New school calendar to have ripple effect
More than the first day of school will change if classes start in early August this summer in School District 51.
District 51 School Board members adopted a calendar concept Tuesday that includes a shorter summer break and two-week fall and spring breaks. The calendar has the same number of school days as the current school year but may shift them around to begin classes as early as Aug. 5. School is likely to end before Memorial Day as usual.
It’s a change that may cause some families to alter their summer vacation plans. But it also will necessitate a change for the band camps that usually take place during the first week of August for Grand Junction and Central high schools.
As for athletes, instead of starting practice before school starts, some sports would have to start a week after the potential first day of school because the Colorado High School Activities Association has set Aug. 12 as the start date for practices for 10 fall sports.
Travel and competitions over the proposed break in October may affect students in band, sports and other activities. But travel over breaks is not uncommon, according to District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz.
“It’s not going to be ideal, but we’ve had extracurricular teams travel over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks” too, Schultz said.
Teachers and students alike may have to cut summer employment short to accommodate the shrinking summer.
But that possibility hasn’t garnered many complaints, at least among teachers, according to Mesa Valley Education Association President Jim Smyth. The teachers’ representation group conducted a survey of teachers before the extended-year calendar concept was adopted.
Smyth said 40 percent of the 500 teachers who responded to the survey supported the extended calendar concept, while 28 percent preferred a four-day week option and less than 10 percent wanted the calendar to stay the same.
Smyth said teachers who commented on the survey said they liked the idea of having academic interventions during parts of the fall and spring breaks instead of trying to squeeze in interventions during the school day, when students could be taking elective classes instead, or after school.
“Trying to eke another hour out of students is futile” after a full school day, Smyth said. “The kids are tired, the teachers are tired, and it’s uncompensated extra time when they could be grading papers or planning for the next day.”
Why not June?
Sports shouldn’t be more important than instruction, Smyth said, but he added starting school in mid-August and ending school after Memorial Day isn’t likely in the Grand Valley because the Junior College World Series during the week of Memorial Day “would be a major distraction.”
Schultz said JUCO isn’t the sole factor for starting school early instead of ending later, but it was one factor. A more important factor, he said, was making the quarters during the school year more even. The new calendar will aim to have one quarter from the start of school to fall break, the second from after fall break to winter break, and the third and fourth quarters as close as possible to being divided by spring break.
The last two quarters won’t be perfectly divided by spring break because of Transitional Colorado Assessment Program testing, which takes place in a block in March.
District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen said TCAP isn’t everything, but it’s a big impetus for starting school early.
“One of our goals was to increase the number of days of instruction before TCAP,” he said.
It’s hard to deny June would be a cooler month to be in school. The average temperature in Grand Junction in June is 72.6 degrees, compared to an average of 76.2 degrees in August.
All 44 District 51 buildings have cooling systems, but District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said six school buildings have cooling systems that “struggle” when temperatures reach above 95 degrees.
District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said it may cost up to $60,000 districtwide to pay for the added cooling costs of being open in early August instead of milder weeks in October and April, when students will be on break.
McGee said the district is looking for ways to minimize those costs.
CMU not planning
District 51 students will be expected to be in class earlier in the month, but high school students concurrently enrolled in classes at Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College will have to wait until Aug. 19 to start those classes.
CMU Registrar Holly Teal said she doesn’t anticipate much of a hassle for concurrent students but she does hope to keep higher education and K-12 calendar spring and winter breaks as similar as possible to accommodate faculty who have students in the school district and CMU students with kids in District 51.
Teal said the university has its calendar built through 2014-15, and she doesn’t anticipate CMU or WCCC will push an earlier start or longer fall break to match the school district.
“We’re content with what we have,” Teal said.
The new calendar will mean a few paperwork changes at the district, too.
There may be some adjustments to how payroll spreads paychecks for the year over the summer months, and the district will make a greater push to have parents hand in free and reduced-price lunch applications at the beginning of the school year.
Colorado school districts have 30 school days to update their free and reduced-lunch rosters before every school takes a student head count on Oct. 1 each year.
District 51 has fewer than 30 school days before Oct. 1 under the current schedule so it can grandfather in last year’s numbers to prevent kids from getting cut off from free or reduced-price meals if their parents forget to turn in an application during the first few weeks of school.
The new calendar, though, could leave a window of just two weeks for parents to submit applications or risk getting cut off from the free or reduced-price lunch program.
DeVita said the district plans to address that issue by training staff and communicating with parents to make sure families fill out those applications in July or August.
The district introduced an online application form for free or reduced-price lunches this year, which Larsen said he hopes will help smooth the application process this fall.