Traditional Aspen school calendar trumps all others |

Traditional Aspen school calendar trumps all others

"The more five-day school weeks we have, the better," said Aspen High School Principal Art Abelmann, during Tuesday's discussion of the school calendar.

ASPEN – After nearly six months of school board meetings and public forums, e-mail debates and heated conversations, the Aspen Board of Education all but decided Tuesday that a traditional school calendar is the best fit for its students.

“We are never going to please everyone,” said school board member Charla Belinski. “But I think that if we listen to what people have been saying, and look at the research that’s been presented, this is the direction we need to go.

“With some sharpening and fine-tuning, this is the right calendar for this district right now.”

Aspen Superintendent Dr. John Maloy presented the board with three “draft calendar scenarios” for consideration Tuesday – a traditional one and two slightly modified versions. The alternative calendars were a “Winter” calendar, in which school would have started one week earlier, ended one week earlier, and the semester break would have fallen prior to the winter holidays, and a “Spring” calendar, which had school starting later, ending later in June, and moved spring break to after the lifts close in April and AHS ExEd to the last week of March.

While the school board made no formal decision at Tuesday’s meeting, the four members present clearly directed Maloy to move ahead with the traditional model.

The “Winter” calendar was essentially eliminated from consideration after Maloy revealed that while approximately half of the high school’s staff and students wanted the semester to end before the holiday break, none were in favor of starting school earlier in August.

The “Spring” option was more intriguing to the board, but lost favor in part because of the complications related to moving ExEd to March, including inclement weather for camping trips and safety issues on rafting excursions.

“That’s not to say we couldn’t make it work, but the look of some of the trips would have to change,” noted school board President Fred Peirce.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to stick with a traditional school calendar came from the principals of Aspen elementary, middle and high schools, however.

When polled by the board, all three agreed the traditional model was best.

But AMS Principal Tom Heald also urged the board to stay focused on the task at hand. “Let’s make a decision and get back to what we do best, educating kids,” he said.

AHS Principal Art Abelmann agreed, but pointed out that tweaks should still be made to the draft “Traditional” calendar. His colleagues concurred. Among their suggestions for fine-tuning the calendar was creating a balance between short breaks and longer breaks. For example, the draft calendar includes a four-day fall break in late October, followed by a four-day break for parent-teacher conferences in early November, followed by a week-long break for Thanksgiving.

“The more five-day school weeks we have, the better,” said Abelmann. “Short breaks just don’t make sense; they just don’t work.”

The board discussed whether it would make sense to bunch the two shorter breaks into one longer October vacation, for example.

All in attendance agreed that taking a week off at Thanksgiving was a logical – and well-supported – change.

According to data collected by Maloy, the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week traditionally have the highest absentee rate at all three schools, with nearly a quarter of students skipping school.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first conversation the board had about the school calendar after deciding in late January not to adopt an alternative calendar for the 2011-12 school year, or any year in the near future.

The school board launched a discussion in the fall about potentially changing the school calendar from a traditional September-June model to one that comprises a nine-week on, two-week off schedule with a seven-week summer break, or some variation therein.

With Tuesday’s board discussion, the calendar is now back in Maloy’s hands. A second draft will be presented to the board in early March, with a goals of approving the 2011-12 school calendar by the end of March.

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