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About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to the share the good times and discuss the challenges of...  (More)

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PAUSD calendar- a shorter summer?

Uploaded: Oct 27, 2013
For teachers, students, and their families, the school calendar defines our schedule. It determines when we work, when we play, when we study, and when we spend time as a family. In the past three years the PAUSD calendar has been the subject of intense and unprecedented scrutiny. From this lengthy discussion, summarized by school board members this week, a consensus is emerging on the calendar that would best meet our students' academic and social-emotional needs.

PAUSD is in the second year of a calendar cycle, which, for the first time, places finals before winter break. The school board favors keeping pre-break finals, but voiced concerns over some adverse consequences for students with the current pre-break finals calendar, as covered in a Palo Alto Weekly story last week.

The school board members identified three issues to address: the early August start (which is out of sync with work schedules, vacations, athletics and camps), the December overload (seasonal performances and traditions, college applications), and too much being crammed into May (AP testing, athletics, end of year activities, finals, and graduations). The ideal calendar would mitigate these issues by having: pre-break finals, late August start, winter vacation in the last two weeks of December, school dismissal the week following the week of Memorial Day, and equal length semesters.

The calendar advisory committee presented six possible calendars to the school board.
One of these calendars actually meets all of these criteria over the next three years, Calendar F, with a separate, self-standing January unit. Finals would be scheduled pre-winter break, but the semester would end in January. Concern was expressed by some school board members that this calendar would not provide the desired "work free break" after finals because the semester would continue over the break. Currently, all year long classes continue past first semester finals, but work carrying over in these classes has not been a problem.

There are two other calendars, which were not presented, that could also meet all of these criteria over a multi-year period: trimesters or traditional semesters with a post-Labor Day start. Trimesters have the added advantage of a work free spring break. The post-Labor Day calendar would push finals into February, far from winter break, and give a work free February break.

It is unclear which calendar the administration will present to the unions this week for approval. Dr. Skelly suggested Calendar B, which has a shorter summer, and does not address a number of the concerns expressed by the school board. Calendar B starts two school days after the current pre-break finals calendar (the following Monday instead of Thursday), but still early, at least a week and half earlier than our traditional calendars. In school years 2015/2016 school would end right after Memorial Day, perpetuating the May crunch. In 2016/2017 finals are late in December with a week of winter break pushed into January, out of sync with work schedules. And, the semesters of Calendar B are more unequal in days than the teachers think will work.


Our community is currently in a unique situation with an unprecedented amount of information leading to an understanding and consensus as to the calendar attributes that can best support all of our students. We owe it to our students to focus the district's efforts on developing a calendar that meets these criteria. Some of these calendars will require closer study, and effort and creativity to implement, but that should not eliminate them from consideration. There is an opportunity to design a calendar that best supports the academic and social emotional needs of all our students, and that goal should be paramount.

Comments

Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:12 am

I\'m sure everyone would rejoice for the work free February break while slaving away at Christmas. I think what we owe to our students is to listen to the 90% who wanted finals before winter break and who said that they favored stating earlier if that is what it took to get it. Hopefully even this school board won\'t vote against 90% of students though I think it will be 3-2 with Heidi the deciding vote. Good job Weekly in adding a T3 blogger.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 7:40 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Time to Move On,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Calendar F does have pre-winter break finals so it meets that student expressed need of providing a work free winter break. It also starts later in August, prevents winter break from being in January with added stress in December, and eliminates the May crunch, all issues that students themselves raised on the surveys.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:56 am

Thank you for such a clear analysis of the situation. I completely agree with your take on this. I would indeed support Calendar F as the best short term solution (far better than continuing the early start and using a kludge to fix the May problem), while we continuing to investigate the other possiblities as perhaps better long term fixes. It seemed the committee simply ran out of time, not that they thought these were bad solutions.

Calendar F also evens out the semesters again, far better than Calendar B.

