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5 weeks for summer break and 7 weeks for winter break? LAUSD considers it

Craig Clough | September 23, 2015

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Los Angeles Summer of Learning Programs LAUSDAn advisory committee studying options for LA Unified’s academic calendar are considering six different plans, and one them is a radically different approach that would shorten the summer break to five weeks and increase the winter break to seven weeks.

In addition, the plan would potentially add a 20-day “winter intersession” for some students to go along with a 20-day summer school session.

An article about the different plans under consideration was posted in the newsletter of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA) by Gerardo Loera, principal of Virgil Middle School and a member of the LAUSD Calendar Committee. The committee has been tasked by Superintendent Ramon Cortines to study different calendar options, and based on the committee’s work Cortines is expected to make a formal three-year recommendation to the school board in December.

The plan would “address summer learning loss by shortening the break and reallocating the days to an extended winter break,” Loera wrote. “A four-week summer school and a four-week winter intersession would allow many LAUSD students to experience up to 220 days of instructional time if they attend both 20-day interventions in addition to the 180 day school year.”

He added, “Even if the District couldn’t afford to fund both extended learning opportunities, we’ve mitigated the summer learning loss by decreasing the longest extended vacation period.”

This dramatic overhaul of the schedule, which Loera described as a plan that “completely redesigns the way the District utilizes the 180 school days,” would start classes on Aug. 6 for the 2016-17 school year. It also calls for students that don’t participate in the winter intersession to have a break that begins after Dec. 16 and extends through Feb 6, which adds up to 51 full days off in-between semesters. Classes would end for the year on June 29.

The district always started the academic year in September after Labor Day before moving it up to early August in 2012. Supporters of the change, including former school board member Tamar Galatzan, touted the academic benefits that could come from an early start, in particular by giving high school students more time to prepare for standardized tests and college entrance exams. It also allowed the district to split the semesters around winter break.

Last year, the district started school on Aug. 12, its third year of an early start. But a chorus of criticism forced the school board to take another look at the issue back in February as it approached a deadline to approve a calendar for the 2015-16 school year. Critics of the early start date pointed to the intense heat of early August that students must endure, which is sometimes too hot for outdoor extracurricular activities.

The early date has also put extra pressure on some schools’ air conditioning systems, and according to a draft report by the LAUSD Calendar Committee, cost the district between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in extra energy bills each year from 2012 to 2014.

In response to the critics, the board voted 5-1 in February to move the start date up by one week, and this year students’ first day began on Aug. 18. However, the compromise pleased few on the board. Galatzan — who was defeated by Scott Schmerelson for the District 3 board seat in March — said, “This in-between thing is not serving the high schools who wanted it and the parents that don’t. I think we’ve just kind of made everyone unhappy.”

Several other board members also expressed their disapproval of the compromise.

One problem that arose during the board’s debate was that the district had not yet studied the early start date to see if it in fact had proven to be academically beneficial. That was one reason for the formation of the Calendar Committee.

Based on much of the academic information and studies that the draft report and Loera focused on, it appears the committee will be recommeding a return to an earlier start date, as the data points to an academic advantage by doing so.

The early start date from 2012 to 2104 resulted in a number of academic benefits to LA Unified’s students, according to the draft report. For one, grades were higher, with the percentage marked “C” or better rising each year, from 69.9 percent in 2011-12 — the last year of the September start — to 73.1 percent in 2014-15. Pass rates for the California High School Exit Exam — which has however been cancelled recently by the state — also rose, as did the number of students enrolled in AP classes.

Of the six plans currently being studied, only one has a post-Labor Day start date. Two would begin on August 6, two on August 13 and one on August 20. Four of the plans would have the semester end at winter break, while two would see the semester spill over to after the break.


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