School year starts Aug. 12, board decides

School will start early this August. Just not as early as some people feared.

A proposal for a 2013-14 school calendar presented in December to District 51’s school board recommended starting school Aug. 5 to accommodate a two-week break in October and a two-week spring break in March and April. The idea, one of a handful of possibilities drafted by a committee of district employees, aimed to give schools a shorter summer break and, if funding was located, a chance to have academic interventions for struggling students during one of the two weeks in the fall and spring breaks and for two weeks before the school year began and another two weeks after the year ended.

Amid concerns from parents and staff about existing plans for the first part of August, the board decided Tuesday to start the coming school year on Aug. 12. The school year will end May 21, 2014, one day earlier than planned in the original draft.

The board also adopted a calendar for 2014-15 at Tuesday’s board meeting. That calendar shortened the summer by two weeks and added a week-long break Oct. 3-12, 2014. District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen, a member of the district’s calendar committee, said the group decided to transition from an Aug. 12, 2013 start to an Aug. 4, 2014 start in order to give community members more time to adjust to the schedule change.

“We really do need enough advanced notice to help our teachers, families and students prepare,” Larsen said.

Earlier in the meeting, three community members testified during a public comment period that they would prefer to start school later than Aug. 5 due to outstanding commitments. Parent and teacher Deb Twardowski said her daughter accepted an opportunity in November to attend an opera program in August and Clark Atkinson, scout master for Boy Scout Troop 303, said the troop committed two years ago to a camp during the first week of August and already paid more than $9,000 for a nonrefundable deposit.

“To miss the first week of school is really a tremendous burden to them,” Atkinson said.

The 2013-14 calendar will allow for a later start than planned because the adopted calendar does not include a fall break. Getting rid of the two-week break will allow school to start a week later and allows for two more days off Nov. 25 and 26 so students can continue to have a full week off for Thanksgiving. Also, conference days that would have taken place during the October break will be moved to Oct. 24 and 25.

Spring break will take place from March 22 through April 6. That break does not align with Colorado Mesa University, which will have off March 15-23. District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster said the university decided to have spring break that week to even out their quarters. District 51, Board President Greg Mikolai said, is having spring break after the university to accommodate Transitional Colorado Assessment Program testing in March.

School Board member Jeff Leany, who for months had championed the idea of a shorter summer, said he was disappointed the calendar only made the summer one week shorter in 2013-14.

“I don’t know if shortening the summer by one week is going to help our students,” he said.

Leany proposed an amendment to the calendar adoption that declared the board would prioritize spending any grant money or other funding on top of what was anticipated in the budget on interventions during breaks and before and after the school year. Interventions during the first two weekdays of Thanksgiving break may be a possibility in 2013, according to Larsen.

The amendment and the calendar adoption passed unanimously.

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, members adopted a revised policy for School of Choice applications, which allow students to attend a school outside of their neighborhood attendance boundaries if there is room at a school they would rather attend. The policy will require principals to accept or reject choice applications by the first week of May for kindergarten parents and by March 30 for all other parents. Parents will be required to respond promptly whether they plan to accept an open spot.

The policy originally allowed parents to apply during a second application window during the summer if they were not accepted during the first window, but that option was taken out of the policy before final adoption. The deadline for applications will remain March 1.


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