City schools want input on plan to cut summer break

Posted: December 11, 2012

The Winchester Star

Tony Dunbar picks up his son, Owen, 5, from the HIVE after-school program in the War Memorial Building as he carries daughter, Olivia, who is 3 months old.
Recreation specialist Laura Egan watches as children enrolled in the Winchester Parks and Recreation after-school program HIVE go outside for a little exercise.

WINCHESTER — City public school officials are seeking input on a proposed new school calendar that would shorten the summer vacation.

The calendar would still consist of 185 school days, including five built-in snow days, but classes would start a week earlier and end a week later, and holidays and spring break would be longer.

The first reading for the proposed calendar will likely take place in February or March.

One of the reasons for the proposed changes is to reduce the amount of time students are out of the classroom during the summer.

According to Superintendent Rick Leonard, discussions have already taken place in his meetings with the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee — a group of representatives from each city school that meets every few months.

Members of the committee have reached out to each school’s parent base for feedback on the calendar and alternative suggestions.

School principals are also soliciting information from parents through their newsletters, which are in English and Spanish.

Parents can provide feedback through their Parent Teacher Organization, school principals, Parent Advisory Committee, or they can go to the superintendent’s office and School Board members.

“Collection and compilation of the information will be ongoing, and I do not expect to have a staff proposal to the full School Board until the Instruction Committee reviews the parent, staff, student and community input,” said Rick Leonard, in an email last week.

Students began classes this year on Aug. 28 and will end June 13. If the proposed changes are adopted for 2013-14, students would start Aug. 20 and end June 20.

Christmas break would extend a few additional days beyond Jan. 1, students would get a full week off for Thanksgiving instead of three days, and spring break would be extended from three days to five.

For the first time, Columbus Day would be considered a holiday.

Officials say the longer vacations allow the teachers to step back and regroup.

Teacher service days would also be spread throughout the calendar, and the majority would not fall at the beginning of the school year as they do now.

Officials from the HIVE, an after-school program at the War Memorial Building in Jim Barnett Park meant for students in Winchester Public Schools, said they will do their best to match the school’s calendar.

“If they change their schedule, we just adapt to what it is,” said Lisa Hamaker, assistant director of Parks and Recreation.

“We sorta just flow with the schools,” added Stephanie Frazier, recreation coordinator of child care.

According to the proposed calendar, new changes would include no school from Monday to Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving. If this happens, then the HIVE will remain open all day on those days, according to officials. Parents will have to pay an additional $8 to $20 a day depending on their plan, though officials are looking to implement a discount.

Currently, HIVE has days where it is not open even when students are out of school, like the Friday after Thanksgiving. This will continue even if the calendar is adopted.

Kristy Walker, president of the PTO at John Kerr Elementary, said nine people responded to the Parent Advisory Group’s request for feedback.

“The biggest reasons against it relate to concern over child care, diminished ability for teachers to supplement their income (over summer vacation), reduced time (for students) to be involved in extracurricular summer activities and the reduced time to travel as family,” she said. “There was also one concern over court-appointed visitation schedules.”

Although feedback is being sought, some parents had not yet heard of the proposed calendar as of last week.

Without the HIVE, Scott Sinclair said he would have to find someone to take care of his 8-year-old son, or his wife would need to take off work.

“It’s not easy to do,” he said. “It’s hard to do. This place here’s a godsend.”

According to Emily Thomas, PTO president at Frederick Douglass Elementary School, the ratio of parents who liked the calendar and who didn’t was 50-50 among those she talked to at the school.

“There’s no consensus,” she said. “Every family at Frederick Douglass is different. I just appreciate Dr. Leonard’s open desire for input.”

The feedback process is expected to take several months.

Parents can check out the calendar on the division’s website, www.wps.k12.va.us/leadership/index.html, under the tab “School Calendars.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com