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School calendar draws concerns

Posted: Friday, Feb 22nd, 2013

Adams State University associate professor of psychology Leslie Alvarez shares her thoughts on the spring break schedule on Tuesday with the Alamosa Board of Education. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA —  A group of parents clamoring for input sent the Alamosa School District’s calendar committee back to the drawing board Tuesday night.

The Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE) was set to approve the 2013-2014 calendar during its regular meeting. After hearing from 10 district parents, the board decided to further review the calendar to address early release days and the spring break schedule.

The proposed 2013-2014 calendar up for approval set early release days for Wednesday afternoons, sending Alamosa Elementary (AE) students home at 12:45 p.m. and all secondary students home at 12:55 p.m. According to rough data the parents presented, the early release days scheduled for teacher enrichment sessions called Professional Learning Communities (PLC) would reduce instructional hours. AE students would lose about 79 instructional hours and secondary students 88. This school year, district students are scheduled for 32 early release days on Mondays, which is an increase of 18 days from the 2011-2012 school year and, according to the data, a loss of about 37 instructional hours in AE and about 43 instructional hours for all secondary students.

“It is too much,” said former Alamosa School District Accountability Committee (DAC) president Christine Jones-Daboll after sharing the statistics with the ABOE. “It (the lost instructional hours) is almost doubled from this year. I object to that.”

The Colorado Compulsory School Attendance Law requires elementary students attend school for 968 hours in a school year and secondary students 1,056. It also states schools will be in session for at least 160 days without the prior approval of the commissioner of education.

Based on the parents’ data, the proposed calendar provides 1088.5 hours of instructional time.

DAC president Coleen Astalos addressed the board as both a committee official and a parent, asking the ABOE to act within policy.

“I am the chair of the DAC and it wasn’t until two weeks ago that I even found out that the calendar committee had already met and that the calendar had already been drafted and was out for teachers for review,” Astalos said. “As a matter of fact, I felt blindsided since last year the calendar was one month later in the process.”

District policy states, “The administration shall allow public input from parents and teachers prior to scheduling the dates for staff in-service programs,” which includes early releases for PLC time.

“So why all the secrecy with the calendar process?” Astalos asked. “This is the number one item that affects students, parents and families. You say you want to get parents involved, yet this key item – the school calendar – is shrouded in secrecy, it’s like a secret meeting of the KKK.”

The district does have a calendar committee intact and Superintendent Rob Alejo appoints those willing to serve. Astalos argued the DAC should send an internally elected representative to the committee instead of it being an administrative decision, and offered the ABOE several solutions to improve the calendar and make the calendar input process available to the public:

•Document the calendar committee process in the board policy so it’s out in the open.

• Provide the district calendar to all parents in advance and a mechanism for gathering parent input similar to the teacher input.

• Consider adding 15 minutes onto full school days to make up the lost time.

Additionally, she recalled the results of a parent survey circulated last year recommending the district consider a four-day week instead of having a half-day once a week. Out of the 354 survey responses, 70 percent said they would be satisfied with classes Monday through Thursday. The majority also preferred Friday for half-days with Wednesday being the second most favorable day.

“You can see that parents, by far, preferred early release activities on Friday, preferably a full day once a month and even a 4 day school week,” Astalos said. “Yet that input wasn’t even considered last year and it doesn’t appear that it was considered this year either.”

She recommended moving the half-day to Friday to allow contiguous time during the week for students to learn and to reduce the impact of early release activities by five days. This, she concluded, would reduce the number of student hours lost to PLC time from 78 hours down to 65.

The ABOE and the district administrators, however, said they are concerned students will not show up for Friday classes opting for a three-day weekend.

In regards to the spring break schedule, the parents pushed for alignment with Adams State University (ASU). Three years ago, spring break shifted to late March to accommodate the TCAP state-testing window with hope of improving scores. This year, many Valley school districts have been able to align their spring break with one another, but have been unsuccessful coordinating with ASU, particularly because the university sets its schedule so far in advance.

“Maybe we should make it easier for the district and just opt them (students) out of TCAP testing,” Astalos said. “According to the district, it’s only a small percentage of kids that are affected, so maybe you really don’t need the TCAP scores for that small percentage of students?”

ASU art professor Dana Provence added the spring break misalignment causes high school students taking advantage of university courses to go without rest.

“I would think these are students that are motivated,” Provence said. “They are being undersold.”

The university, he said, is also seeing a record number of students with families losing out on the opportunity to spend time together. According to his data, ASU also has 112 employees with school age children.

“This is a growing set of data that I think warrants consideration,” Provence said. “We need to reach an agreement and consider all of those affected.”

ASU associate professor of psychology Leslie Alvarez, who has a child entering kindergarten this fall, questioned the district’s TCAP scores before threatening to take her child out of school during the testing window for family vacations.

“If it is the only voice I have to boycott it, it is what I will do,” Alvarez said. “... If my family is going to have a vacation, it is going to be during spring break.”

In response, ABOE official and calendar committee representative Neil Hammer said, “We have tried to align with ASU... but they want to call all of the shots.”

ABOE official Christine Haslett, a former teacher with grandchildren now in the district, added, “The effects of having that (spring) break and coming back for testing didn’t work. I saw the difference.”

Today, district reports show a two percent increase in reading and math scores since the testing was executed prior to spring break.

“There is no perfect solution,” said ABOE president Bill Van Gieson. “There really isn’t.”

Haslett asked for a creative solution to keep students in the classroom longer.

“Let’s let these people have a chance to look at this calendar,” she said.

“I hope you (the calendar committee) don’t take offense to what we decided here,” Van Gieson said. “It is the kids’ best interest on our minds. There are a lot of road blocks to get there.”

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