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.]