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Spring break to be decided in February

Posted: January 11, 2012 - 1:03am

A decision on whether Juneau School District students will get spring break next year is expected to take place in February, with little indication which way the school board will go.

The board of education met Tuesday night to see a first-reading on next year’s school calendar. It is presented with two options with one distinct difference — spring break in March, or no spring break, ending school a week earlier in the summer. One of the reasons the calendar committee decided to give two options, leaning toward a no-spring break option, is because of the Alaska Standard’s Based Assessments. Because the committee tried to make each semester about the same amount of days, as it usually does, the way spring break fell near the tests it would mean a break right before tests. If there is no spring break, that means students will have a full week of instruction prior to test-taking.

Board member Kim Poole asked what the feeling is from feedback received so far on the spring break option. She said her opinion would probably favor doing without, as she also is in favor of year-round school, but also pointed out that in the first semester alone students have three full weeks of breaks — but after that there is no relief until the end of the school year.

“How did the committee feel, what’s the thought about how the kids and teachers will do with having such a long stretch with no psychological carrot out there of, ‘we’re going to get a week off soon?’” she asked.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said the committee was divided, but both sides could “live with” the other option, but not necessarily with enthusiasm.

“You can imagine the kind of feedback we received at the committee,” Scandling said. “We are conditioned psychologically to have a break. It says in our regulations we will have a one week spring break. We tried it in a number of ways, extended weekend Friday through Monday. There is recognition of the merit of preserving the educational week. There also is merit in the doldrums both in children and adults. In general we agreed we’d put the option out there.”

The nine-member committee also tried to keep as many five-day instructional weeks as possible — which translates to 31 weeks next year. This year there are 28 five-day instructional weeks. The same number of overall instructional days are planned at 171 — sort of. This year there were 172 planned, however one was cancelled due to snow. The state requires no fewer than 180 school days and no fewer than 170 student instructional days per year.

Another key change, regardless of the spring break decision, is when different levels of students have no school for conferences. Elementary and middle schools have differing parent-teacher conference days, leading some students to have no school, while others do. The district has found that when elementary school students have off, middle school students tend to have a high rate of absenteeism. Scandling said they believe it’s because parents have asked older siblings to stay home and watch the younger siblings.

Based on absentee data and parent confusion, the committee decided that if one level of schools has conferences, other levels will have teacher in-service days so that all students are out at the same time.

Early Release Monday’s are on hold until a McDowell survey of teaching staff is complete and results are in. The Juneau Education Association and the district are splitting the cost. Scandling said there are many teachers who have come to appreciate the collaboration time and value it, while others still would rather have the time to themselves to prepare for classes.

Scandling also pointed out that one other issue with cutting spring break is the Gold Medal tournament.

“It uses one facility, we’re in it (Juneau-Douglas High School),” she said. “When that event happens at this facility while school is still functioning its quite disruptive, and I mean that in a positive way.”

Scandling said that Gold Medal is a community and cultural event that families are extensively involved in, and the spirit and excitement around the schools are high.

Scandling said she spoke with the event coordinator and the realities of scheduling of the athletes basically means the only time the event will work is the third week of March — when spring break would occur.

Amy Jo Meiners, a teacher at Auke Bay Elementary and a parent of a middle school and high school student, said that Gold Medal is a family event and just because school is in session during Gold Medal — as it apparently has happened sometimes in the past — doesn’t mean students will be in attendance.

Meiners also urged the board to consider keeping that break for high school students, as it is an opportunity for them to visit colleges or trade schools without having to miss class. It’s also an option for them to participate in band, choir or other after-school activities’ special events without missing class.

Poole also asked Scandling if year-round school was discussed in committee.

Scandling said that was the first topic they talked about.

She said the advantage is longer breaks throughout the year, but more consistent education as well. Scandling said the district is focusing on meaningful and excellent instruction.

“The timing is not right,” she said. “We don’t have the capacity to deal with that right now.”

The board will take on a final reading of the calendar at it's February meeting. The final reading is when it typically makes a decision. Feedback is being received at calendar@jsd.k12.ak.us throughout this month.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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