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Board of Ed Mulls Shorter Winter Break for Next Two School Years

The proposed changes to the 2013-14 and 2014-15 calendars would also keep New Canaan Public Schools open on Columbus and Election Days, but add three extra days to summer vacation, Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek said at Monday night's BoE mee

 

Superintendent of Schools Mary Kolek announced at Monday night's Board of Education meeting a proposal that for the next two school years would lengthen summer vacation for New Canaan Public School students by three days, but shorten their winter break and omit two school holidays.

The changes would allow for an additional snow make-up day, which Kolek said, is needed due to the area's recent "unusual weather patterns," as well as "breathing room" for construction projects scheduled to be completed during the summer, such as new windows for South Elementary School, and a professional learning schedule for teachers that is more evenly spread throughout the school year.

Kolek's proposal includes the following revisions:

  • The first day of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years would be on the Tuesday after Labor Day instead of the prior week.
  • Instead of schools remaining closed for the entire third week of February for winter break, students would have a half-day of school the Friday prior to President's Day and then have just one full day off after President's Day.
  • Schools would remain open on Columbus Day and, according to Kolek, would be a "full educational day" similar to how schools currently operate on Veterans Day.
  • Schools would be open on Election Day for a half-day of student instruction followed by a half-day of professional learning for teachers.

Kolek pointed out that the proposed calendar follows the 180-day minimum that students are required to be in school each year, as well as policy that does not allow the school year to extend beyond the third week in June.

Most BoE members agreed that making Columbus Day a regular school day next was a good idea, but disagreed on whether it was fair to students and their parents to shorten the winter break in order to gain three days during the summer.

"In my experience, people in this town love their ski vacations, so I think you should consider flip-flopping it [and shorten the April break]," board member Jim Kucharczyk said. "And there's an advantage in February because President's Day is an automatic day off."

Board member Scott Gress added that having a full week off in February gives schools the chance to sanitize the buildings during the cold and flu season, which would reduce the amount of students and teachers being absent from school due to illness.

Kucharczyk said that parents are already used to looking at the April vacation as a "swing" week knowing that if schools need to make up days due to the weather, those days would mostly like come out of spring break.

Board Chair Alison Bedula told members that the preference between having a longer winter break or a longer spring break among parents really depends on a number of factors, including the age of their children and what extracurricular activities they're involved in.

"With standardized testing in March, it would be nice for high school kids to get the week off in April," she said. "It just really depends on what your family does—there's no ideal vacation."

The board also discussed whether the extra days during the summer would be needed for both calendar years or if they're needed at all.

Gress said he didn't think giving summer construction projects three extra days to be completed would be worth the shortened winter break.

"I've worked on a number of construction projects and while three days can come in handy, I don't think it's worth what little bit of time we have with our families, taking that and truncating it," he said. "That's ill-advised."

Kolek, however, pointed out that those three days could mean the difference between all schools being able to open on the first day of school and one school being delayed by three days because a project wasn't completed on time.

And although board member Penny Rashin said that she doesn't think the South Elementary School window project will begin until the summer of 2014—therefore making any change to the 2013-14 calendar unnecessary—she did confirm that the plan is still in its early stages.

"I think we've learned that coming to people [with these issues] later is not as good as coming to them sooner," Kolek said.

Kolek said that the alternate versions of both calendars will be posted on the New Canaan Public Schools Web site and that residents are encouraged to offer their feedback, which the board will take into consideration at future meetings.

 

[Editor's Note: The article was updated to revise a quote that was incorrectly attributed to board member Scott Gress.]

