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Commentary: Benefits of early school start date outweigh concerns about summer heat

Guest contributor | October 7, 2016

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calendarBy Marisa Crabtree

In the new era of the Local Control Funding Formula and the Every Student Succeeds Act, school districts have begun showing a renewed dedication to teacher, parent and community engagement. I was disappointed, however, that the Los Angeles Unified School District missed an opportunity to weigh student, family and community concerns before deciding to shift the school calendar once again, delaying the start of classes until later in August.

My time as a teacher at Lincoln High School has shown me what is possible when our district listens to the community. In the 2009-2010 school year, a team of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other school-based staff developed a new operating plan and submitted it to the district through the district’s Public School Choice Initiative. This plan was created through active dialogue, collaboration and commitment to developing school-wide, student-centered reform for the academic and behavioral benefit of all our students. Through this transparent and open process, the team repeatedly heard about the importance of Lincoln High School to the community – how it is more than just a school. It also contains a bank branch, a vibrant parent center and an adult school. These voices were united about the importance of starting school in mid-August – weeks before other LAUSD schools began.

This strategic decision prioritizing the success of our students has benefitted them in a variety of ways. The early start gives teachers and students more time to prepare before tests in the spring. Our students’ pass rate on Advanced Placement exams has risen steadily since making the shift, and our current rate is now greater than the LAUSD average. Our schedule more closely mirrors the semester system of many colleges, allowing our students to participate in the concurrent enrollment opportunities our community worked to develop with California State University Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College and in college preparatory courses like Upward Bound that take place over the summer.

I worry, not only that these important gains that we have made at Lincoln could be jeopardized, but also about the precedent this sets going forward. Empowering schools to make decisions locally allows them to tailor educational opportunities to meet the needs of students in their communities; shifting away from local decision-making may have unforeseen consequences, as a centralized board may not be fully aware of how their decisions could impact local programs, services and educational opportunities.

Sadly, the justification for making this change — concerns about rising summer temperatures in the classroom or summer vacation planning — does not rise to a level of importance greater than the need for flexibility, tailored student support and community voice. This is perhaps most true for my school’s families, 62 percent of whom are from lower socio-economic backgrounds and may not have the privilege of air-conditioned homes. In some cases, temperatures at school may actually be cooler than at home.

As LAUSD fights to attract more students, it should encourage schools to adapt to meet their students’ needs, rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach. We serve diverse families and students who deserve to have a voice in how their school serves students. As we all continue the fight to improve educational outcomes for our students, we must trust school communities – students, parents, teachers, administrators and school-based staff – to make the best decisions.

Marisa CrabtreeMarisa Crabtree teaches English and AVID at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. She is a member of E4E-Los Angeles, a teacher-led education policy and advocacy nonprofit.

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