Parents split on changes to Aspen school calendar
November 16, 2010
ASPEN – When it comes to creating a calendar for the Aspen public schools, one thing is certain – everybody has an opinion.
Beyond that, however, lies a lot of uncertainty about what moving from a traditional school year to a “balanced” school year looks like, what it means for students, teachers and parents, and how the Aspen Board of Education should go about researching, and possibly implementing, such a change.
“We know that this is a dicey subject for a lot of families. And we know from every poll we’ve taken that it’s a split issue – half of our families are totally against it; half are totally for it,” said outgoing Aspen School Board president Charla Belinski. She was speaking Tuesday to a crowd of 120-plus parents in a standing-room-only Aspen High School seminar room.
“Our primary concern is what is best for our kids; but what is best for our kids is often what’s best for our families,” she said. “We don’t know the answer, and that is why we are having this discussion.”
Toward that end, district officials presented an example of an alternative calendar to interested parties with the intent of hearing their feedback – and feedback they got.
In less than 90 minutes, dozens of parents grilled school board members and administrators about the proposed calendar change. Among the issues raised: how a modified calendar jives with athletics and academic programs such as IB, the loss of a traditional summer vacation and the potential of extended offseason vacations. The conversation was tense at times, as those opposed to changing calendars expressed their concerns. Those in favor of a change also were in attendance, though they were a vocal minority.
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District officials were quick to remind the crowd, however, that Tuesday’s forum was only one step in a lengthy and involved process. In fact, the idea of a modified school year in Aspen has been bandied for years; the difference is that during this go-round, the idea took root in the form of a more substantive discussion, according to Belinski.
“It was time to actually address this issue once and for all,” she said.
With that in mind, a subcommittee of the district accountability committee created a “balanced” calendar for consideration. The calendar presented Tuesday comprises a nine-week on, two-week off schedule with a seven-week summer break; the two-week breaks coincide with Aspen’s offseason (October and April), as well as one in January.
“This calendar is an example of what a 45-10 alternative calendar would resemble,” said Aspen Superintendent Dr. John Maloy. “It is not a proposed calendar as some massaging may need to be occur.”
District officials noted the benefits of such a calendar include countering regression during the long summer break, though data to support this is still being collected. In addition, district officials explained that the breaks would be used for “intercessions,” or summer-school type classes for both remedial and enrichment purposes; these “intercessions” would be the only extra financial burden of a calendar change. The two-week breaks might also offer teachers a chance to re-energize; according to district officials, a poll of 220 teachers showed 68 percent in favor of a balanced calendar.
However, Maloy reminded parents no decision had been made (the 2011-12 school calendar does not have to be adopted until March). Nor will a decision be made without subsequent parent and focus group meetings, as well as discussions with “stakeholders” such as athletics, the rec department, club sports and others to be sure programs would be available for kids during school breaks and the like.
The presentation was enough to stir the juices of some parents, though. And the ensuing debate seemingly could have gone on for hours.
Rather, district officials wrapped up the forum by asking those in attendance to share their thoughts in writing by leaving comments on poster boards plastered around the seminar room. By the meeting’s end, dozens of sheets of paper lined the walls with notes such as “YES – good for working parents to be able to take time off with their children in offseason,” “August = SACRED!!” and “Is this a final change, or is [it] a step toward a year-round calendar?”
These comments, as well as all the information presented at Tuesday’s forum and the next steps in the process of deciding on a school calendar, will be posted online at http://www.aspenk12.net. The district is also encouraging further discussion on the topic via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; a blog on the proposed calendar change is also in the works.