Board of Education reduces number of days in February break for 2014-15 school year

In light of major storms like Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy that have discombobulated school calendars for the last three years, the Board of Education voted for a 2014-15 calendar that reduces the number of days in the Greenwich Public Schools traditional February break.

During the board’s Dec. 20 budget meeting, board members voted 5-3 in favor of changing the traditional one-week February break to a four-day weekend from Feb. 13 to 16 for the 2014-15 school year.

According to board Chairman Leslie Moriarty, the pressure surrounding school end-dates has been an issue for the last three years, causing difficulties with planning and impacting students’ learning and achievement. In an attempt to solve end-date problems, the board asked district administration to develop a structural change to the traditional school calendar, and since the board’s policies require members to pass school calendars 18 months prior to the start of classes for that year, the issue needed to be addressed far in advance, Ms. Moriarty said.

While some board members felt that decreasing February vacation days from five to two would provide sufficient flexibility at the end of the school year in the event of storms or other necessary school closures, other members said they were not ready to vote on the issue.

Board member Jennifer Dayton said she felt there were too few speakers who addressed changing the school calendar during board public hearings and that the board should wait for more community input before making the decision to cut down February break. Although Ms. Dayton said she understood the need for as much instruction time for students as possible, she said there were “other ways to get there,” such as starting the school year earlier, and she said the board didn’t need to vote so quickly on the issue.

Board member Peter Sherr also opposed voting on the 2014-15 school calendar, saying that board members had read emails from parents on the subject, the majority of whom were not in favor of changing the calendar. Without proper research to prove that the restructured calendar would improve student performance, Mr. Sherr said, it was not fair to include student achievement in the calendar conversation. The top-performing schools in the world have school systems that operate on fewer single and half-day breaks, and break up seven-week educational blocks with single-week vacations, he added.

Ms. Moriarty and board Vice Chairman Barbara O’Neill, however, said the board had sufficient input on the issue.

Ms. Moriarty acknowledged that school calendars are “always a personal issue,” but said the many messages board members receive about the subject differ in opinion from person to person. Additionally, she said, the fact that PTA and Greenwich Education Association members did not attend the Dec. 20 meeting spoke to the fact that although the community has opinions on the matter, parents were ready to let the board vote on the issue. The one thing PTA members and school staff have agreed on, she added, is that the school year should end earlier each June.

The board then voted in favor of reducing the February break for the 2014-15 school year.

The calendar for the 2013-14 school year was also addressed at the meeting.

Although the board already approved the 2013-14 calendar, some members felt it necessary to change its structure, given that the structure of the following school year’s calendar would be altered. With little discussion, however, the board voted 6-2 to reject the revised calendar, thereby adhering to the already approved 2013-14 calendar.

 

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