Parent Input is a Must in Developing a School Calendar

Last month I wrote about the early start of school in Glendale and now there is an online petition, Save Our GUSD Schools, for parents to sign who want to push it back closer to Labor Day. Currently, the petition has surpassed 2,000 signatures, nearing their goal of 2,500.

As previously explained, the shift of the school year from September to August has to do with secondary students finishing their fall semester final exams before Winter Break, as well as providing more time to learn material before the Advanced Placement Exams in May.

While all school districts have 180 days of instruction, Glendale schools begin earlier than all other neighboring districts in Burbank, Pasadena, La Canada, and Los Angeles because of the extra days off within the start and end dates, thus stretching school over 296 days compared to Burbank which begins one week later but ends almost a week earlier due to fewer days off.

For the past two years, Glendale schools have closed on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. If this trend of lengthening 3-day weekends into 4-day weekends continues, schools may have to start in late July.

Next year’s first day of school will be the earliest ever: August 8.

Besides the early start date, here is another curious characteristic of Glendale’s calendar. Looking at a month-by-month breakdown of the number of school days, notice that the 180-day year is split unevenly, with 85 days in Fall and 95 days in Spring, a 2 week difference.

Aug. = 16, Sept. = 20, Oct. = 21, Nov. = 15, Dec. = 13, Jan. = 16, Feb. = 19, Mar. = 17, Apr. = 21, May = 21, June = 1

If GUSD kept Labor Day as a single holiday, and Thanksgiving as a two-day holiday, there would be 89 days in Fall and 91 in Spring, close to an even split.

Also peculiar is that students need to return to school for only two days following Memorial Day.   Again, cut out two of the oddball days so children and their families can celebrate the end of the school year along with high school graduations right before the Memorial Day weekend.

Christine Walters, school board president, said that the GUSD calendar is “a contract item which has to be negotiated” with GTA (Glendale Teachers Association). So how much weight will the parent petition carry in deciding any changes?

Last year, BUSD sent out an electronic survey on their calendar. What they discovered was that the majority of parents did not want a whole week off for Thanksgiving because it would extend the school year into June. So the board members listened to their constituents and, with the approval of the district’s unions, had the calendar reflect the wishes of the parents.

There are some Glendale and Burbank district employees who have to scramble for child care due to their children attending the other city’s schools, each district’s Spring Break often occurring on different weeks.

Here is a proposal. Have All BUSD and GUSD school board members, PTA presidents of all schools, and teacher union presidents of BTA and GTA meet to discuss a common calendar.   Develop a few sample calendars and present them at public forums. Then, email parents in both cities to vote on them. The calendar with the most votes gets implemented.

Nayiri Nahabedian, Glendale School Board Member, said that she is “not opposed” to a common calendar, while Roberta Reynolds, Burbank School Board Member, thinks that having the same calendar is “an interesting idea.”

If such a meeting would occur in the near future, there would be plenty of time to go through this process and have a unified calendar in place before June.

The calendar issue will be discussed at Tuesday’s GUSD school board meeting so any interested parents or employees should attend.

Memorizing 200 names: Part of a Teacher’s First Day

My head is throbbing, my throat’s on fire, and my limbs are numb.

The cause of these symptoms? The opening day of the school year.

While I’m beginning my 27th year as a teacher, each start of school gets more challenging.

One would think with more experience, the easier it would get; however, with each year, I learn more, and in sharing all that I know with students, it causes stress on how to fit it all in.

Plus, there are the usual tasks that require completion within the first few days such as creating spreadsheets with the rosters, typing seating charts with the correct names students wish to be called (not the ones on the rosters), collecting signed parent forms, and photocopying handouts that cover the entire school year.

Since I’m teaching an extra class this term, I have even more students than normal. I discussed this challenge with my students, one of whom asked me, “How do you memorize the names of 200 students?”

It’s funny how it takes a 15-year-old to remind me how numb I’ve become to the reality of that number.

For years now, California ranks near the bottom among states in per pupil spending and in key education factors.   However, according to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics report, the state can lay claim to one category: the highest student to teacher ratio in the country of 23 to 1.

But that number is deflated since “teacher” includes educators who are specialists. The reality is that most classrooms average in the mid-30s.

It makes sense why some parents remove their kids from public schools and go the private school route where ratios are less than half.

Whether or not class size makes a difference in the learning process is an issue that has no clear evidence to support either viewpoint.

Still, there are the raw numbers that can’t be disputed in terms of the alarming amount of work that is required of public school teachers: the ability to know 200 vs. 100 students’ names, the amount of time to evaluate 200 papers vs. 100 papers and to modify lesson plans, the cost of additional books, supplies, and equipment, the lack of mobility to move about in a room with 40 vs. 20 students, and the warmer the rooms are due to the additional body heat.

It also is difficult to call on 40 students in an hour-long class than one of 20, meaning a larger share of kids remain mute each day.

Imagine an attorney meeting with 200 clients every day. Or a physician seeing 200 patients a day. It does not happen.

If a doctor were to see one patient for only 5 minutes at a time, it would take him nearly 17 hours to get to 200 patients without any breaks. And who would think 5 minutes qualifies as a quality healthcare visit?

In a state with a large non-native English speaking population, expecting that educators with their extraordinary workload can have all their students meet the Common Core standards is quite an undertaking.

It is time for Californians to question how much longer can such overcrowding continue when schools are held to high accountability measures.

If the goal of public education is to house students, consider what we are doing a success. But if the charge of schools is to illuminate ideas in the minds of young people, to enable them to realize the potential of their abilities, deep-rooted changes must take place.