It seemed from the Board meeting that some members on the board did want to keep F in their thoughts as a possible solution for this year, but that the district was planning to only develop one calendar (some form of B). I hope that is not the case; in recent years the district has given the board two calendars to consider, I would hope that would happen again so the board has a real choice.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 10:02 am

It does NOT have pre-break finals. It has pre-break tests. Then it continues the semester after the break. Then it has finals. In other words, it is the worst of all possible hunky-junky ludicrous calendars yet dreamed up and it subjects the very kids -- 90% of whom are happy as clams with the current calendar -- to an extra set of examinations. That is literally the most idiotic solution yet, and there have been some doozies so that is saying a lot. This is over. It's done. The kids were polled, they were surveyed over and over -- for several years. The questions asked were designed to produce answers that were against the current calendar. The committee was stacked three deep with calendar opponents. It's over. 90% of kids and teachers and a majority of parents too all want the semester break and finals at the Christmas break. The students are overwhelmingly, and the teachers, are all happy with the early start. We did it, and the end times did not occur.

The calendar war was a fictional creation of people who just wanted their way. It created havoc in the community and thankfully it is now over. The kids have spoken.

Kevin Skelly would have to be literally insane to give that board two calendars after the way this went off the rails last time. Kudos to the wonderfully competent Scott Bowers. His competence stands in sharp contrast to that of his colleagues.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thank you, Paly Parent, for reading and commenting.

The other issue that the board did not have a chance to discuss is that Calendar B has a shorter summer. Students were not surveyed on whether or not they preferred a shorter summer, but this might be a problem for many of them.

Yes, it would be preferable for the district to bring two calendars to the board in November.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 10:12 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Time to Move on,
At the board meeting, Scott Bowers specified that Calendar F would have a finals week schedule in December. Students and parents were polled on the preferred placement of finals, not when the semester ends. Students expressed concerns about early start, college applications crunch and May stress. Calendar F addresses these issues.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

That is ridiculous. I'm sorry. No one envisions separating finals from the end of the semester. Finals are by definition held at the end of the term. Tests given before finals are not finals. They are tests. When students were asked when they wanted "finals" that question itself is asking where the semester end should be placed because that is what "finals" means. You cannot have a "final" two months before the end of the term. If you do, then it is a "test" not a "final test." You can't redefine reality to look for a loophole. This is what dead-ending looks like.

This is bad for the community to continue to do this. The kids have spoken. They were definitive. It was nearly unanimous among high school students. It is a done deal and continuing to pick at the scab rather than move on is harmful at this point.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 10:39 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Time to Move On,

I think it is important to address the stresses that have been identified by students during this calendar cycle. To ignore the issues, or deny they exist, is not meeting students' needs. The school board also recognizes there are issues and they want to mitigate some of the adverse effects. I have a senior who appreciated the work free winter break last year, but also had challenges with other aspects of the calendar. Perhaps your student(s) had a very different experience with this calendar?


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

We are like the majority of families who really experienced no issues. It was great. But whatever minor issues there may be (and the survey really wanted to find issues the way it was written) correcting them is not accomplished by a radical shift like moving finals back after the break and changing the semester calendar and adding a third set of exams. Mitigation implies a minor adjustment and you are advocating not fine tuning but returning to prior practice with changed that will be worsse.

The actual dictionary definition of "finals exam" is
www.thefreedictionary.com/final+exam
"Noun, 1. final exam - an examination administered at the end of an academic term. final examination". When the survey asked students if they wanted finals before break the survey DID ask by definition when the semester break should fall.

In addition the REASON that they students wanted the finals before break was to have a true work free break which they did have and which they preferred. Finals. End of term. Clean break. Relaxed holiday.

Semester break should not return to being after Christmas break period. That is the irrefutable desire of the majority of every group. The majority of all groups were happy and it reduced student stress.

The data supporting the new calendar are overwhelming. Continuing to agitate is harmful to our youth because it sends the message that we don't listen when what they want isn't convenient for us.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm

@Time. The tests given before the break would be cumulative, capping off the work of the previous 3 months. And that work would be then done, no carry over the break. The post-break stand alone unit would enable semester teachers to bring back the enrichment activities that were cut when the semester lengths went uneven. Or they could choose to teach a standalone unit. Either way, any paper or test at the end of the unit would simply be that, a unit test, like the kids have every 3 weeks or so anyway. It would not be a final.

So yes, the finals before break would be a hard stop. And there would be no more "working ahead" than there is under the current system (where most classes are year-long).

