Superintendent's Corner

School calendars always contentious

With the possible exception of whether or not to call a snow day, there is perhaps no issue which presents itself in more of a "lose-lose" dynamic than anything to do with the school-year calendar.

Our school district takes a number of steps to mitigate and contain the inevitable conflict that arises with something as seemingly innocuous as setting the school calendar. This includes issuing multiple years of school calendars at once, so that the distraction of setting the calendar must only come every few years instead of an annual conflict.

We also create a calendar committee with a broad range of perspectives and charge them with gathering input from the community in crafting a recommendation. This helps make sure we have representation from several different viewpoints on the calendar and that the last and loudest group to be heard does not overly sway the ultimate decision.

We also try and take into account contextual issues that drive the calendar. In our case, school construction, testing windows, and the balance of time in school and time off for families and staff is taken into account.

Finally, we also look at professional development time for our teachers and how we can create time and space for our educators and other staff to learn while disrupting learning time with students as little as possible.

Even after all this, we must acknowledge that it is impossible to please everyone.

Working on the school calendar is an exercise in trade-offs. When you make one decision, it creates a trade-off somewhere else to maintain our school year of 171 student contact days.

Families love the idea of starting after Labor Day, to create more time for vacations in the dreamy days of summer. Families also love the ideas of having a week to travel for Thanksgiving, two weeks for the holidays … and (please) can we sprinkle in a fall break in October, Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day off and one (or preferably two) spring breaks. And, please toss in Veterans Day off while you're at it.

The problem is that all these decisions together cause school to run until almost July, an idea everyone also hates.

I've heard it said that this group or that group "has an agenda" when it comes to setting the school calendar. What I have learned is that everyone with an interest in schools "has an agenda" when it comes to the calendar.

In our district alone, we have the after-Labor-Day agenda, the before-Memorial-Day agenda, the construction timeline agenda, the professional learning agenda, the high school athletics agenda, the two-week holiday-break agenda, the equal-semester agenda, the state-testing agenda, the advanced placement-testing agenda and the family-travel agenda. I am certain I have left some agenda out, as well!

So, where are we currently on the issue of school calendars for Eagle County?

The Board of Education has approved the calendar for 2017-18. It includes a mid-August start, a one-day October break, a full week off at Thanksgiving, two weeks off for the holidays, two spring breaks (late February and late April), and the last day of school coming May 31, before the Memorial Day weekend.

Basically, it repeats the calendar we operated on for the 2016-17 school year, but adjusts where the holiday break falls versus the current school-year calendar.

For the 2018-19 school year (the year after next), the district's calendar committee is bringing forward yet another calendar for the board to consider and approve at the April 26 meeting.

This calendar is driven heavily by the large amount of construction work happening in the district in the summer of 2018. With the 2017-18 school calendar dismissing before Memorial Day, the proposed 2018-19 calendar starts school after Labor Day, giving our construction crews an additional two weeks to complete projects during that summer of 2018.

This will create some consternation for those involved in fall high school athletics and those concerned about days to prepare for advanced placement and other testing windows. These concerns are real and valid. As such, the calendar committee will not recommend multiple years of this after-Labor-Day start because the driving force behind it (the construction work) will not be present in future years. By planning only through 2018-19, we can re-assess calendars for future years.

I do realize that if the Board decides to approve the recommended calendar, then this will not make everyone happy. However, what I have learned in my years of interacting with the question of school calendars is that it is impossible to make everyone happy. Instead, you have to make reasoned decisions, understand the trade-offs and then take your lumps.

And then, in a few years, you get to do it all over again.

Jason E. Glass is the Superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.