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Connecting the Dots

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Photo by Charly SHELTON Parents and other stakeholders in GUSD decisions attended the Tuesday school year calendar meeting at Crescenta Valley High School. Attendees were able to stop at seven stations to write their opinions on a variety of calendar-related topics.

Photo by Charly SHELTON
Parents and other stakeholders in GUSD decisions attended the Tuesday school year calendar meeting at Crescenta Valley High School. Attendees were able to stop at seven stations to write their opinions on a variety of calendar-related topics.

By Charly SHELTON

The last of three meetings to help decide the structure of the 2017-18 GUSD school year calendar was held Tuesday night at Crescenta Valley High School. The three public forums, the other two held at Hoover and Glendale high schools, were in response to the backlash from parents over the early 2016-17 school year start date of Aug. 8.

A petition to change next year’s school calendar was started online and despite its collecting thousands of signatures the board of education ultimately ruled to keep the calendar as it was set because it has been released publicly and students’ families had made plans based on the dates. To get the community involved and find out what is most important to the families of the district, GUSD held the three meetings to discuss known problems and to gather new ideas from parents.

The meeting at Crescenta Valley High School included seven different stations with each station having an easel holding a writing pad for parents to write their suggestions and opinions. The seven stations represented Thanksgiving week, local holidays, winter break, balanced semesters (90 days of instruction for each semester rather than the current 87 – 93 split), three- or four-day weekends, school start and end dates, and a station for anything not already listed.

Dr. Marc Winger, co-interim superintendent of GUSD, was in attendance and spoke to the audience and to individual parents throughout the night. He said that the biggest impressions made on him were the sheer volume and diversity of input from the parents.

“Whenever you talk about the school calendar you’re going to get a variety of opinions on what people think is right,” Winger said. “And you’re seeing that in the interactive activity here. [There may be] one statement [written] and then the next statement might be the complete reverse of that.”

Once all the ideas were written down, which took several pages for each topic, it was time to vote. Each person in attendance received four sticker dots with which to demonstrate his or her priority on the issues. Some people put all four dots on one issue while others spread them across several topics. After reviewing where the dots had been placed, it was clear that what was most important issue was a school start date in September.

To illustrate how important the September start date was to attendees, one only had to look at how the dots had been distributed. Several issues raised received about six dots. Some issues had a few more dots, some had a few less but, for the most part, the items that were voted on had about six dots. The majority of issues presented had no dots. But the September start date received 90 dots, and the third week of August as a start date received 39 dots.

Though the desire of attendees was clear, Winger is not completely sold on the idea of lengthening summer break as the solution to the calendar issue. Of the topics discussed at the meeting, he said that instruction was key and that the calendar should reflect what is best for the instruction of the students.

“I believe that the long summer is a detriment, especially to low socioeconomic students which make up a big portion of the Glendale population,” Winger said. “I’ve read research studies that have said that for those kids, the longer they’re out of school the more catch up they have to do when they come back. So I believe that a shorter summer is a good thing. I would say extend Thanksgiving break, extend winter break, extend spring break. The district I ran had a two-week spring break because by doing that you shorten the summer break and the learning loss is reduced.”

He added that he understood where many of the parents were coming from.

“As a parent of two boys, when they were growing up camping was important to us, going to summer camp was important to us, sports were important to us – I understand all of it. But my job is to keep my eye on the ball of instruction, so my bias is on instruction.”

The dots on all the issues were tallied and will be added to the other issue dots collected from the first two meetings. The online survey ended yesterday, Feb. 24, and that data will be combined with information from the community forums and presented at the first school calendar committee meeting on Monday.

“The board will look at the community input,” said Winger. “But the board members, as is their prerogative as elected officials, have their priorities. They’re going to see how the community thinks and what they can accommodate and what they can’t. We heard a little bit of a discussion about the balanced semester. That is really important to high school classes and especially AP classes.”

He said that even if the subject of a balanced semester doesn’t receive a high number of dots, the people on the board and the people at the negotiating table who are teachers would see it as an important issue.

“We understand that people don’t feel 100% behind us but, instructionally, this is a very important item so things may have to dance around that anchor point,” Winger said.

The committee will take the communities’ input into consideration and over six bi-weekly meetings a new school calendar will be created. The new schedule will then be taken to the Glendale Teachers Association for negotiation and approval before the board will vote on adopting it.

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