Parents protest calendar change
by Bret Bradigan
While Ojai Unified School District officials made their best
case for modifying the school calendar at the Tuesday board meeting,
a parade of vocal parents wasn't convinced.
Citing the disruption to vacation and childcare arrangements,
and the lack of opportunity to have their wishes known, the majority
of the about 15 parents who spoke to the Board of Trustees opposed
the move. The board voted unanimously to postpone any decision
on the calendars until the special board meeting Feb. 19.
The changes proposed include two different schedules; one for
kindergarten through eighth grade, and another for high school
students. The school years would start earlier, end later and
include weeklong holidays in October, for Thanksgiving,
two weeks at Christmas, in February, and two weeks for spring
School would begin Aug. 19 and end June 20 for elementary school
students, and begin Aug. 28 and end June 18 for Nordhoff High
The benefits, argued Superintendent Van Riley, would be that
students would retain more of their teaching with the shorter
summer breaks, and the extended midyear break would give teachers
a chance to intervene with struggling students and bring them
up to par with the rest of their classmates.
A five-person team, including Riley, put together the dual schedule
proposal, each person gathering comments. "Each of us did
what we could to get input from various constituencies,"
The only extra expense to the district, Riley said, would be
about $5,000 for air conditioning. He also countered several
"misconceptions" he'd heard - there were no extra instruction
days, the school year remained at 180 days, there were no plans
to go to a year-round schedule, and that total vacation time
- 14 weeks - remained the same for both K-8 and 9-12 students.
"The fact that the teaching staff has advocated two calendars
is important," Riley said.
Craig Walker, president of the Ojai Federation of Teachers, said
it was a very difficult process. "Even today, there is no
unanimous agreement (among the 200 teachers in the district),"
but that the vast majority "are passionately in favor of
moving" the school calendar.
Others supporting the move included Beth Cohen, president of
the Topa Topa Elementary Parent Teacher Association, who said,
"Once you get used to it, you will really enjoy the proposed
schedule and frequent breaks," and Kristin Belshe, who said
that the month of August weighs heavily on parents' and childrens'
patience. "I'd rather have them in the classroom learning
something," she said. Belshe also noted the importance of
the longer mid-year breaks for helping students catch up.
Paul Russell, parent of two students at Topa Topa, said he was
"just thrilled" when he found out about the weeklong
vacation break in October, because it meant that he could take
the kids on educational trips. "My family would very much
like to balance education at school with things we do as a family,"
The balance of parents were opposed, in some cases emotionally,
to the calendar changes.
Leroy Smith, husband of board president Kathi Smith, discounted
the studies supporting the modified calendar, saying that they
were ambiguous. "It's really easy to manipulate opinion."
When the research summary states that year-round schedules "are
as well as if not better," than traditional school calendars,
Smith said "that's the same thing as saying 'no worse than.'"
Jayden Morrison, city of Ojai's recreation supervisor, said schedule
changes made his job, coordinating youth athletic leagues, difficult.
In fact, the present school schedule, with two days off Jan.
31 and Feb. 1, meant enough kids were out of town that three
youth basketball league games were forfeited. "It's a disaster
to add breaks in there," he said.
Former Ojai Mayor Robert Lagomarsino said that his experiences
taught him, on similar issues, "that you should have more
input from people who are affected."
Elizabeth Walczak, parent of two children at Mira Monte Elementary,
and a policy analyst with Los Angeles County, said that day care
issues "haven't been properly addressed tonight," especially
for parents who work out of town. She called for an "immediate
reassessment" of the calendar. "Clearly, it doesn't
doesn't benefit working parents."
Another working parent, John Gottesman, said he's been through
28 years of parenting children through Ojai's school system.
He pleaded, "Tell us the truth for reasons for concocting
this plan." He said district administrators should focus
more on improving curriculum.
Debbie Evans warned that the district would lose money from the
state as a result of schedule changes. "If parents chose
to keep one kid out (for synchronize vacations with high school-age
kids), the school loses ADA (average daily attendance) funds."
Another man said he was "still dealing with the latest changes
in child care," while Carrie Jacobs was concerned about
an increase in the number of latchkey kids, and consequently,
problems with drug abuse and delinquency. "Is this concept
worth the upheaval it appears to be causing?" she asked.
Linda Thomas questioned the need for shortening summer vacation,
since it appears by honor roll listings and standardized test
scores, that Ojai kids are performing well. For instance, she
said, more than half of Matilija Junior High students made the
honor roll in the last semester.
Board member Tim Peddicord, who said he's had experience as a
teacher at all three levels of school scheduling - traditional,
modified and year-round - said he'd voted against the most recent
calendar change. Still, he said, "If we're talking about
two weeks at the end of the summer, it's not that onerous."
Vince France, another board member, said that since parents plan
vacations and summer holidays years in advance, these changes
need to be well thought out. "Whatever we do, let's try
to make it more consistent."
Board member Rikki Horne said she was most intrigued about the
benefits of intervening with extra attention for underperforming
students, which she said, benefits both those students and their
higher-achieving peers. "Classmates are closer to being
on the same page."
The vote to postpone the decision on the schedule changes was
unanimous. The OUSD board plans on making their final decision
at the special meeting Feb. 19, when they will also address the
status of the district's budget.
In other business, the board approved 1 percent raises for the
district's certificated and classified administrators - totaling
$25,474 in all, retroactive to July 1, 2001.
Jim Berube, the district's assistant superintendent for finance,
briefed the board on the recent purchase of $11,000 in walkie
talkies for emergency communications, which included two base
stations at district headquarters and Summit Elementary School.
"We are now completely connected with a state-of-the-art
communication system," he said.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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