We tried the early start/prebreak finals calendar. It had pluses and minuses. As an experiment, it was a mixed success. Why not try this version, keep finals before break, but give the community the late August start it wants, give the teachers the even semesters they want, and avoid the May crunch without taking time out of summer. Why isn't this worth an "experiment?" Because the last calendar was supposed to be just that--an experiment. Not the end of the discussion. I agree it's time to move on--but to something that perhaps comes closer to being "perfect", not giving up and saying this flawed calendar is the best we can do.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Paly Parent, calendar F isn't different. It's calendar B with a twist. It was proposed last time. The teachers at Gunn were all opposed to it. It will require major reconfiguration. [Portion removed] who was on the calendar committee along with the other people who proposed B with a twist and trimesters and every other configuration were all not only represented but overrepresented on the calendar. The data are overwhelming. The teachers, students and parents are all happy with this calendar, and teachers and students, including 90% of high school students and including seniors, were all fine with the early start.

Calendar F isn't new. It was proposed. It has been rejected. You are just trying to repackage it as if it is new in order to continue to dead end this issue. You know it. Please stop.

There is a small group of parents who are implacably opposed to a mid-August start. They like to take their vacations in August. They want that. That's OK. This is a democracy and we have democratic governance of schools. That's fine that you tried. But you lost. You were given every opportunity to garner popular support for your desire and you were given a platform to do it -- the district surveyed students at public expense to see whether they wanted what you wanted.

Let's see if you hear this if I use all caps: THEY DON'T WANT WHAT YOU WANT. They want the semester to end in December, they want finals in December, and they want a work free break. They are fine with starting in mid August to get that. They aren't worried about family vacation (they're teens for crying out loud). They are happy to go on vacation in june or July if it means that they can have less stress over the holidays. The votes are in. You had every chance (frankly you had more chances than are reasonable) and you lost. I don't begrudge you having tried but come on, it's over now.

And this blog post is just beating a dead horse.


Posted by Erica, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Thank you for being brave enough to address this topic. The idea of having finals for year long classes in December, and extending the semester into January for the semester classes only is an interesting compromise and relieves some of the issues. Last winter, teachers did not have to submit first semester grades until the middle January under the new pre break finals calendar, so waiting another week for the semester classes to finish up could relieve some of the pressure from December and appeal to the constituency who prefers a later start.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thank you, Erica, for reading and commenting. Yes, it is not just the early start but the other issues students are experiencing in December and May that are improved with this calendar. It also makes for more equal semesters, and does not necessitate a shortened summer.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 11:05 am

@Time. B with a twist wasn't "rejected", it came in late in the cycle and was never realistically considered. It's time to do that.

And sure, the teens don't care about family vacations. But look at the parent surveys--the parents do care, and it is important for parents to have time with their kids, even when they are teens. The parents overwhelmingly want the late-August start. Why are their voices irrelevant here?


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 12:20 pm

The parents who want that aren't irrelevant. But they are a minority. This was not a concern of the majority of parents. Not at all. Only a minority even mentioned it. The largest group of parents reported zero problems or issues .

B with a twist (F) has now had its due consideration . It is not a realistic or desired alternative to the majority of parents teachers or students who want finals (in the ordinary understood meaning of the term) before Christmas break. The committee had the chance to poll on btwist/F. The committee worked for months. It had an over representation of opponents on it including the teacher (who shall apparently have to be nameless here) who imvented btwist. This is over. You had every chance it was a fair fight and it did not break your way. Hey I feel your pain--there's never going to be Advisory at Gunn and we did have the majority of parents, unlike you, though not I am sure of teachers. We don't always get our way. At some point you have to give up and say well time to move on. As it is on the calendar.

Who knows though. Heidi is pretty naive. Maybe you can get her to vote against 90% of kids and teachers and a majority of parents but I doubt it.


Posted by LJ, a resident of another community,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Thoughtful discussion. Thank you!


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Last time I checked 54.7 percent (who want a late August start, according to the parent survey) was a majority. Vs. 28.8 percent who didn't want the late start and 16.4 percent who didn't care.

No, the committee did not "poll" on all the different calendar options. Just on two. Pretty poor research, actually. I'd give it a D.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Look, you need to accept reality. The actual question you are quoting is: "Ignoring when high school finals might occur, my preference for a school calendar is one that has ______." Even under that wording, only around half of parents preferred the later August start.

