ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Under a proposed school calendar, students wouldn’t get a week of vacation for Thanksgiving, but they would finish first-semester exams before they start a two-week winter break.
Many parents who previewed the district’s proposed 2013-2014 school calendar Monday said the benefits of having the exams completed before Christmas were worth the trade-off of a shorter Thanksgiving break.
Yet some parents expressed frustration at the 12 early release days in the calendar, with many questioning the amount of instruction on those days, when students are dismissed two hours early.
Deputy Superintendent Genelle Yost presented a draft of the district’s proposed calendar to the District Advisory Council on Monday night to get members’ input.
“I love the fact that you’re doing exams before the holiday, which is a huge concern for the high school side of the house,” said Victoria Stalls, who represents Lincoln Park Academy on the district committee. “As a longtime parent of the school system, I like the fact that we’re utilizing early release days instead of it just being a jump day.”
Yost said the St. Lucie County School Board is scheduled to vote on the calendar during its March 19 meeting.
In the proposal, the first day of school for students is Aug. 19 and the last day is June 4.
Yost noted the biggest changes in the proposed calendar, when compared to the current school year, were a three-day break for Thanksgiving instead of a full week off and having semester exams before winter break.
For the past two years, the district has built two emergency makeup days into Thanksgiving week but those days weren’t used. The state granted St. Lucie a waiver for the day schools were closed in August because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
Advisory council members asked Yost whether there was a way to scale back the number of early release days.
“In my business world, having a day to plan versus two extra hours to plan is a huge difference,” said Lisa Jensen, Fairlawn Elementary’s representative. “With budget cuts and with busing being a huge challenge, to me it would seem more beneficial and cost effective to perhaps cut those or have full days.”
Yost said the early release days are part of the district’s contract with teachers and would need to be negotiated with the teachers’ union.
“We have mentioned it and we can continue to discuss it, but I don’t want to give you false hope that much would change,” Yost said. “We also need to change our focus on early release days. They need to be valued as regular instructional days. No matter what the children tell you, there is learning that does occur in many of our classrooms on most early dismissal days.”
The high number of early release days were part of the reason why School Board members Troy Ingersoll and Debbie Hawley have voted against the calendar for the past two years while the three other board members approved the calendars.
Reached Tuesday, both said they liked that exams would be complete before winter break.
“Sounds like the School District has made considerable improvements in making sure kids are in school for longer periods of time, rather than off, then on, then off due to (teacher) work days and early release days,” Ingersoll said.
While supportive of the full week off for Thanksgiving if storms stayed away, Ingersoll said he understood why the proposal didn’t include a week off for that holiday. But he added he would prefer students be in school on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Under the proposal, students are only in classes Monday and Tuesday of that week.
“Now you know why they took away Thanksgiving. It’s educational reasons,” Ingersoll said. “It’s better for them to go ahead since the information’s fresh and they’ve been working on it to go ahead and take the exams before break.”
PROPOSED SCHOOL CALENDAR
The St. Lucie County School Board is scheduled to vote on a proposed school calendar for the 2013-2014 school year next week. The following are some of the dates included in the proposal:
Aug. 19: First day of school for students
Nov. 27-29: Thanksgiving break
Dec. 23-Jan. 6: Winter break (Teachers return to school on Jan. 3 but students don’t report back until Jan. 7.)
March 24-31: Spring break (March 31 is a teacher work day, but day off for students.)
June 4: Last day of school for students*
*According to School District officials, the proposed calendar doesn’t include designated weather makeup days as in past years. However, if classes are canceled because of bad weather, such as hurricanes or tropical storms, the district could add makeup days to the end of the school year, officials said.
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