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Farmington School Board Considers Changes to School Calendar

Early dismissal days, constant pre-Labor Day start among recommendations by policy committee now under consideration.

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.

vic michaud October 03, 2012 at 10:49 AM
take the 2 jewish holidays away in september.
Sharon Schloss October 03, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Vic - That was a decision that weighed a lot of consideration, and many other systems have the jewish holidays off. How about if we go to school on Good Friday and the day before Christmas instead?
T Griffin October 03, 2012 at 12:07 PM
I think that starting earlier would be better than waiting until Labor Day. School ending mid June last year was much better than our usual late June closing. I don't agree with losing the Jewish holidays.
Marie Sullivan October 03, 2012 at 12:33 PM
The February break needs to go.... If you are not going on vacation to a tropical island, your kids are stuck in the house watching tv. I would like to know why the teachers have a strong opposition to getting rid of this, and don't say because it helps to cut down sickness in the schools.
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) October 03, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Hi all, thanks for your comments. First, Jon Landry asked how many of our students celebrate the Jewish holidays but the chairman replied that they have no way of knowing. Second, board members said that while parents routinely ask to do away with February break, teachers say the break is important for kids - to have some time to relax before CMTs start. The superintendent said we got to see what it was like without Feb. break last year as a result of the October snowstorm and the kids struggled. I believe the custodians told administrators they felt it was important to be able to use the break to really clean the buildings.
Chelle Grande October 03, 2012 at 01:36 PM
The two winter breaks are essential for both physical and mental health. Please do not eliminate either. If Veteran's Day is presented with the promise of respect assemblies than I think it will be ok to eliminate. I do not think sporting events is a good enough reason to keep Colombus Day.
VB October 03, 2012 at 02:44 PM
what is this obsession with having school end at the beginning of June? Labor day weekend has always been and should always be the "end" of summer vacation. eliminate Presidents day, Veteran's day, Columbus day, MLK day, etc. why not eliminate february and april vacations and have one vacation in march? the school period before winter break is 4 months, aside from the half dozen holidays scattered throughout, the only real break is Thanksgiving. the school period after winter break is about 6 months with two full weeks off - having one week off in that period would be a bit more balanced and easier on parents who have to make arrangements for childcare. or, why not revolve that week off around Good friday which falls somewhere between march and april. on Veterans, President, MLK day, etc., why not devote that day to learning about that particular holiday? it's just another day off for the kids and a hassle for parents who don't have the day off. I'm sure the Veterans (who are the ones that should be getting the day off) aren't concerned about school kids not having the day off so they can stay home and watch tv all day. I'd be interested to know how many observe the Jewish holidays - i'm not saying we need to eliminate them, but if only 5% of people observe, then you're asking a whole lot of people who don't to take the day off or find childcare. why not have school those days and learn about different religions and those who observe can take the day off.
Kay Higgins October 03, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Ms. Davis, could you cite your sources? I'm getting 72%-78% practicing Christians for Connecticut, from census data. Certainly still an overwhelming majority.
Bella Medvedovski October 03, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I am Jewish, and I don't have any problems with eliminated these holidays from the school calendar, as long as the teachers don't schedule any important tests since my kids would have to miss them. I am also for eliminating Veterans Day, Columbus Day, and MLK Day, and having one week spring vacation in March instead of 2. I would also start after Labor Day and end in the beginning of June. I don't have any child care issues, I just prefer longer summer vacations.
JCook October 03, 2012 at 04:52 PM
I like the current policy where school starts before or after Labor Day depending if Labor Day falls early or late. If we push back the start of school to August 25th, the High School sports programs would be pushed further back and kids would more likely to be practicing in extreme heat and for the better part of August. Even though there are State policies governing when these practices can start there is a lot of pressure to attend "informal pick up games" or "Captain's practices" etc.. Our last 3 weeks of summer felt like we were already back on the hamster wheel. The first few days are orientation geared . Starting with a 2-3 day week to be ready for the following full week makes more sense than jumping straight into a 5 day week . Early dismissal days are "broken days" and would be an inefficient use of time. Going to school for Election, Veteran's and Martin Luther King days would be ok if the days program was geared to learning about what each of those days represent. Sprinkling the year with some days off gives the kids a break. I see my older kids catching up on sleep and studying. We had 11 weeks of summer. We need to not let the kids have breaks so we can have 12 weeks? 11 is adequate.
Farmington resident October 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
The reason that Farmington does this is they have a lot of jewish teachers & students that didn't attend school on those days.
VB October 03, 2012 at 06:47 PM
i really have no problem with 11 weeks of summer or sprinkling a three day weekend here or there, it's this need to get out as early as possible. if there is such an urgency to get out early-mid June and we really need to have two spring vacations, then why not keep april vacation and make february vacation a 4 day weekend like thanksgiving - lets be honest, 4 days off is a pretty nice break. where's this evidence that backs up kids are ready to learn at the end of august as opposed to the end of june? it's not the time of year it's the anticipation of summer vacatin that influences their eagerness to learn. it's no different than the last couple days before winter or spring breaks - kids are antsy for them to begin and pay less attention. think back to when you were in school and it was a couple days before spring break, or the last couple weeks before summer vacation, it didn't matter when it was, you couldn't wait to get out.