But once you fill in the blank on when finals occur, the number preferring finals before break leaps to approximately 75%. That question was asked in 2013, when parents knew that it was not in the abstract but that it required the early start. Knowing what they knew about the early start and having actually experienced the early start and finals before break, 75% of parents wanted the finals before break -- knowing full well that it meant the early start.

You have to accept reality and move on now. I'm sorry that you don't like this research. It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly biased survey instrument than this one and it still came out in favor of the earlier start and pre-break finals. If the school board isn't willing to vote against 88% of students, 75% of parents, and 80% of teachers, this is a finished subject. Continuing to try to find a loophole that will still let you have your late August start is destructive because it sends the message to kids that we aren't listening to them when it is inconvenient for us, a point eloquently made by Susan Usman at the board meeting on behalf of Project Safety Net. When PSN engages in school board advocacy, you have to know that this is over.

But I can offer you a solution. Some area private schools do start later AND have pre-break finals. You should investigate -- that is what people can do when their personal preferences for their kids' well-being just do not line up with community sentiment for the public schools. They can leave. Many have done. I'm not being nasty or sarcastic -- it is a viable option that I have used myself for some of my children. If you just cannot in good conscience agree that the education being provided is one in which your child can thrive then you can seek alternatives. One of Melissa Caswell's children attends private school. The number of Hayes families applying to private middle school is, I believe, at an all time high currently.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm

For anyone still interested in following along at home, please see:

Web Link

Chart 8 asks parents to list the problems they have with pre-break finals. The early start is not even listed as a problem. By far the largest number of responses (2500/3300) was "none." That is, 76% of responses involved NO PROBLEM. The listed problems, which received far fewer responses than "none" included conflicts with college apps (and conflicts with family activities at Christmas. Early start is not even mentioned by parents as a problem.

We need to move on. There are many other serious issues and challenges facing our youth and we need to get after addressing those. Two years ago the calendar war absorbed an inordinate amount of the board and staff time. Other issues that needed to be addressed involving important issues had to go unaddressed or inadequately addressed. It is possible that we would not be in the bullying crisis right now had Dr. Skelly and the board not had to spend meeting after meeting listening to the complaints of those who feared change.

We can't afford to do that again. We are in the midst of several different federal investigations over our policies and practices. The calendar war sucked all the air out of the room last time and the parent community needs to recognize that there were costs to that. Maybe we would be better prepared to meet the Common Core transition had we not burned so much time on this issue. Maybe we would not be under investigation six ways from Sunday. Maybe our homework policy would be better implemented -- there are policies that have been agreed to by the board that staff has not yet implemented. As I said above, I think it is part of our democracy that you had your chance at this but it is now time to move on and let the board and staff address other important issues.


Posted by PR, a resident of another community,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Wow.


Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm

The problem with having pre-Winter Break finals and then that dangling January blip is that it can't be enforced. There is already a "no-homework during Winter Break" policy which is ignored by some teachers (hearsay). I can imagine disorganized teachers will leave a lot of material for January, then give a humongous test, much like a final exam. There is no guarantee that the January "test" will be small. That said, we have been pleased with almost all of our Paly teachers. They seem to care a lot about the students. And the ones that expect a lot also are available to help often.

This year was a fantastic calendar with pre-break finals - the first time my senior was completely relaxed during the break.

People move here for the PAUSD academics so an August vacation should not be priority. Plus, there are 2 weeks in August available for vacation. A friend in Georgia is at a public school which starts August 1 - that's something to complain about!

I wouldn't mind the school year ending in June and having more days off each month - those are so important for high schoolers to refuel.


Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I couldn't agree more with Time to Move On. This issue needs to be put to bed. Given the survey results, that should be pretty simple. It is pretty straightforward - keep the early start, keep the pre-break finals, make it easy and be done with it. We tried it and it worked well. It was great to see my high-school student get a REAL break and time to actually de-stress. This needs to be over so that the Board can now focus on other more pressing issues. Calendar F? An outrageous and desperate attempt to make a minority of parents happy with complete disregard for the survey results. Keep the calendar as is and MOVE ON.


Posted by Opar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Whoa, the issue isn\'t being put to bed because it\'s scheduled to be considered this year. And while this may be the preferred scheduled for HS students, they are not the only students affected by the change. They\'re not even the majority of the kids in the district--so let\'s not pretend there\'s some big majority rule here. I\'d say the early August start is a negative for everyone, but kids in high school. (And for high school students active in the arts--music, dance, theatre--the December finals interfere with performing schedules and add stress.)

