Opinion: BOE Should Re-examine School Calendar

by The Village Green
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Editor’s note: Jessie Wendt, a South Orange resident with one student at SOMS and one entering Columbia High School, read the following statement at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

A couple years ago the Board of Ed approved guidelines for creating the calendar each year.  I appreciate the reasons you did that, part of which I believe was to make the calendar more consistent and predictable over time, which in theory would also minimize complaints about the timing and length of school breaks each year.

However, I feel that systematically following these guidelines, some of which impose artificial constraints, is not necessarily in the best interest of the district’s students and teachers.

For example, the guidelines recommend that spring break be held the 3rd week in April every year.  I believe last year was the first year these district-imposed guidelines went into effect.  Last year and this coming year, state standardized testing for 8th graders is scheduled to begin the day students return from spring break. Testing after an extended break is obviously not ideal. I don’t fully understand the impact that student results on state standardized tests have, but it’s my understanding that teacher evaluations are based in part on these results, and I also thought FOCUS school determinations, as well as some federal funding, is based at least in part on standardized test results.

I have shared this specific concern with [Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction] Ms. [Susan] Grierson, and she has indicated that the district has some flexibility regarding the day testing begins, but I also wanted to raise the issue in this forum to help ensure it is given attention and consideration by the board and the acting superintendent, especially regarding future calendars.

The calendar guidelines also seem to contribute to the late end date of the school year. I believe that getting out of school the last full week in June is not optimal for student learning. It’s been my personal experience that it’s difficult for quality instruction and leaning to happen that last week, especially as final exams, which are staggered by subject area and occur over many days, are completed for each class.  Often times it can also be extremely hot and humid the end of June, which can be difficult for both students and teachers. Another issue we had when our kids were younger was that they weren’t getting enough sleep at the end of the year because it was challenging to get them to bed on time, which at that point happened to be while the sun was still up because school was getting out after the longest day of the year.  I have also heard that many camps and summer jobs begin that week, and students who want to participate in those activities must skip the last week of school to do so.

Berkeley Heights is one nearby school that will be getting out almost a full week before we do this coming school year, even though it appears their staff starts the same day as ours in September.  I think it would be beneficial for our district to take a closer look at their calendar to see if there is any way we can structure future calendars, such as the one proposed for 2015-16, that would allow for better placement of spring break relative to standardized testing and also allow the school year to end earlier.

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