I work in the Anaheim Union High School District, right next door to Los Al, and a few years ago our teachers, district and unions decided to discuss a re-vamped school calendar. We investigated starting the school year in early August and ending at the end of May. After several surveys, multiple discussions in a variety of forums, outreach to the community, and due diligence in reading supporting research, we all quickly determined that a change was a great idea. So with this school year, 2015/2016, we began our new calendar adventure.
This year I started school on August 12, 2015, and we will end before Memorial Day on May 26, 2016. Here are a few of the factors that lead to my district’s change.
Our first semester now ends before Winter Break. This is a beautifully natural break for instructional purposes, as opposed to dragging semester finals into January after a long vacation.
Our school year will end with a holiday weekend, providing vacation opportunities for families and staff that don't cost the district dollars in lost ADA for absent students or substitute costs for absent teachers when a three-day weekend is extended into four.
Our new calendar provides three extra weeks to prepare students for AP exams that occur during the first two weeks of May.
Our calendar also eliminates downtime after AP exams. With Los Al’s current calendar, there may be a full five weeks “to kill” between AP exams and the end of the school year. This is not the case for me. My students take their AP exams, follow that up with a week of class finals, and then school ends. In our model, all instructional minutes are intentional and purposeful; we don’t have any wasted time.
Finally, my discussion with the teacher from Los Al illuminated for me one final salient point: CIF is changing its calendar. With so many districts moving to this more “college-like” schedule, CIF is taking note and adjusting sports’ schedules. If Los Al doesn’t make any changes, it is likely that high school sports will need to start before school actually begins.
Therefore, we all voted to ratify the change. And once we made the decision, we just “tore off the bandaid,” making the change in one summer. Last summer was awfully short, I grant you, with school ending in mid-June and starting up again in early August, but the pain was assuaged with the promise of an extra paycheck. Also, it meant we only had one short summer, rather than the three we could’ve had if we’d transitioned one week at a time instead.
Now with my own kids on Spring Break this week and me back at school, I am reminded again about how sad I am. Not only do we not have the same week off, but also they aren’t reaping the same academic benefits.
I challenge our community to challenge our district to revisit the Los Al school calendar. If the discussions progressed the way ours did, they all revolved around what’s best for kids. Shouldn’t that be what drives our decisions as educators? As districts? As parents?
It's definitely worth a discussion -- one that shouldn’t happen just on a soccer field -- but one that potentially drives real change.