The current school calendar is actively inconvenient for those working on the Stanford calendar, as well as those working in finance and jobs where financial quarters make a difference.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Parent of 3,

Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad to hear your senior had time to relax during the break.

I agree with you, we are lucky to have dedicated, caring and committed teachers who go the extra mile for our students. I think the teachers would respect the closure after finals in December. I don't see teachers giving a humungous assessment on a self standing two and a half week unit they teach in January.

In terms of vacation, I agree that academics are a top priority of our community, but families are concerned with their students social/emotional health as well, and time off with family is important for students' overall wellbeing. For some working families, parents are available December and August for work free vacations. January, June and July are not always an option. Some of the calendars under consideration start as early as Aug. 11, and have winter break run into January. That's interesting about Georgia having schools with an Aug. 1st start. Any idea why? Do they have a longer school year or get out early in May?

Ending in June and having more days off to recover during the semester sounds good to me, too. The trade off is shortening summer by a week, unless school starts a week later in August.

Another way for a win/win calendar (pre-break finals, later start in August, Dec. break, June dismissal) would be to look at a calendar with more unequal semesters. This is what many of our neighboring districts do. It would involve engaging teachers that teach semester classes in a cost/benefit discussion of this option.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Gunn Parent,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

The survey results definitely support pre-break finals. The majority of students did not report issues with the calendar on the survey, but specific sub-populations did report challenges on the survey (such as performing arts students), and those students' concerns deserve to be heard as well.



Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Opar,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

The early August start is also a challenge for seniors participating in fall athletics (football, volleyball, boys' and girls' water polo, cross-country, girls' tennis), who want to complete their college applications in the summer before school starts. The University of California and Common Application prompts were available before school started, but very few of the supplemental applications that many colleges require were available. A later August start could really help students in this situation.

In addition, fall teams were not allowed by our athletic conference to have the usual week of double practices before school is in session, due to the early start. This year, "hell week" of double practices, and the first week of school coincided.


Posted by Time to Move On, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

The number of high students reporting any difficulty of any kind with the new calendar was very small compared with those who found no problem.

See charts 5 and 8 here: Web Link

73% of seniors and 65% of 9-11 graders found no problem at all.

The only significant problem for any group was that 45% of seniors stated that finals conflicted with college application deadlines. That means that 55% of seniors reported no conflict -- perhaps, as the student board rep from Paly pointed out, these were the students who did not procrastinate and worked on their applications ahead of time as they should, given the fact that, as the Paly student calendar committee rep said, they knew that college apps and finals were coming.

We can certainly address the fact that a minority of seniors needs some structure for approaching their apps without changing the entire calendar.

On the timing of the start in August, 78% of nonseniors and 85% of seniors reported no problem with the early start.

Only 6% of nonseniors and 2% of seniors reported any issue with extra curriculars such as performing arts. Sally, a school district cannot make policy based on a vanishingly small minority of 6% of students and against the wishes of 94%. That does not make any sense.

Among parents, out of nearly 3500 responses, around 400 mentioned conflicts with arts programs as a "moderate" challenge, and 100 stated it was a major challenge. That, again, is a tiny fraction of the families, the vast majority of whom reported no challenge.

We have to get honest. The data are in and they are overwhelming. Continuing this is pointless and potentially destructive. It's also starting to sound like denial of facts and reality. Please read and respond to the facts.



Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Time,

The school board is not considering any calendar that goes "against the wishes of 94% " of students, all six calendars under consideration have the pre-break finals that the majority of students want.

It seems we will have to agree to disagree on whether or not the school board should consider all students' concerns with the current calendar.


Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Opar: Yes, all students in PAUSD are affected, but the calendar change affects high school students the most because their grades are submitted to colleges. As for students who are stressed in December due to performances, church, etc., those are extracurriculars. My children were good athletes on their club teams and could have easily made the Paly teams, yet quit playing once they reached Paly due to the time commitment involved. This isn\\\'t the 70s-80s where kids had all sorts of free time after school, even at Paly. If academics are important (which is the reason people move here) than the academic schedule has to be relevant to academics, not extracurriculars and vacations.

