School Board approves calendar change, which also will enables testing to be concluded before winter break and students to finish up before Memorial Day
Although some parents have complained about the earlier end to their children’s summer, the Sarasota County School Board this week unanimously approved the advertising of calendars for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years that call for a mid-August return to classes.
The change will make it possible for students to finish up testing before the start of their winter break, board members pointed out during their regular meeting on Oct. 20 in Sarasota.
Roy Sprinkle, director of human resources and labor relations for the district, explained that, for the past eight years, he has headed the committee that creates the calendars. “We try to bring to you something that works best for the children,” he told the board members.
The committee generally comprises teachers from elementary, middle and high schools, as well as parents, he said.
“Probably the largest [calendar] change you’ll notice,” he continued, is the recommendation to move up the starting date by one week for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school year calendars. That way, he pointed out, students will not have to return to a round of tests after two weeks of winter break.
Moreover, Sprinkle noted, both calendars call for the last day of each of those school years for students to be the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, “which is a little bit more traditional.”
In the 2016-17 school year, classes will begin on Aug. 15. Winter break will start on Dec. 23, and the next semester will open on Jan. 9, 2017.
The first day of classes for the 2017-18 school year will be Aug. 14, 2017, with classes ending for students on May 25, 2018.
Sprinkle added, “A lot of time goes into [creating the calendars],” and these decisions were the consensus of the committee members.
When board member Caroline Zucker asked how many parents are on the 12-member committee, Sprinkle replied that it has one parent each from North and South County. The teachers in the group also are parents, including him, he added. Altogether, about six are parents of students in the Sarasota County Schools, he said.
“I’m happy with the fact that we’re doing the testing before vacation,” Zucker told him. Nonetheless, parents have voiced displeasure “with having their summers cut short,” she said, a fact she brought to the attention of her fellow board members during their workshop earlier in the day.
However, the earlier opening dates are necessary if the testing is to be concluded before winter break, she added. “It’s really a catch-22.”
Sprinkle noted that, at one point — about eight or nine years ago — the district extended the summer break by one week to comply with an initiative called Save Our Summers.
This year, though, the Florida Legislature this year changed the law to allow districts to schedule earlier starting dates. The law that had been in place since 2006 forbid most districts from opening classroom doors any earlier than two weeks before Labor Day. Only a small number of districts considered “high performing” were exempt, the Orlando Sentinel pointed out in April.
Board member Bridget Ziegler said she also understood the concerns of parents, especially because she and her family travel a lot during the summer and she recognizes the educational value of those trips. However, she added, when she first heard students say they had to take tests as soon as they returned from winter break, “that was kind of mind-boggling.”
(In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Ziegler to an unexpired seat on the board; she was elected for her first full term in November 2014.)
Ziegler added that she does not see the change as “a huge imposition on the summer schedule.”
Board Vice Chair Shirley Brown concurred that she favors the testing prior to the beginning of winter break, along with the early end to the school year in May. Of the latter, she pointed out that families who like to travel should see that as an advantage, because they might be able to book trips ahead of families from other states where the school years end later.
With no more discussion, board member Jane Goodwin’s motion to approve the advertising of the calendars passed 5-0.
Members of the public are encouraged to comment on the proposed calendars via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, Nov. 20.