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More school in new school calendar

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen’s youth will spend more time in class next year, in small increments and at various times, if the district’s proposed calendar wins approval from parents and the board.That slight expansion of the school year may be only the beginning, according to Superintendent Diana Sirko, explaining that she wants parents to begin talking about the idea of a year-round school calendar.”I don’t think we’ll ever really get to a year-round calendar,” Sirko said. “But I think it certainly is the beginning of a much more serious discussion.” That discussion, she said, would not be increasing the number of days, but may lead to reduction in the amount of time off in the summer and distribute that time more equally across the year.Sirko unveiled her calendar proposal at a meeting with parents Tuesday, stressing that it is only in draft form at this point, and is likely to go through revisions after input from staff members and parents.Sirko said she hopes the school board adopts the calendar by April 25. As proposed, it calls for:• elementary school to start school two days earlier (Aug. 21 for grades 7-12, and Aug. 23 for kindergarten through sixth grade) and get out 5 minutes later each day – at 3:15 p.m. for K-4, and 3:20 p.m. for grades 5-12;• early release (1:45 p.m.) Wednesdays for kids in kindergarten through the sixth grade, where previously it was only the K-4 kids, and early release for all students on the last Wednesday of most months;• and for what Sirko called “a short fall break on Oct. 18 and 19, when teachers take part in professional development and a teacher work day.Longer holidays are Dec. 24 through Jan. 4, and March 24-28. Thanksgiving again would be a five-day holiday, Nov. 21-25.In a memo distributed at the meeting, Sirko noted the extra time each day for elementary students converts to 14.75 hours of additional instructional time, which “should give us a cushion for snow days.”Sirko said the new schedule calls for one less professional development day than last year, which a schoolwide early release on the last Wednesday of most months would make up for. The schedule contains two additional instructional days for elementary and high school students, she said.As far as starting school a little earlier in August than in previous years, Sirko wrote in her memo, “We are concerned about the amount of time that students are out of the learning cycle in the summer. Although these two days do not make much of a difference, we are hoping that it starts the discussion of beginning earlier in August” for all grades.She said she supports the idea that students learn better under a full-year schedule, as opposed to the current system of three months off during the summer. The old system, she said, is a throwback to the United States’ early history as an agrarian society that needed children to work the fields of the family farms during the summer months.Under the draft calendar, the last day of school for grades K-11 will be May 29, a Thursday, because the next day is a teacher work day.Graduation day for seniors is would be May 24.Sirko said the state requires each district to provide 990 hours of instruction time for elementary school students and 1,080 hours for older students. If students get days off for snow or other weather phenomena, and the district’s tally of instructional hours falls below the state’s mandated levels, they must be made up at the end of the year. The new formula would yield roughly 1,020 hours for elementary students, and perhaps 1,120 for older students.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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