Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 13, 2014

School calendar up for vote

Pre- or post-Labor Day start being debated

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — An early end to summer or a break that extends past Labor Day?

That question is once again before the School Committee, which is considering three calendar choices for next school year.

One of the options has students reporting back in August prior to Labor Day, with the remaining two calling for post-holiday starts.

All three options have teachers returning two days prior to students’ arrival. Those two workshop days are set aside for teacher training and classroom preparations.

The proposals, which were presented at last week’s School Committee meeting, are:

Teachers report Aug. 25, with students returning Aug. 27. The last day of school without any snow days would be June 15.

Teachers report Aug. 27, with students returning Sept. 2. The last day of school without snow days would be June 17.

Teachers report Sept. 2, with students returning Sept. 4. The last day of school without snow days would be June 19.

Each snow day needed would be tacked on to the end of the year.

Because two of the options have teachers reporting back in August, those require approval from the Andover Education Association, the town’s teachers union. The current contract prohibits requiring teachers to return to school before Sept. 1 without their consent. The union is scheduled to take a vote the week of Feb. 24.

“If the teachers don’t vote to waive that, there would only be one option,” union president Kerry Costello said.

The School Committee is accepting public comment on the three proposals in advance of its vote, which is set for March 6. Parents may email their preferences to committee members.

One parent attending last week’s presentation objected to the power the teachers union holds over the start of the school year.

“It would be nice if the School Committee had the authority to start school before Labor Day, without a vote of the teachers,” Bancroft Elementary School parent Shannon Scully said.

But what drew the most questions and comments were the six half school days built into all three calendars for in-service teacher and staff development needs. On those days, students are released from school after a half day to allow for professional training.

“The kids get there at 8:45 a.m. and they’re dismissed at 10:45 at the elementary schools. That’s a two-hour day, and by the time they have their snow pants off and they have their books, why they went is questionable,” Scully said. “The handling of these-early release days is laughable.”

Sanborn Elementary School parent Susan McCready also called for a change to the district’s use of half days.

“The children even feel it’s a waste of time,” McCready said. “I don’t know if they have the opportunity, especially for the very young children, to get anything done on those days.”

Summer Street resident Brad Weeden pressed the School Committee to consolidate the six half-days into three full days off for students.

Part of Weeden’s thinking involved the fact that, with half days, students still require the same amount of transportation to get to and from school. Consolidating the half days into three full school days and three full days off would cut bus trips and be less disruptive to students and parents, he said.

“If you have three days full off instead of just six days half, the kids effectively get just as many hours of constructive learning, but you avoid the whole, disruptive effect of those days on taxpayers and parents, and the costs that are involved in just getting students to and from school,” Weeden said.

School officials said last week that once they set the 2014-2015 school calendar early next month, they hope to then finalize the following year’s calendar by late spring.

The goal, they said, is to have the calendar set for two years out, so that even if parents are not happy with the schedule, they can at least plan for it. School staff will be surveyed prior to deciding the following year’s calendar, they added.

To view the three calendars being proposed and comment to the School Committee, visit www.aps1.net/index.aspx?NID=1382.