@Sally: My mistake on the GA high school. The person is a teacher so he starts August 1. The first day of school is August 6, and the last day is May 23.

With college apps and last chances at the SATs, I think seniors should not be subjected to final exams the first semester.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Parent of 3,

Thank you for your additional comments. I agree, high school students have to make choices as to how they want to spend their time because of the heavier academic workload, and our calendar should most importantly support their academic success.

There is research, though, to show that healthy development is supported by students engaging in creative endeavors, sports, clubs, religious communities, and spending time with their families, as described in The Forty One Developmental Assets. It is in our students best interests that the school calendar supports both their academic success as well as opportunities to engage in extracurriculars and have time with their families. There are calendar choices that do support both academics and healthy development.

I would also like to see finals as optional for seniors. School board member Melissa Baten Caswell mentioned wanting to explore that possibility at the last school board meeting.


Posted by PArent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Sally,

Children can still spend quality time with their families throughout the school year and during summer, not just during the month of August.

As for "healthy development" in having time for extracurriculars, you'll have to find a way to force all teachers to teach at the same level. As it stands now, some teachers assign too much creative busywork or assign too much homework in general, or are teaching at college levels or demanding honors lane work from regular-lane students. If your child has a bunch of these challenging teachers in the same year, they have hardly any time for anything else besides studying. Athletes have to sacrifice their grades to play on a team. Why can't they have both?


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 10:23 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Parent of 3,

Yes, it would be helpful if there was more consistency in the workload of a specific course. The students could make better choices about balancing their schedule.

Thanks for commenting.


Posted by Parent of 3, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

Sally: It's not about student choices, it's about the teachers. Some regular-lane teachers teach and grade them like honors classes. Thank God we have the block schedule so they don't have every class every day.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Yes, the block schedule has worked well for my students. Not having homework due in every class every day of the week is helpful.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

Sally and posters,

Thanks for updating parents on what is happening with the school calendar and providing links to the survey responses. I'd like to share some of my observations.

Time to move on,


I see several problems with your posts:

1. You are misreading the charts you rely on. The question asked of high school students only allowed them to check the ONE box that BEST described their calendar experience, so you cannot say that "only a few felt x way". If the "calendar challenge" question had allowed them to check all the boxes that applied we would know exactly how many students experienced each of the problems posed, but it didn\\\'t and so we don\\\'t.

What we do know from Chart 5 is that:

65% or so of high school students said the new calendar created challenges for them

45% of seniors said that the GREATEST calendar challenge was finals conflicting with college application due dates

41% of the other high school students said that their GREATEST calendar challenge was a tie between having to come back to school in early August and not having time to catch up with their studies before the semester ended.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:29 am

TtoMO,

2. You assume that seniors are a minority. Except for the few who don't plan to graduate from high school, 100% of high school students will be seniors one day so represent 100% of our students.

So when 45% of seniors say this calendar made applying to college and studying for finals at the same time challenging for them THINK nearly 1 out of every 2 PAUSD students.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:31 am

TtoMO,

3. You assume that our school district only needs to please the majority and should ignore the concerns and interests of the minority.

Your post makes it sound as if you are a Civil Rights supporter so you probably know better than most that that is not the way our district should be run. All students should be supported including the minority - racial, bullied, first generation, getting Ds and Fs, and those whose academic success and college options are impaired by district policies and practices.

65% challenged by the calendar. 45% of seniors hurt. This dips deep into our student population, despite stereotypes that some conjure up so they can summarily dismiss them.

Why not be open to a calendar that works for the majority and minority too?


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:32 am

TtoMO,

4. I know many parents with seniors who gave up a chunk of their summer to work on college applications and still were among the 45% who were pushed at the end, so the "just plan better" fix doesn't work.

It is easy to tell seniors to hone their executive functioning skills to avoid the finals/application deadline clash. It is also easy to tell high school students to plan better so they don't study over winter break for (or to meditate so they aren't anxious about) finals that are a month away. Teenagers don't work that way.

BTW test anxiety inflicts 38% max of students, half as many as the 80-95% who procrastinate.
Web Link . Web Link

Fortunately, the committee seems to have proposed a calendar that supports both sets of students.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:34 am

TtoMO,

5. The early start pre-break finals calendar didn't end up matching the hype and promises.

What this calendar was NOT:

It was NOT a calendar that provided a work free winter break for all. 40% of high school students worked on school assignments teachers had available over break (not just students who worked because they wanted to). Chart 11.

