By Doug Lindner
SOLON– Are you comfortable with school starting on Aug. 14?
The scenarios are in play again for the 2014-2015 Solon school year, and the district’s board of education is seeking feedback from its residents prior to a decision Feb. 10.
At odds are the start date on one end and the date for graduation on the other.
Moving the start date for school to Aug. 14 would allow the Solon Community School District (SCSD) to align the end of the first semester with the winter break and provide a consistent graduation date year-to-year.
But it would also push activities like band camp further into the summer months and infringe on parts of the year typically reserved for family and agricultural activities.
In April 2013, the SCSD Board of Education voted to establish Aug. 20 as the first day of classes for both the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school year.
But a change in the way official school time is counted, and a desire to increase professional development time for educators has brought the topic back up for reconsideration.
At the Monday, Jan. 13, meeting of the board, superintendent Sam Miller and high school principal Nathan Wear provided an explanation of the changes being considered, and this time, an informal poll of board members indicated support for an earlier start.
State law allows the district to construct a calendar based either on a required minimum of instructional hours (1,080) or days (180), Miller explained during the meeting. Switching to the hours requirement would provide the district more flexibility in dealing with certain types of events, such as an unanticipated early dismissal due to a state athletic event or inclement weather.
Under the 180-day requirement, six hours of instruction are needed to count a day, while with the 1,080-hour minimum, districts could count each hour up to dismissal, Miller said.
The calendar options presented to the board were based on instructional hours, although Miller pointed out the change would not impact the way the year looked to parents or teachers (who work under a contract based on days).
Miller recommended adopting the hours requirement.
“Our school day isn’t going to change as far as when we start and when we end,” he said. “For all practical purposes, for our parents for our teachers and for our community we’re going to be on a 180-day calendar.”
Another proposed change was to increase the time allocated for professional development and to schedule it regularly.
“One of the things the calendar committee said was that if we’re going to increase professional development time, we need to have a consistent schedule for parents,” Wear told the board members. “Is there an early out today or not? That’s always the kids’ favorite phrase on Thursdays.”
The committee looked at several options, but the two that survived to be considered by the board featured a 1 p.m. dismissal every other Thursday, or a 1:45 p.m. dismissal every Thursday. One would increase professional development by eight hours a year, while the other would add 19.5 hours.
The latter scenario would include 1,108 hours of instruction in 180 school days, down 12 hours from the 1,120 from the current school year.
“A pretty good trade-off, but without looking at both days and hours you go, ‘That can’t be so,’” said board president Dick Schwab, thanking Miller for the analysis.
“Instruction hours are very important,” Schwab said. “But I think what we’ve heard from our teachers, over and over again, is the instruction hours become better if they’ve got more professional development.”
But the change that sparked the most discussion, and the one that will likely have the most impact, was the starting date and the date for high school graduation.
“It really depends on graduation and your number of senior days,” Wear said of the calendar committee’s work. “That is the starting point.”
Last year, he said, the board said it didn’t want to move the start date, but to do that will force the graduation date to change annually, something the board wasn’t in favor of either.
“You can’t have a consistent graduation date and start on the 20th or later,” Wear explained. “It just can’t happen. You have to get all those days in there somehow.”
It also makes sense to have more days in the second semester than in the first, Wear said, because that’s when the majority of weather-related dismissals occur.
One of the calendars being considered had a start date of Aug. 14, and a graduation date of May 17, while the other started Aug. 20 with a May 24 graduation (Memorial Day weekend).
“We spent a lot of time last year focused around the start date, gathered a lot of information, and went through a lot,” board member Dean Martin said after the preliminary calendar report. “That decision being made just a year ago, I don’t want to open up that can of worms again,” Martin said.
He supported a consistent graduation date, but not at the cost of an Aug. 14 start. “Keeping a consistent start date and letting it fall where it falls as long as we’re notifying people enough in advance through multi-year calendars– which hopefully we could get to– would be a good thing,” he said.
But the other board members– Dan Coons, Dick Schwab, Tim Brown and Rick Jedlicka– all indicated they would lean toward an earlier start time.
“I’ve heard complaints over the years where we’ve shifted graduation around from one year to the next,” said Brown via Skype from Washington, D.C. “For better, for worse, families start to plan well in advance.”
Now that all of the district’s buildings are air conditioned, he said, concern over high temperatures during an earlier start are minimized.
“We’ve heard in the past that academically, less and less gets accomplished every day we go past Memorial Day in terms of what kids are focusing on,” Brown added.
For Coons and Jedlicka, the most important benefit from an earlier start would be aligning the end of the first semester with winter break.
“No matter what we do, there will be there will be people who think we’ve done great, and people who think that it’s a bad idea,” said Schwab. “I think we should welcome feedback.”
The state will be looking for a decision by March 1, meaning the board will likely make a formal decision a two-year calendar at a regular meeting Feb. 10.