In a recent review, the Farmington Board of Education policy committee wanted to take a fresh approach to the school calendar and rearrange learning time to make room for the needs of both students and teachers.
Members of the policy committee presented what they came up with – still under discussion – to the full board Monday evening.
“We went in trying to do some interesting things with the calendar,” Bill Beckert said. “We were concerned with the interruptions in the first half of the school year with all the days off.”
They were also concerned with finding a way to add more professional development time – of critical importance, administrators have said, as the district switches over to a new state-mandated curriculum across subject matters.
The plan they came up with includes a 181-day school year that starts consistently the Monday before Labor Day and provides five 90-minute early dismissal days for professional development.
“We’re trying to recapture ongoing professional development time,” Superintendent Kathleen Greider said. “The five 90-minute early release days allow for professional development. The extra day ensures we don’t lose instructional time.”
The early dismissal days – which West Hartford already holds weekly – would fall on the second Tuesday, every other month. The committee proposed beginning them in September, but Melanie Meehan, a board member and teacher, mentioned that doing so might contribute to the disjointed nature of the first month of school.
EXCL Director Vince LaFontan said the program could accommodate the increased number of students who would likely seek afterschool care during the early-dismissal days. Those students normally enrolled on Tuesdays wouldn’t pay an extra fee for the additional time. Those who are not, would.
And there would be other expenses to making up the instructional time with an extra day of school, Greider said. Because of contracts, to extend school for 181 days would add $18,500 to pay paraprofessionals for the extra day. The district would pay $9,500 for bus attendants.
The many holidays, including Labor Day, were one factor that influenced the recommendation to start before Labor Day.
Students’ attitudes and concern about the calendar extending too long were others.
“Kids are ready to learn at the end of August; they’re not at the end of June. We have evidence of that,” Beckert said.
The committee considered that the last week in August is a popular family vacation week and some members weren’t convinced the earlier start would be well received in the community.
Ellen Siuta said she would like to hear from parents and Jon Landry recommended looking at other districts’ calendars. Many, he said, start the week before Labor Day on a Wednesday, which is not quite as early.
“It is much easier as a teacher to start the year with a five-day week,” Meehan said. “To start with a three-day week is just another broken week where you don’t get the rhythms you need to establish a routine.”
Greider noted that for the next 10 years, the earliest start date under the proposed plan would be Aug. 25.
The committee considered other options, including holding school on the traditional holidays of Veteran’s Day and Columbus Day. Members talked with representatives of veterans in town to see how that group would respond.
They also found that many college visits and sporting events are scheduled around Columbus Day and decided against the change.
They considered consolidating the February and April vacations but met with strong opposition from teachers and custodians, who said the students and the buildings rely on the February break.
The board will consider the proposed calendar changes during its two upcoming meetings on Oct 15 and 29.