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Monday, Dec 02, 2013

A common calendar for San Diego Unified?

It could happen soon

By Aaryn Belfer
aaryn-web Aaryn Belfer

If you're a parent of a child in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), it's possible you've heard rumblings about the push for a new common calendar, a supposed modification of traditional and year-round calendars. It's more possible that unless you're one of the eight regulars at PTA meetings, enduring the psychological abuse of Robert's Rules of Order—a parliamentary etiquette so tedious Emily Post would want to gouge her eyes out with a melon baller—you're probably among the masses who've not heard about the pending shift. 

SDUSD has a longstanding District Calendar Committee, whose function is to come up with one calendar for all the schools in the district. Amy Redding, chair of the District Advisory Council for Compensatory Education and the parent representative on the committee, says there are two possible "transitional calendars" being considered for implementation beginning in the 2014-15 school year. This can only happen if the district's governing Board of Education commits financial support, but more on that in a sec.

Logistically, as the second largest school district in California, it makes a lot of sense to have everyone on the same schedule. It would serve the roughly 9,000 military kids in the district, who sometimes fall behind when they transfer, and provide continuity for kids in special ed. And a common calendar would be like Rolaids for families with multiple children in multiple schools. Imagine the troubles of planning that long-saved-for European family adventure when Timmy and Tammy are out of school for the entire month of April, but Tommy only gets one week for spring break. Then again, had Tina and Tony used birth control, they could take vacations whenever they wanted.

Family-planning choices aside, the calendars being considered are relatively traditional with long summer breaks, despite research that shows that shorter breaks benefit students of low socioeconomic backgrounds. And then there's the centerpiece—centerpiece—around which this common calendar is being developed (you late-summer vacationers may want to be sitting for this next part): The committee's proposing an eventual start date of early August, phased in over the course of a couple of years.

Where this idea originated and who's pushing for it now is unclear. Obviously, they haven't spent any time in an East County classroom without air conditioning. Also: They hate America. Whatever the case, starting school three weeks before Labor Day has got someone at the district all kinds of amped and in-the-know parents all kinds of apoplectic.

Opinions on this tend to be strong and visceral, which might partially explain why there hasn't been any concerted effort by the committee to obtain parent input. Let's be honest: Nobody—least of all the school board—wants several hundred Helen Lovejoys showing up at board meetings. 

The lack of transparency is disconcerting, even if it's nothing more than a function of bumbling bureaucracy. Try doing a search on SDUSD's website for pretty much anything and you'll find pretty much nothing—which is exactly what you get if you search for "calendar committee" or "district calendar committee" or "where did I put my damned car keys?" 

Redding says that arguments in favor of the additional August instruction keep changing, but they include allowing more time for SAT / PSAT preparation, high-school seniors being wait-listed at colleges and a need to end the semester before winter break.

The claim of needed test-prep is immediately questionable since a) tests driving educational decision making = gah!, and b) such tests measure knowledge gained over a child's school career. More effective support—not cramming—should be the goal. The wait-list argument turned out to be bogus; data showed the theory to be erroneous, and it's no longer part of the start-school-in-August blitzkrieg. And ending the first semester before winter break is a weak reason for moving 133,000-ish kids into August instruction. 

So, where are parents in all of this? It's tough to tell.

Redding is particularly concerned about lack of parent inclusion. "What I want to know," she said when referring to her committee colleagues, "is are we going to do parent outreach or surveys? Are we going to solicit parent input? Will there be a change in our thought process once the parents weigh in?"

So far, she's gotten no answer. "I question the depth of the conversation," Redding said, stating that until the school board allocates money to implement the calendar, the real work—and there's a lot of it—remains on hold. "I think there is little impetus to buckle down without a firm budget commitment." 

The school board has estimated that the shift to a common calendar will run in the $14-million range. But that's solely for the cost of teachers. That number doesn't include support staff, custodians, food workers or busing. The real cost is unknown. As is the interim budget, another set of magical numbers upon which decisions are being made. What's real is that something will have to be cut to make this calendar thing happen. Really, this budget story is getting stale.

As the school board has called a special meeting for Dec. 17, now might be a good time for parents to weigh in. You can drop an email with your thoughts to Redding at DAC.sdusd@gmail.com. Or show up to the meeting and beg someone to: Please think about the children!  


Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.




 
 
 
 
 
 
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