Paul Chotkowski October 03, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Here we go again! The SOS, BOE, & FEA [the union representing Farmington’s teachers who incidentally consider it their mission to “aid in interpreting to the public the problems, the functions … of the public schools”] demonstrate yet again that the students do not come first. Here’s a radical thought SHOW UP & TEACH FOR THE FULL DAY! 5 early dismissal days is almost 3% of the school year. We are constantly bombarded with the notion that teaching is a professions, so why don't you cowboy up & act professionally. Stop asking the citizens of the town to pay for your professional development. Suck it up & develop professionally on your own time and on your own nickel. What, if the BOE will not pay you to”develop professionally” you will not do it? Fine, don’t! Your replacements will! Isn't this where you trot out that time worn canard that professional development is actually “curriculum development” as if 2 plus 2 isn't still 4 [unless you are counting the unemployed then it’s 3 or BHO is ahead in the polls by 10% - Progressive / Socialist math]. SHOW UP, TEACH, & IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS BECAUSE YOU ARE PROFESSIONALS. Stop asking to short change the students with early dismissals & asking the taxpayers to foot the bill for what any other profession does as a matter of pride! OOPS I forgot you're in it for the kids so all else doesn't matter! By the way, when’s the news going public on the new sweetheart contract? After the revaluation bad news is released?
VB October 03, 2012 at 07:16 PM
i agree about these professional development days - half days are a big waste, you're telling me teachers can't stay a little later than normal after a regular school day? or why not have PD on all the holidays we have? most everyone else who works has to work on those holidays, so it really shouldn't be an issue. not only are these half days a hassle for parents who's kids aren't in EXCL, but if i recall from my school days, half days were as close to spending a vacation day at school, not much learning happens in those 20 minute periods
Greg Tomb October 04, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Professional development should be done during summer break. I think the teachers have plenty of spare time.
Brad Ford October 04, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I am glad to find out that our teachers have so much free time. Best of all, they would work during the Summer when they aren't being paid.
VB October 04, 2012 at 05:56 PM
that's a ridiculous statement.......just because teachers aren't recieving a paycheck in summertime doesn't mean they aren't well compensated for their 9 months of work. i'm sure if you took a poll of people and asked whether they'd take a job with a teachers salary and get 3 months vacation with one condition, that they have to come into work five times for half a day during those vacation weeks, 100% would say yes. most people take home a teachers salary, if not less and are lucky to get a couple weeks vacation......so cry me a river about not being paid in summer - no one is asking them do it every day of vacation, at the very least they should consider doing it after a full school day instead of a half day or on each of the many holidays we have during the school year (columbus, veterans, etc.). I work those holidays as do most people and some days i work way beyond my normal hours without additional compensation....you'd think the BOE would know by now that early dismissal days are wasted days.
NHoward October 04, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Wouldn't the savings also include the salaries of professional development substitutes, who are hired by the district each year to cover professional development time during school days? They are contracted for the entire school year, and I am sure there are at least 7-10 of these subs districtwide. And those who have observed both substitute plans for PD days, and the climate in the classrooms with these substitutes would know that the quality of lessons and instruction leaves children with less than an ideal period of learning. This savings would more than offset the cost of paying paraprofessionals an additional day, and keep teachers in classrooms providing top-notch instruction according to the Farmington goals.
Brad Ford October 05, 2012 at 12:37 AM
VB - if teaching was such a lucrative and rewarding profession, why isn't everyone lining up to take the job? Why don't you go back to school to become a teacher if you think it is such an easy profession? There isn't enough money on earth to make me work as a teacher.
VB October 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Well Brad, there is hardly a shortage of teachers out there, so yes i guess you could say they are lining up to take the job, and for a majority i'd say it is a rewarding profession, otherwise they wouldn't be teachers - no one is forcing them to become teachers. teachers don't become teachers for the money, i'm just saying in farmington, they're paid pretty well, especially tenured teachers with advanced degrees. i never said it was an easy profession either, why don't you re-read what i said, they get paid what would be a pretty good salary for a typical year round job, for only 9 months of work, it's not asking a whole lot to have them come in for five extra days or work a little later on a regular school day, second of all, professional development is essentially continuing education, which a lot of other professions are required to do and without compensation, and often outside of regular work hours. back to the real argument and not to get into a pissing match about becoming a teacher, all i'm saying is, giving kids five more half days does not benefit them at all, there are already enough half days and random days off in the middle of the week as it is which disrupt teaching, why add more, the teachers should be able to work around it - i'm hardly asking for much, i'm not sure how long PD lasts, but is it really asking too much if instead of starting at 1:00 they start at 2:30? maybe schedule them on fridays so they're not worn out the next day - hardly unreasonable.
JCook October 09, 2012 at 03:42 PM
The professional development times and days are when the kids are not in school . One day is election day as the schools are used for voting and there is a second day in March.The teachers also have PD days before the students school year starts and ends. Teachers already have after school curriculum/staff meetings on a regular basis as well as a good amount of late nights. The teachers at the High School open house were there recently until well past 9:30pm. They stay on a regular basis for after school help. I believe the proposal for the 5 1/2 days ( which I agree is not a good plan) is to add more PD time throughout the year "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." It needs to be staggered for updates and cannot be added to the week of PD the teachers already have before school starts in the fall.
NHoward October 09, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Teachers on all levels also have professional development several times a month during class time. Most elementary teachers have probably been out of their classroom 3-4 times for periods of 1-2 hours in this first month alone

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