Lisa Buchman (Editor) February 05, 2013 at 02:36 PM
How would the proposed changes affect families? Do you need a week off in February?
ncgal February 05, 2013 at 02:39 PM
I fully support the proposed changes. Our kids come first and they need more consistency in their school year. All of these breaks are too disruptive!
Greenhill February 05, 2013 at 03:11 PM
I recommend keeping the February week off versus the April week off for two reasons. One, as noted above President's Day is already a day-off so the kids miss 4 days of class for vacation instead of 5 in April. Second, we do not always know how many make-up days we need and the weather in April tends to lack two significant events which are Fall season hurricanes and Winter snow storms so taking away those days provides the most flexibility to adjust to Mother Nature.
jeepgirl February 05, 2013 at 03:38 PM
Shortening the February break sounds like a great idea. Or even better, shorten both breaks and make it one break in March as did happen one year and it was perfect. As far as I know, family vacations should work around the school schedule not the other way around so that aspect should have no relevance as to what is decided in this matter.
Four Jacks February 05, 2013 at 05:14 PM
March is a problem because of CMTs and CAPT tests. I think Greenhill has many valid points, and would also prefer to keep the February break.
NC Mom February 05, 2013 at 05:55 PM
I wish we started school a week earlier. Our twins are in 2nd grade and we have already come to the realization that we will need to plan on being local August 15 on for fall sports. I don't understand the rationale of eliminating Columbus Day. Septmenber holidays should be eliminated with the exception of Labor Day. I do think President's week should be shortened Easter break should also be the full week of spring break.
Four Jacks February 05, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Sometimes Easter falls in March, like this year. If school starts in August, sports just start even earlier in August. I'm pleased that the Board of Ed is taking a comprehensive look at this.
NC Mom February 05, 2013 at 06:19 PM
The new plan takes away holidays, starts school 4 days later, but only adds 3 days summer vacation at the end of the year. Add a hurricane and a few snow days and we are still looking at getting out on June 24. I tried looking on the NCPS web site but can't find the new calendar proposals. I don't get the math. I'm glad my kids love school.
NCRN February 05, 2013 at 06:43 PM
How many families actually go skiing during February break? I would bet that the real number is much smaller than would be assumed by the vocal few. If Columbus Day can be treated like any other school day, why not Presidents' Day? And let's remember that the public schools should not be held hostage to only one religion's holidays to determine days off. Personally I would prefer to take a March break after all the testing is finished and forget about week long breaks in February and April. I think they are very disruptive to the continuity of instruction. A couple of long weekends would suffice at those times.
Chandra Johnson Greene February 05, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Both the current and alternate versions of the 2013-14 calendar, as well as the 2014-15 calendar, are posted here: http://patch.com/A-1DYZ
ruth February 06, 2013 at 01:58 AM
With all the talk of having everyone sign in for safety purposes, and asking for $200,000+ of taxpayers money to do this, Dr. Kolek can't be serious that she is willing to have students in the building while voting is taking place. Having thousands of extra people and their cars, poll workers, and candidates and their supporters mulling around from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 pm in the schools election day it doesn't make any sense to have the children in school also. Please do not have them in the schools that day!
Canaanite February 06, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Agreed!
Canaanite February 06, 2013 at 07:36 PM
A break in February is not needed . . . it comes right off the heels of Christmas break and is disruptive. One break in March (after the standarized tests) or April is more than enough.
Richard Cranium February 06, 2013 at 08:17 PM
The February break is very important to New Canaan families since it is the one predictable week where a family vacation can be planned well in advance and with certainty. Ski trips and warm weather destinations are a welcome respite from the dark winter days. There are many other options to fulfill the 180 day requirement, like using the Spring break as a swing week, or simply eliminating the numerous, one-off holidays like Columbus, Election, Veterans, and MLK - that merely complicate child care for working families. Please do not take away the cherished, time-honored Feb. break.
ncgal February 06, 2013 at 11:15 PM
Can't we vote somewhere else? Waveny House is almost always empty during the day. Lapham center could also be utilized. In many other parts of the country schools are not polling places. Problem solved!
Four Jacks February 07, 2013 at 12:37 AM
I agree, we should keep the February break, there's more to life than school, being together as a family is important too. As for Election Day, I grew up in a city, and we were able to use churches as polling places, which worked out well.

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