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Finding compromise on a new school calendar

Committee recommendation coming at Dec. 8 meeting

SOLON– Different things are important to different people.
When it comes to the Solon school calendar, students, parents and school staff differ on which has the most impact– the starting date for the school year or ending the first semester before winter break.
The school district’s calendar committee has been working to develop the landmark dates for the 2015-16 school year, and a formal recommendation is expected at the school board’s Dec. 8 meeting.
At the November board meeting, calendar committee member Brandi Radcliffe provided board members with an update on progress and the results of surveys conducted to aid the committee in its decision.
For high school students, ending the first semester before winter break was most important; for most parents and school staff, the start date weighed most heavily.
And therein lies the dilemma.
In February, board members changed the calendar for the 2014-15 school year to begin school Thursday, Aug. 14, with graduation Sunday, May 17, 2015. The board also implemented a weekly 1:45 p.m. early dismissal to provide more collaborative learning time for teachers. That decision changed a two-year calendar that had been approved the previous year and prompted some criticism of how the decision was made.
In response, the calendar committee was reconstituted and charged with addressing a number of issues relating to the school year: the start date for school, the possibility of a set graduation date, the number of days in each semester, the number of snow days needed, and investigating what other schools did and whether there was data supporting the board’s decision to end the first semester of the 2014-15 school year with the beginning of winter break.
“We have kicked this all around and we’ve come up with a couple of proposals that we’re almost ready to give to you, but not quite yet,” Radcliffe told board members.
The results of the surveys compiled in October showed there was little concern about graduation date, but that parents and staff split with high school students over start date and winter break.
Lakeview Elementary and middle school parents and teachers strongly favored an Aug. 20 start date, but high school teachers supported an Aug. 13 date. A large majority of all parents indicated the first day of school was their most important issue regarding the calendar.
High school students (only 10th through 12th graders were surveyed) felt that ending the first semester before winter break was most important.
“That’s the kind of thing we’ve been fighting with for years,” said board member Dean Martin, a member of the calendar committee. “You have a portion of your school that the semester break affects, and you’ve got another portion of the school that it has very little effect on.”
Radcliffe said there was anecdotal evidence from students about the problems they encountered with ending the semester after winter break.
“It was not a break by any means, they were doing huge papers and huge amounts of testing and test prep,” Radcliffe said. “That was just not a good break situation.”
The 2014-15 school year was the first time the district had done anything different, she said.
“This is the first year in 26 years that we have ended semester before Christmas,” she noted.
With the two strong preferences noted in the surveys, the committee decided to try to forge a compromise.
As a result, the committee is looking at a Tuesday, Aug. 18, start date.
The committee did find some evidence supporting the winter break decision, she said, noting that data indicated at-risk students would do better with testing before the break. The district has 317 students identified as at-risk, she added.
Many area schools have calendars that are aligned with winter break, and many Solon students take college credit classes, which would also end before winter break, she said.
Because the current school year is the first to end the semester with winter break, she said, the committee decided it should be given a chance to continue and then be evaluated.
“The calendar committee is recommending that for the school year we’re in now and the next two that we end semester before Christmas,” Radcliffe said.
The third quarter of the 2015-16 school year will have the most days (47) to accommodate instructional time lost to standardized testing and snow days.
Radcliffe did say numerous comments on the survey results suggested the district shouldn’t make up snow days because of the switch in measuring instructional time by hours instead of days.
The proposed calendar includes 1,112 hours of instruction, she said, 32 hours over the state requirement, and it would be up to the board to decide whether to make up snow days. No snow days were built into the calendar, she added.
The general consensus of the board was to make up the snow days unless they stretched too far into June.
“I think our board has a strong commitment to try and keep our instructional hours as high as we can, because it matters,” said board president Dick Schwab.