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By Tim Hunt

Time for a big change in the school calendar

Uploaded: Oct 10, 2013

The Pleasanton school district in partnership with neighboring districts wisely is taking a hard look at the traditional school calendar.
It is about time. The traditional calendar unchallenged for way too long even as research has pointed out how damaging the 10-week or longer summer vacation can be to learning.
Two of the models that the school board reviewed Tuesday evening start school earlier in August so the first semester ends before the winter break. Currently, even with a start date in the last week of August (much earlier than in my days where school never started until after Labor Day), the first semester runs three weeks into January with two weeks of regular instruction and then finals for the high schools.
Finishing before the holidays is a much better flow for the educational process and probably better for students go into the winter break looking forward to a fresh slate in January.
With air conditioning now routine, summer classroom conditions are suitable for effective instruction and learning. Moving to the earlier start is almost a no-brainer.
What would be even more significant is for the board to take a hard look and enact a modified year-round schedule that includes additional breaks with a shorter summer vacation. State regulations on attendance penalize districts financially when parents take students out of class for family vacations in non-holiday periods.
People I know who have both taught and attended schools on modified year-round schedules love that approach. It gives families much more flexibility in taking vacations other than in the traditional Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks.
It is better academically for all students, but particularly those who struggle in the classroom. Shorter breaks help them retain knowledge and limit the amount of time teachers spend reviewing material that already had been presented and hopefully mastered.
Yes, there are implications for sports, but the sporting machine should not dominate the advantages for academics and families.
A couple of years ago when Easter fell very late, the school district moved away from is traditional spring break during that week and instead placed it after nine weeks, halfway through the semester where it made sense academically. They have done that again in this school year when Easter falls very late on April 20, 2014. Spring break will run March 31 to April 4.
Trustees and senior staff will need to engage with parents and staff to educate them on why the change is necessary and gain their support, but this is a change that should have happened years ago.


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