In Partnership with 74

District makes last push for staff, family input on school calendar

Mike Szymanski | November 24, 2015

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LAUSD is making another strong push for input from families and employees to see what the school schedule should be for the next three years.

And, the district is providing lots of back-up materials to help inform choices, including a comparison of student test scores in traditional school years versus early school calendars, electricity consumption costs for the summer and comparisons to calendars at nearby school districts and colleges.

At issue is whether school should start after Labor Day (a more traditional calendar) or earlier in August, whether elementary and high schools should have different schedules and whether the semesters should be broken up by the winter break. Parents are also asked if they care how long the winter break should be, two weeks or three.

The school board is planning to adopt a final calendar in January, based on recommendations from the superintendent and feedback from the community.

Online surveys are now available through Dec. 6 for parents and guardians as well as for school employees to help hammer out the calendar through 2019. The surveys are also available in Spanish.

“We are always looking for better ways to foster communication between the district and parents, or schools and parents, which is one of our top goals,” said Daryl Strickland, an district spokesman.  “We will look at the results from this effort and others to determine what parents find useful for creating dialogue.”

In September, the district conducted surveys by phone to more than 600,000 families, and 58,000 people answered five questions. But, there was a glitch when district officials discovered that some people couldn’t complete the survey.

Now, the district acknowledges that due to the time elapsed “respondents might opt for different answers, the survey will be offered to everyone again.” The content of the survey is the same as it was in September, and results of both polls will be shared with the L.A. Unified community, according to the district’s website devoted to the calendar query.

A final round of phone calls will be made Dec. 1 to families who specifically asked to fill out the survey by phone. The district notes that no phone calls will be made over the Thanksgiving break.

Traditionally, the school year started after Labor Day as it does in most parts of the country, ending in late June of the following year. Since early 2000, high school principals have asked the district to consider an “early start” calendar, and 17 high schools and one elementary school successfully piloted the early start model for two years.

The early start schedule allows all high school students to finish the final exams in the first semester before the winter break. Students also have more time to prepare for school and college placement exams. By finishing the school year in early June, students have more time for summer jobs and college program choices.

The comparisons of test scores, starting after Labor Day versus starting in August, show that an uninterrupted semester over the winter break seemed to help scores as well as results on Advanced Placement tests.

Among the downsides of starting school in early August: family vacation plans are interrupted, and summer heat makes classrooms uncomfortable. Further, air conditioning repairs and power rates cost the district more money, with electricity costs alone increasing by $1.5 million when school starts in August.

In an unofficial poll with more than 750 people responding, LA School Report found that most respondents preferred a more traditional schedule, with school starting after Labor Day. Although many respondents seem to want to start the school year later, they don’t want to break up the semester between winter break, which is difficult to do.

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