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Why California’s Teacher of the Year thinks moving the school calendar is a bad idea

Mike Szymanski | September 21, 2016

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Daniel Jocz

Daniel Jocz doesn’t want to move the calendar start date.

The school board just made Daniel Jocz’s job a lot harder.

Jocz, who is a National Teacher of the Year finalist and the 2016 California State Teacher of the Year, already has to record lectures and give homework to cover five chapters of American history over the summer. He does that so his students can learn everything they need to by the time they take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests in April and the Advanced Placement tests in May.

But as LA Unified moves its start date closer to Labor Day, it will ultimately cut into his teaching time before the tests.

“It is going to make my job substantially more difficult,” said the celebrated teacher who has worked at Downtown Magnets High School for 11 years. “We can’t do this as effectively with less instructional time.”

After surveying parents and teachers for months, discussing it for a year and getting input from labor representatives, the LA Unified School board on Tuesday decided to start school a week later, on Aug. 22, next year, and then another week later the following year, on Aug. 28, just before Labor Day.

• Read more: School will start later next year, and Thanksgiving and winter breaks will be shorter

“Late start calendar = LAUSD School Board just cut 3 weeks of instruction for my Advanced Placement students,” tweeted Jocz, who said Wednesday that his fellow teachers are not happy.

“A lot of us in the AP community are taking this very personally and we have our courses planned out,” Jocz said. “Had I known this was pending in this way I would have been more vocal.”

Jocz said the Los Angeles students are a diverse community filled with first-generation Americans and English learners who require more time to become college ready.

“You don’t want students taking tests that they are not ready for, especially if they are the tests that will be used to judge schools and teachers,” Jocz said. He suggested that the nation’s second-largest school district might have the clout to move the testing later in the school year, like to June.

School district officials confirmed that the California Department of Education sets the testing window for SBAC, and AP test dates are set by the College Board, which administers the AP program.

“Scores can go up and down for a variety of reasons and I understand why they want to move the calendar, but it was changed not too long ago and we all adjusted, and graduation and scores increased,” Jocz said, echoing an argument made Tuesday by school board member Monica Garcia.

Dennis Ashendorf, a high school math teacher in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, starts school after Labor Day, as do a handful of Southern California districts. Of 56 school districts surrounding LA Unified, 50 start school in August.

“The end of a semester is not the end of a course in general in public school,” Ashendorf said Wednesday. “For example, Geometry A is followed by Geometry B. Same stuff. An exam in January works well. There is no great reason not to start school after Labor Day if a little federal help was given.”

August learning isn’t all that fruitful, he said, and the argument that beginning school in the first week of August allows end-of-semester tests before winter break really only makes sense for college, not in K-12 where students usually continue the same English or math course over the whole year.calendar-survery-winter-break

He added, “What a miserable situation. Sacramento can’t solve it. This is a national problem that only Congress can solve. The benefits are many to us.”

Charter schools, which can set their own calendars, often have earlier start dates. But, as charter school leader Caprice Young, CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, pointed out, “We have so many families who also have children in the LA district schools that we have to keep our schedules pretty much in sync with what they’re doing.”

LA Unified moved its start date to earlier in August four years ago after some elementary schools threatened to become charter schools so they could have more days of instruction, board member Garcia said at Tuesday’s meeting. The schools ended up becoming independent charters and affiliated charters anyway, and students started in early to mid-August.

Meanwhile, at least two labor unions told the board Tuesday that their members didn’t want to change the schedule, and the student school board member spoke out against it. Letetsia Fox of the California School Employees Association representing classified employees and Juan Flecha from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles representing administrators and principals said their membership didn’t want to change the calendar. The principals had become used to the earlier start, and the classified employees were worried about fewer work hours.

Last year, student board member Leon Popa voiced his concern that a shorter summer makes it harder to land summer internships and that “people make plans and have commitments.” He voted to adopt the one-year plan with the schedule suggested by the superintendent’s staff and, in a recent interview on the district’s TV show “Inside LAUSD’s Student Voice,” he said he felt that School Board President Steve Zimmer followed his lead in voting and listened to his concerns.

A report by Budget Services estimated the cost of shifting the calendar at $134.3 million, but that was based on an estimation that school attendance for the first month would be poor as it is usually at the beginning of the school year. The use of school buildings in August cost an additional $1.4 million in air-conditioning repairs.

Meanwhile, Jocz is trying to figure out how he will teach everything he needs to in the time allotted.

“It’s already challenging the way it is, and moving it forward will present more challenges,” Jocz said. “But we’ll figure out how to face this challenge, as usual, and make it work out.”

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