It was NOT a calendar that made for a stress free break for all either. Over 30% were still stressed over break. Chart 15.

And, as I wrote above, this was not a calendar that helped college-going seniors. 1 out of every 3 seniors hurt, forced to cut short their studying or lop colleges they wanted to have a chance to attend off of their list. Chart 13.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

So, given that the new calendar may have moved us in the right direction but did not accomplish all that it was after for many, we should adopt a new calendar that fixes the new challenges this calendar created for them.

Calendar F shows empathy for the majority and minority and has promise.

It gives pre-break finals and students, teachers, and families ample time off in August, makes room for scattered breaks in the fall, allows struggling students to regroup and catch up before the semester end, and avoids the smushed May.

Worriers say that teachers – those who report that they want pre-break finals – will give finals in January instead then. This is conjecture and refuted by the survey results. The 80% of teachers who said they love giving finals before break will continue to give their finals in December. Why wouldn't they?

As for the 12% who prefer finals in January, the board's new homework policy (replacing its suggestion) addresses that. Officially now no homework is allowed over break, no projects can be assigned that require students to do work over break, and no tests can be given that require studying over break. If that doesn't take care of it, revise the board policy to make it clear: no finals in January too.

Calendar F is not a new or odd idea. Under the pre pre-break finals calendar, teachers in my child's high school gave their final in December with an extra unit in January before the semester closed. The world did not end and, anecdotally, students loved it. Its flaw: no board policy that ensured that all teachers would be on the same page, a policy PAUSD now has.

Win. Win. Win. Win.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Thank you, Observations, for this very articulate explanation of how Calendar F can be a win/win and address the concerns of all our students.


Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm

" The 80% of teachers who said they love giving finals before break will continue to give their finals in December. Why wouldn't they?"

Possibly because for a teacher a "final" signifies the end of the semester. No questions from parents or students about what can be done to improve a grade etc. I think a fair number of teachers would agree that a final is the last grade in the gradebook. I think if the semester did not end until January at least some of the teachers would give their finals in January, even if there was no "finals schedule". They would just give their final over a few class periods.


Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Palo Verde Parent,

Thank you for reading and commenting. As Observations commented, even with the old calendar (before pre-break finals), many of the high school teachers were choosing completely of their own volition to give finals before winter break, and have a self-standing January unit. It was already working for many teachers to end the semester in January, but give finals in December. With Calendar F, teachers will have the additional motivation of improving many aspects of the current pre-break finals calendar that have been challenging for students.


Posted by observations, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Palo Verde Parent,

Thoughts about the idea that "a final is a final" and so has to be at the end:

1. Most teachers teach year long classes and can stop and start a new semester whenever they want; they can close their 1st semester in December and open 2nd semester when classes start back up in January.

Semester class teachers don't have this flexibility, but my guess is that they are the ones who would be most excited about Calendar F because it gives them even semesters. Under F, they don't have to cut out a week + of material in the 1st semester and search for extra material to teach in the instruction weeks moved into the 2nd, longer semester.

2. As for designing a calendar so teachers can avoid answering students who want to know how they can do better:

- Is that a bad thing? Sounds like a question an earnest student who wants to do well would ask.

- Assuming for sake of argument that that question is inappropriate, do what teachers did this year when the semester ended in December - turn their finals grade in a month later. Students won't know what their grade is until the semester is over, too late for extra credit.

3. As for the TBD number of teachers who dislike F because it is unconventional, ask them to weigh that uneasiness against all the good things Calendar F will do for students and families.

Again, 65% of students were challenged under the new calendar. Those challenges will be addressed by Calendar F which allows students and teachers to get days off in the fall to relax, gives seniors much needed days off in mid-August to work on college applications, and gives elementary families their Augusts back.

4. As for the TBD number of teachers you feel will ignore the will of the people AND defy principals and the school board by giving their final in January, there is a simple and easy fix: clarify the board homework policy by adding "no finals in January" and tell teachers that students will be asked in January which teachers gave finals that month. I would think that that would bring the number of teachers giving finals in January to 0.


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