A date debate | SteamboatToday.com

A date debate

School district takes look at making changes to calendar

Soda Creek Elementary School students file out of the building and onto school buses to begin their Blues Break on Friday afternoon. The school district's week-long Blues Break is one of several vacations that could change in future years.
Matt Stensland

Calendar highlights

2007-08 school year

Aug. 20 Staff returns

Aug. 22 School begins

Aug. 31 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

Oct. 26 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

Nov. 19 to 23 Thanksgiving Break

Dec. 24 to Jan. 4 Winter Break

Jan. 21 Staff work day (no school)

Feb. 25 to 29 Blues Break

March 28 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

April 21 to 25 Spring Break

June 6 School ends

2008-09 school year

Aug. 18 Staff returns

Aug. 21 School begins

Aug. 29 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

Oct. 24 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

Nov. 24 to 28 Thanksgiving Break

Dec. 22 to Jan. 2 Winter Break

Jan. 19 Staff work day (no school)

Feb. 23 to 27 Blues Break

April 3 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

April 20 to 24 Spring Break

May 18 Curriculum and instruction day (no school)

June 9 School ends

— Changes could be in store for the Steamboat Springs School District’s school year calendar, but district officials first want to be sure parents are on the same page.

Among the proposed changes are providing a full week of vacation during the Thanksgiving holiday and providing two full weeks during Winter Break.

A survey of district parents conducted last year revealed that 87.6 percent said the most important consideration when putting together the school calendar is how it impacts student achievement. But close behind student achievement was the calendar’s impact on families, which 77.5 percent of parents said was the second most important consideration.

That is too a high a percentage to ignore, board members John DeVincentis and Denise Connelly said during a School Board meeting last week.

“I want to know we are reflecting what our parents and this community needs,” DeVincentis said. “I just think we have to try and balance that, period.”

Steamboat is different than most communities because the school calendar is heavily influenced by the tourism seasons and, thus, the Steamboat Ski Area’s opening and closing dates.

To ignore the fact that many people in this town either work for the ski area or for a business directly tied to tourism would be irresponsible, DeVincentis said. The wide-reaching effect of tourism seasons is a primary reason why previous school calendars included shorter vacations around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and didn’t include a Spring Break until late April – after the ski mountain closed.

A majority of parents expressed approval for those vacation schedules in previous years, and Connelly suggested Monday that parents should be able to provide their input before the district deviates from past school year calendars.

“I just want to make sure this isn’t going to surprise anyone,” Connelly said. “I want to make sure the District Accountability Committee has gotten survey results from their constituents.”

The DAC is the group that formulates the school calendar. That job used to belong to a calendar committee.

DAC members agree feedback from parents is needed before final approval is given to the adjusted calendar, Superintendent Donna Howell said.

Several School Board members expressed concern about the proposed week of vacation around Thanksgiving. Connelly said she doesn’t remember hearing parents ask for an extended Thanksgiving holiday.

Childcare expense and availability often become an issue for working parents during extended school vacations. Next year’s school calendar includes five full weeks of vacation – one week during Thanksgiving, two weeks for Winter Break, one week for Blues Break in February, and one week for Spring Break in April.

The increase in vacation time during the school year also effects when the first and last days of the school year fall. Many parents have indicated they would like school to begin at Labor Day and end around Memorial Day in May, but such a move would be impossible given the current vacation schedule.

As currently proposed by the DAC, the 2007-08 school year would begin Aug. 22 and end June 6. The 2008-09 school year would begin Aug. 21 and end June 9.

Those dates are necessary for the district to achieve its desired number of contact days and hours with students – in other words, the amount of time children are in school. The Steamboat Springs School District’s contact days are slightly more than what is required by the state.

“Given the 21st-century standards, I’m not a proponent of reducing student contact time and instructional time,” Howell said.

But Connelly isn’t sure parents have agreed to start school earlier and end later just to accommodate weeklong breaks during the year.

“I know the full week of Thanksgiving vacation is a major change,” Connelly said. “I’m wondering if there aren’t going to be some people who are going to be really upset when they see this.”

The DAC plans to conduct a survey about the 2007-08 calendar in January 2008 to hear parents’ comments about the extended vacations at Thanksgiving and Winter Break.

Regardless of how the calendar is arranged, School Board members acknowledged it’s impossible to please everyone. A survey conducted last year indicated there were parents who wanted to keep the same vacation schedules but start the school year after Labor Day and end the year around Memorial Day. Such a schedule would be impossible given state mandates for minimum student contact time.

School Board members Jeff Troeger and Jerry Kozatch questioned the need for the weeklong Blues Break in February. This year’s Blues Break begins Monday.

“For the 10 years I’ve lived here, the break in February is just a complication of my life,” Kozatch said. “I’ve got to work in February, and my kids are doing I don’t know what. There are different levels of complication for every age group. If you have really young kids, you have to worry about childcare. If you have teenagers, you have to worry about what they are doing.”

The School Board is expected to take action on the proposed school calendars at its 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Centennial Hall.

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