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Farmington School Board Considers Changes to School Calendar

Early dismissal days, constant pre-Labor Day start among recommendations by policy committee now under consideration.

In a recent review, the Farmington Board of Education policy committee wanted to take a fresh approach to the school calendar and rearrange learning time to make room for the needs of both students and teachers.

Members of the policy committee presented what they came up with – still under discussion – to the full board Monday evening.

“We went in trying to do some interesting things with the calendar,” Bill Beckert said. “We were concerned with the interruptions in the first half of the school year with all the days off.”

They were also concerned with finding a way to add more professional development time – of critical importance, administrators have said, as the district switches over to a new state-mandated curriculum across subject matters.

The plan they came up with includes a 181-day school year that starts consistently the Monday before Labor Day and provides five 90-minute early dismissal days for professional development.

“We’re trying to recapture ongoing professional development time,” Superintendent Kathleen Greider said. “The five 90-minute early release days allow for professional development. The extra day ensures we don’t lose instructional time.”

The early dismissal days – which West Hartford already holds weekly – would fall on the second Tuesday, every other month. The committee proposed beginning them in September, but Melanie Meehan, a board member and teacher, mentioned that doing so might contribute to the disjointed nature of the first month of school. 

EXCL Director Vince LaFontan said the program could accommodate the increased number of students who would likely seek afterschool care during the early-dismissal days. Those students normally enrolled on Tuesdays wouldn’t pay an extra fee for the additional time. Those who are not, would.

And there would be other expenses to making up the instructional time with an extra day of school, Greider said. Because of contracts, to extend school for 181 days would add $18,500 to pay paraprofessionals for the extra day. The district would pay $9,500 for bus attendants.

The many holidays, including Labor Day, were one factor that influenced the recommendation to start before Labor Day.

Students’ attitudes and concern about the calendar extending too long were others. 

“Kids are ready to learn at the end of August; they’re not at the end of June. We have evidence of that,” Beckert said.

The committee considered that the last week in August is a popular family vacation week and some members weren’t convinced the earlier start would be well received in the community.

Ellen Siuta said she would like to hear from parents and Jon Landry recommended looking at other districts’ calendars. Many, he said, start the week before Labor Day on a Wednesday, which is not quite as early.

“It is much easier as a teacher to start the year with a five-day week,” Meehan said. “To start with a three-day week is just another broken week where you don’t get the rhythms you need to establish a routine.”

Greider noted that for the next 10 years, the earliest start date under the proposed plan would be Aug. 25. 

The committee considered other options, including holding school on the traditional holidays of Veteran’s Day and Columbus Day. Members talked with representatives of veterans in town to see how that group would respond.

They also found that many college visits and sporting events are scheduled around Columbus Day and decided against the change.

They considered consolidating the February and April vacations but met with strong opposition from teachers and custodians, who said the students and the buildings rely on the February break.

The board will consider the proposed calendar changes during its two upcoming meetings on Oct 15 and 29.

NHoward October 04, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Wouldn't the savings also include the salaries of professional development substitutes, who are hired by the district each year to cover professional development time during school days? They are contracted for the entire school year, and I am sure there are at least 7-10 of these subs districtwide. And those who have observed both substitute plans for PD days, and the climate in the classrooms with these substitutes would know that the quality of lessons and instruction leaves children with less than an ideal period of learning. This savings would more than offset the cost of paying paraprofessionals an additional day, and keep teachers in classrooms providing top-notch instruction according to the Farmington goals.
Brad Ford October 05, 2012 at 12:37 AM
VB - if teaching was such a lucrative and rewarding profession, why isn't everyone lining up to take the job? Why don't you go back to school to become a teacher if you think it is such an easy profession? There isn't enough money on earth to make me work as a teacher.
VB October 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Well Brad, there is hardly a shortage of teachers out there, so yes i guess you could say they are lining up to take the job, and for a majority i'd say it is a rewarding profession, otherwise they wouldn't be teachers - no one is forcing them to become teachers. teachers don't become teachers for the money, i'm just saying in farmington, they're paid pretty well, especially tenured teachers with advanced degrees. i never said it was an easy profession either, why don't you re-read what i said, they get paid what would be a pretty good salary for a typical year round job, for only 9 months of work, it's not asking a whole lot to have them come in for five extra days or work a little later on a regular school day, second of all, professional development is essentially continuing education, which a lot of other professions are required to do and without compensation, and often outside of regular work hours. back to the real argument and not to get into a pissing match about becoming a teacher, all i'm saying is, giving kids five more half days does not benefit them at all, there are already enough half days and random days off in the middle of the week as it is which disrupt teaching, why add more, the teachers should be able to work around it - i'm hardly asking for much, i'm not sure how long PD lasts, but is it really asking too much if instead of starting at 1:00 they start at 2:30? maybe schedule them on fridays so they're not worn out the next day - hardly unreasonable.
JCook October 09, 2012 at 03:42 PM
The professional development times and days are when the kids are not in school . One day is election day as the schools are used for voting and there is a second day in March.The teachers also have PD days before the students school year starts and ends. Teachers already have after school curriculum/staff meetings on a regular basis as well as a good amount of late nights. The teachers at the High School open house were there recently until well past 9:30pm. They stay on a regular basis for after school help. I believe the proposal for the 5 1/2 days ( which I agree is not a good plan) is to add more PD time throughout the year "They were also concerned with finding a way to add more professional development time – of critical importance, administrators have said, as the district switches over to a new state-mandated curriculum across subject matters." It needs to be staggered for updates and cannot be added to the week of PD the teachers already have before school starts in the fall.
NHoward October 09, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Teachers on all levels also have professional development several times a month during class time. Most elementary teachers have probably been out of their classroom 3-4 times for periods of 1-2 hours in this first month alone

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