Committee Considers Shifting Year Forward

Genie Lee, News Editor

Consideration is being given to a shift the school-year calendar that would allow semester 1 to end before winter break. As a result, the school year would also end earlier, potentially in late May.

Comprised of 85 teachers, parents, students, and administrators from the Acalanes Union High School District and the K-8 districts which feed into the AUHSD schools, the Calendar Committee has been discussing this and other potential changes for the 2019-2020 school year.

Chemistry teacher Stephanie Verbanszky, a member of the Calendar Committee, said, “We’re just looking at possible school year calendars and different criteria that should be taken into account when a school year calendar is decided. Any changes are on the table.”

According to principal John Walker, the Calendar Committee is close to reaching a consensus  recommendation for the AUHSD governing board. “[The board] will have the ultimate say,” he said.

Currently, the Calendar Committee is “at the stage of looking at ‘are we ready to make a recommendation,'” which might take 1 or 2 more meetings, according to Walker.

A pressing problem with shifting the school year, however, is the fact that summer break would be shorter and the transition might be difficult, especially for families with students in both the high school district and elementary/middle school district. “One of the tricky components of this process is you need to engage parents of kindergarteners all the way through parents of high schoolers because AUHSD is a high school only district, but this change would impact the elementary and middle schools and many families have students in both systems. So it’s a lot of coordination. It’s actually 5 school districts involved,” said Walker.

The Calendar Committee has since done more research and has taken student feedback into account.

Students watched a short video on January 5 during Academy period about the pros and cons of shifting the school year forward . Although juniors and seniors would not be affected by any calendar changes, all students were encouraged to fill out a survey about the issue.

Junior leadership member Sarah Carrasco said, “I think that the calendar should not be changed. While it would be beneficial to have finals before winter break, you also face the problem of shortening the summer by about 2 weeks. And from a student’s perspective, it’s kind of not a big deal to have finals after winter break.”

Similar to the district reevaluating the graduation requirements every 2 years, the calendars are reevaluated every 10 years. “The last time major changes were proposed was back in 2007, so following the ten year cycle, changes are being discussed this year… It’s part of the normal cycle for a school district to go through,” said Verbanszky.

According to Verbanszky, another reason why changes for the school calendar are currently being discussed is that “a lot of the surrounding districts are starting to make changes so we’re starting to see if there is a reason for that. If there is a reason for school districts to change their calendars, should we also be looking into that.”

The district’s teacher’s union, the Acalanes Education Association (AEA), comprised of all certificated staff members such as teachers, counselors, and librarians, vote annually to approve a school calendar, 18 months before the calendar is implemented. “Our teacher’s union has the right to vote on any calendar that is adopted… so we’ve already voted on the calendar for the 18-19 school year,” said Verbanszky.

Although the AEA has not yet voted on the 2019-2020 calendar, Verbanszky hopes that any changes that are made in the calendar are implemented to specifically help students. “I’m open to change. I think the priorities for the calendar should be addressing students’ academic needs and student stress and how we can hopefully foster the best environment for students to learn,” she said.

Biology teacher Rene Gillibert said that shifting finals to precede winter break would “give us more school days before the AP, for my AP Biology class, which will be nice. I think ending the semester before winter break will be nice as well.”

However, math teacher, Nita Madra, who had previously taught at a school district where finals were before winter break, said, “I don’t think it benefited the students because so many of them are involved in choir, Nutcracker, and other holiday activities before the break and it was really hard for them to focus.”

Walker said, “I think there is certainly some potential benefit for students, although I certainly understand the concerns that people have about shifting the school year to start earlier in August.”