GUSD Should Copy BUSD Calendar

January will be a busy time for Glendale Unified school board members as they tackle two of the most significant issues left over from 2015: the search for a new superintendent and a new starting date for school.

While the public has a minor say in choosing a superintendent, parents can have a major impact voicing their views on when schools should open their doors by attending one of the upcoming meetings: Jan. 11 at Glendale High, Jan. 13 at Hoover High, and Jan. 14 at Crescenta Valley High.

As reported before in this space, opening schools in early August makes no sense. The desire to finish the fall semester before winter break pertains only to 7-12th graders who have final exams.

And the idea that high school students need more time to prepare for Advanced Placement tests before the May testing period is just that—an idea. There is no proof that students have performed better on AP tests ever since school was moved up several weeks to early August.

In fact, AP test results have suffered in recent years ever since pre-requisites to taking AP classes were eliminated. Plus, this affects only a small portion of high school students. The majority of the K-12 student population does not need to follow a college calendar.

Thumbs up to parent Sarah Rush for spearheading an online petition to start school later that garnered 2,000 plus signatures. It definitely got the attention of GUSD more than this writer’s musings.

Thumbs down to GUSD for shelving this discussion even though parents expressed themselves back in August allowing plenty of time to alter next year’s calendar.   One school board member rationalized that they could not change the calendar because people already have made plans based on the Aug. 8th start date. Really?

Number one, how many parents cement August 2016 vacation plans in August 2015. And, number two, if they did, so what. School would not be starting earlier, it would be starting later.

Unfortunately, GUSD was not interested in renegotiating the already approved 2016-2017 calendar. Understandably Glendale’s school board members had their hands full with myriad issues this year including labor negotiations with employee groups, a proposed charter school (recently denied), future realignment of the district, as well as the continuing Sagebrush saga.

On the plus side, GUSD finally followed what Burbank Unified has done for years by posting an online survey for parents between Jan. 8 and 22 on this issue. And the district has formed a 27-member Superintendent’s Committee on Calendar Development that will meet five times (do we really need 27 people to devise calendar options?).

I find Burbank’s school calendar the most efficient. School opens Aug. 15 and ends on May 25. The 11-week summer allows more time not just for travel but for kids to enroll in enrichment classes or to get jobs. Conversely, Glendale schools start Aug. 8 and end June 1 with a 9-week summer.

I’m not sure why GUSD’s 27-member committee needs five meetings to devise a new calendar when their municipal neighbor already has one that they can adopt. Not having the Friday off before Labor Day, limiting the Thanksgiving holidays to three, and keeping Winter Break to two full weeks is how they do it, fitting the state-mandated 180 days of school within 284 calendar days instead of 298.

There, you can cancel four of the meetings right there.

Both cities share similar demographics and the same delicious bakery, Porto’s. So, to start the New Year right, hold a joint meeting of BUSD and GUSD and come to a consensus on the same school calendar. Potato balls, anyone?

 

Parent Input is a Must in Developing a School Calendar

Last month I wrote about the early start of school in Glendale and now there is an online petition, Save Our GUSD Schools, for parents to sign who want to push it back closer to Labor Day. Currently, the petition has surpassed 2,000 signatures, nearing their goal of 2,500.

As previously explained, the shift of the school year from September to August has to do with secondary students finishing their fall semester final exams before Winter Break, as well as providing more time to learn material before the Advanced Placement Exams in May.

While all school districts have 180 days of instruction, Glendale schools begin earlier than all other neighboring districts in Burbank, Pasadena, La Canada, and Los Angeles because of the extra days off within the start and end dates, thus stretching school over 296 days compared to Burbank which begins one week later but ends almost a week earlier due to fewer days off.

For the past two years, Glendale schools have closed on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If this trend of lengthening 3-day weekends into 4-day weekends continues, schools may have to start in late July.

Next year’s first day of school will be the earliest ever: August 8.

Besides the early start date, here is another curious characteristic of Glendale’s calendar. Looking at a month-by-month breakdown of the number of school days, notice that the 180-day year is split unevenly, with 85 days in Fall and 95 days in Spring, a 2 week difference.

