School year moves forward

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Max Totten, 11, sits across from chess master Ruth Haring with students from the Palm Crest Chess Club quietly watching at Palm Crest Elementary on Monday, October 8, 2012. Students and teachers at Palm Crest and throughout La Canada Unified School District will begin the district's 2013-14 school year on Aug. 20. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / October 8, 2012)

Parents will have to do their back-to-school shopping a week earlier this summer and make sure vacations wrap up sooner, thanks to a new calendar that starts La Cañada Unified School District's 2013-14 school year Aug. 20.

The calendar also calls for 13 early-release Fridays at elementary school sites and once-weekly late-start days for all La Cañada High School students.

The school board on March 26 unanimously approved calendars for the next two school years. They feature 180 days of instruction, adding two days by breaking up teacher collaboration days into smaller, occasional periods throughout the school year.

The schedule is a revision of a previous 2013-14 calendar made public last July, comprising 178 instructional days, two teacher collaboration days and one buy-back day for professional development, according to school board Vice President Ellen Multari.

Administrators from several school sites asked the district to reconsider, suggesting shorter, more frequent collaboration periods throughout the year.

"The teachers … thought these full days throughout the year weren't giving them enough time," Multari said.

The district talked with the La Cañada Teachers Association (LCTA) about how to restructure teacher collaboration. It also sent an email survey in February, asking parents about the early-release and late-start days, and about the earlier school year.

Officials are now working to assure adult supervision will be available to families who cannot make special accommodations on the collaboration days and will soon meet with the Classified Service Employees Association to discuss such arrangements.

Meanwhile, LCTA will vote on the new calendars at the end of the month, according to President Mandy Redfern. She said she couldn't discuss negotiations, but seemed hopeful an agreement could be reached.

"LCTA believes that we share a common vision with the district regarding the calendar shift," Redfern said in an email interview.

If the union approves the new calendars, the 2014-15 school year would begin on Aug. 12, with the first semester ending before winter break and all students finishing on May 29. This would better align the LCUSD school year with the state and national testing season in late spring, board members say.

Currently, La Cañada High School students, who begin school later than counterparts in other districts, prepare for Advanced Placement (AP) tests through April. When tests are over in May, Multari said, they have several weeks of school left over that are sometimes not as valuable on an instructional level.

Despite the district's measures to consider input from all stakeholders, a few La Cañada parents disagree with starting the year so early.

Kristen Brakeman, who has three daughters at the elementary, middle and high school levels, met last June with LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.

"My argument was that the difference in scores would likely be negligible, and that the difference did not merit sending the children to school in the hottest time of the year and incurring the added electricity costs to the district," Brakeman said in an email interview.

"My hunch is that many parents ignored the survey — and the issue entirely — and will suddenly be alarmed when they learn that their kids have to go back to school in the middle of August."

Alison McQuay, a mother of children at Palm Crest Elementary School and LCHS, attended the meetings with Brakeman. She believes a new schedule could bring a lot of unintended consequences — from interrupted holiday plans to high schools being deprived of the post-winter recap that prepares them for springtime tests.

"Wendy has been very gracious with her time, meeting with Kristen and me about this," McQuay said in an email. "She definitely heard us and our concerns. But she still thinks it's the right thing to do to start the school year in mid-August. [To me] the negatives outweigh the positives."

School board member Andrew Blumenfeld, however, feels the district worked well to find a cost-neutral solution that took into account many varying perspectives.

"It's kind of the perfect storm of consideration, and it epitomizes the work the school district has to do to navigate all the interests," he said. "I think we've found a tenable and happy equilibrium."

--

SARA CARDINE may be reached by email at s_cardine09@yahoo.com.