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Consensus on calendar eludes school board

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

The Juneau School Board is still juggling next year's school calendar, trying to find the right mix of breaks and starting and ending dates.

"You can stop five people and you'll probably get five different opinions," school board member Stan Ridgeway said at a Tuesday meeting.

The board, which expects to decide at its Feb. 6 meeting, is looking at three proposals and may choose a hybrid.

One proposal starts the students' school year on Wednesday, Aug. 22, ends it Thursday, May 30, and has a two-week winter break and a one-week spring break.

But some parents don't like such an early start. Board member Deana Darnall has proposed starting the students' year on Monday, Aug. 27, and shortening the spring break to a Thursday and Friday in late March so the year still ends on May 30.

If the public wants a later start and a week-long spring break, it may have to accept a school year running into early June, board members said.

Bill Burk, representing the Juneau Education Support Staff, said a lot of the union members hold summer jobs. Ending the school year in June could cost them lucrative seasonal employment, he said.

A lot of teachers also work in the summer, said Sheryl Hall, president of the Juneau Education Association, the teachers' union.

The board heard from one parent Tuesday. Karen Dinnan said she preferred a shorter spring break and a longer summer vacation. Summer is a valuable time for children to grow, she said. "I changed over the summer more than over school years sometimes."

Meanwhile, board member Chuck Cohen produced a proposal designed to break up as few weeks as possible because of teacher training days and parent-teacher conferences.

Cohen said he wanted a calendar that wouldn't interrupt instructional time and wouldn't put parents in the inconvenient spot of finding child care intermittently.

Cohen's calendar would start the students' year on Aug. 28, end it on May 31, and keep the two-week winter and one-week spring breaks.

But his proposal would move two days that teachers spend preparing for parent conferences to Saturdays, and that drew criticism from teachers. Teachers would be paid for the Saturdays, and they'd still have the same number of work days - 183 - as their contract requires. But some teachers said in e-mails to the board that working on Saturdays would be hard on family commitments.

"Some of us have too little time with our kids as it is," one teacher said.

His schedule also placed the elementary and secondary schools on the same schedule of parent conferences. The schedule traditionally puts them shortly after the elementary schools' trimesters and the secondary schools' first and second quarters, so recent grades can be talked about. But Cohen said parent conferences are too brief to help failing students, and schools should call their parents for individual conferences.

Some teachers said parent conferences just before Thanksgiving break as Cohen proposed to consolidate partial or whole nonstudent days into one week was too late in the year and wouldn't let teachers talk to students right after the conferences.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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