Aug. = 16, Sept. = 20, Oct. = 21, Nov. = 15, Dec. = 13, Jan. = 16, Feb. = 19, Mar. = 17, Apr. = 21, May = 21, June = 1

If GUSD kept Labor Day as a single holiday, and Thanksgiving as a two-day holiday, there would be 89 days in Fall and 91 in Spring, close to an even split.

Also peculiar is that students need to return to school for only two days following Memorial Day.   Again, cut out two of the oddball days so children and their families can celebrate the end of the school year along with high school graduations right before the Memorial Day weekend.

Christine Walters, school board president, said that the GUSD calendar is “a contract item which has to be negotiated” with GTA (Glendale Teachers Association). So how much weight will the parent petition carry in deciding any changes?

Last year, BUSD sent out an electronic survey on their calendar. What they discovered was that the majority of parents did not want a whole week off for Thanksgiving because it would extend the school year into June. So the board members listened to their constituents and, with the approval of the district’s unions, had the calendar reflect the wishes of the parents.

There are some Glendale and Burbank district employees who have to scramble for child care due to their children attending the other city’s schools, each district’s Spring Break often occurring on different weeks.

Here is a proposal. Have All BUSD and GUSD school board members, PTA presidents of all schools, and teacher union presidents of BTA and GTA meet to discuss a common calendar.   Develop a few sample calendars and present them at public forums. Then, email parents in both cities to vote on them. The calendar with the most votes gets implemented.

Nayiri Nahabedian, Glendale School Board Member, said that she is “not opposed” to a common calendar, while Roberta Reynolds, Burbank School Board Member, thinks that having the same calendar is “an interesting idea.”

If such a meeting would occur in the near future, there would be plenty of time to go through this process and have a unified calendar in place before June.

The calendar issue will be discussed at Tuesday’s GUSD school board meeting so any interested parents or employees should attend.

Call the Early Start of School as Sumfall

One of the most asked questions I get as a teacher is why does school start so early in August instead of September.

Even though the change took place several years ago, as both a parent and a teacher I still am not used to summer ending with so much of the season remaining.

When Glendale children return to school on August 10 (August 8 next year), only 54 percent of summer days will have transpired leaving 46 percent to come as part of the fall semester.

We should rename summer vacation sprummer or at least rebrand the first semester as the Sumfall term.

Educators who work summer school only get two and a half weeks off before the new year restarts.   That is not enough time to recharge one’s batteries in a field as demanding as education. The same goes for students who attend summer school; they get three weeks off.   So their summer vacation is basically the length of winter break.

The main reason why districts began the August shift is for secondary school students to finish their semester before winter break, the notion that kids having two weeks off diminishes their retention level when upon their return final exams commence shortly thereafter.

Such thinking gets canceled out, however, since for the past few years Glendale students have had the whole week of Thanksgiving off, meaning they still end up returning for only a couple of weeks of class before finals.

Meanwhile, the elementary school students don’t need to start so early since they don’t take final exams making semester breaks meaningless.

Often overlooked is how hot it is in August, and that despite most classrooms having air conditioning, children need to play and exercise outside, something that frequently gets curtailed with heat advisories.

Some states such as Florida have passed laws to push back the start of school to late August. The New York and Chicago districts, number one and three in terms of size in the country, continue opening school the second week in September.

Over the years I have found few people in favor of an early August start date so why aren’t school districts listening?

* * *

Update on Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”

As I commented last time, publishing the early version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a mistake. Now that I have read the book, I can confirm that it was a monumental mistake.

There are parts of “Watchman” that exhibit a talented writer; however, the story is plotless and I found myself struggling through long-winded passages where essentially nothing happens. And then there’s the less than idyllic portrayal of Atticus—not the righteous father figure he epitomizes in “Mockingbird.”

What bothers me most is that by seeing how Lee originally intended to tell her story about racial issues in the South compared to the altered version two and a half years later in “Mockingbird,” it is clear that Lee’s editor in 1957 Tay Hohoff deserves much credit in reshaping the novel.

It goes to show how even in a field like writing which is viewed as the result of an individual’s work one can’t assume that the author did it alone. What “Watchman” proves is that Lee needed significant assistance.

Sales for “Watchman” have substantially slowed down since its initial release two weeks ago perhaps due to negative reviews and word of mouth.

Let’s hope this doesn’t ignite a trend of publishing early drafts of other great novels. I wouldn’t care to read a version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” where Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up still a miser, and ends with the death of Tiny Tim.