designated for parent conferences.

Many committee members advocated for a longer spring break, but concluded that a longer spring break would result in extending the school year. The committee, therefore, chose to maintain three school days off for spring break.

Hopefully, this brief overview will provide parents and citizens with a better understanding of the calendar development process. State-mandated assessments, advanced placement tests and other requirements have limited the flexibility of the school calendar. As a parent, I always wondered how a school calendar was created. After serving on this committee, I have learned that it is a complex and challenging task.

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