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Should Fauquier public shools move the start of classes to after Labor Day next year?

The school board will adopt a 2014-15 calendar in January. Both options administrators prepared would keep Monday, Aug. 18, as the first day of classes .
Select one of the following options, then click the "vote" button.
  Yes
  No
  Undecided
(169 Votes)
Member Comments (10)
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Jim O'Brokta
November 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm
Mr. Graybeard,

The state mandates 180 school days per year. I am not trying to say that "the more school, the better." We will have 180 days. The question is whether we will have those days from September through the middle (or end?) of June, or from the middle of August through the end of May.

As an educator, I would argue that the choice to start early and end early is a positive situation for all students. AP students definitely benefit from that calendar in regards to tests. But beyond that, the regular students are better off too. It becomes a real struggle to keep kids motivated after Memorial Day. By that point, kids tend to think that the school year is already finished, and they are on their summer break already. But kids do seem to work pretty well in August since they are coming off of a break. For all kids, two extra weeks in August leads to greater educational gains than having two extra weeks in June.

I honestly believe that a later start would lead to more dead time for our non-Ap students, just because it becomes really difficult to get kids to focus on academic goals once we hit Memorial Day.

Unless there is a real reason to start school after Labor Day, based on EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT for ANY group in our schools, I don't see the harm in making the call to start in mid-August. Who is that hurting, from an academic perspective?

Best regards,
Jim O'Brokta

PS - We are now approaching nearly 1/3 of all high school students in the county taking AP tests in any given year. I don't have the number, but the total percentage of students who will take at least one AP test while they are in high school is obviously above that. And our goal is far beyond what we are currently achieving in this regard.
graybeard
November 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm
Mr. O'Brokta, thank you for responding to my comment. From a teacher's perspective, the more school, the better? For me, having had one son graduate, and one a senior, I know the school system protocol well. I have not noticed where my kids benefitted from an earlier start. For those kids who are in AP studies, what is the percentage per school in AP studies? Are we to allow the few to determine the schedule for the remaining school populace? This shows strict favoritism towards a select group of students. Continue to beat this dead horse. As a parent, trying to work with educators with time for only AP students, its a trying school system to live in.
Jim O'Brokta
November 23, 2013 at 12:50 am
I hate to beat a dead horse, but as an educator I really want to help our community understand why our school division makes the decisions that it does. We have two calendar options for next year, and both of them start in the middle of August. There are good reasons for that, based on goals for student achievement.

For today, I want to address the two assertions made by Greybeard. Is that a first name, or a last name, by the way?

Greybeard’s first assertion is that there is no reason to start school in August for tests that take place in May. That probably makes sense to people who aren’t actually in our schools. Let me explain the problem.

At the high school level, which is where these exams have their greatest importance, we run on a 4x4 schedule. This means that we have two “terms” in a year, one starting on the first day of school and another starting about halfway through the school year.

Please understand, the AP tests are tough. If you don’t believe me, do a search for “AP Free Response Questions in [fill in the blank here with calculus, economics, world history, US history, biology, etc]”.

Any kid who happens to have an AP class in term 1 is lucky to have a full term of classes in which to master all of the content that they need to know. Any kid in term 2, which currently starts in the middle to end of January, is seriously in a rush to get a minimal exposure to that content before their tests in the first and second week of May.

I have been working with our school’s world history program for the past 6 years, and I have been tracking data throughout that time. A “passing” score on an AP test is generally considered to be a 3, 4, or 5. In the spring term we do get a fair share of 3s, but very few 4s and 5s compared to the fall term. This is simply because there are not enough days, even with our current schedule, to cover the material with the depth needed to help kids succeed at that highest level.

If we went to a later start, this would push back the change of terms into February, which would put those kids at a greater disadvantage because they would have even less days in which to master that material.

On the other hand, if we go to Calendar A, which keeps our start where it has been in the middle of August but ends term 1 before Christmas, students in term 2 will have more of a fighting chance to earn a 4 or 5 on those exams. Higher scores lead to a greater likelihood that a student will earn college credit for those classes when they do go off to college.

The mid-August start and the end of term 1 before Christmas is also good for our elementary-aged students. This calendar was created in the first place partly to deal with the many disruptions that affected students in January. If we have a mid-January change of terms, then there are two half days followed by two teacher work days a couple of weeks after the Christmas break. Elementary school teachers have claimed that this sort of disruption keeps young students from getting into the routine and making real advancements throughout that month.

Now, as for Greybeard’s second assertion, which is that we could skip Easter Break, I really do agree with him. That break again represents days where we could be in school helping our students before we get to the period of AP testing. Unfortunately, I don’t think this change will ever happen. I have heard that before I came to this district 7 years ago, there was a year in which the county used spring break to make up a few snow days. The backlash from parents and from the community was so great that this week is now viewed as untouchable. From the perspective of student achievement, that is really unfortunate.

On this forum we have had CV claiming that schools should start after Labor Day because of his (or her?) sense of nostalgia for the good old days of the 1950s. We now have Greybeard saying that we should start after Labor Day because of rates for beach vacations.

I have repeatedly expressed reasons for our mid-August start, and for Calendar A in particular, that are based on student achievement. Is there anyone out there who actually has a reason based on data regarding educational achievement which would lead to the idea that starting after Labor Day is in the best interests of our students?
graybeard
November 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm
School can begin in September. To start in August for a test that is taken in May doesn't equate to better grades or higher passage. It just means that school starts in the middle of the summer heat. Families take vacations in August, and some wait till the end of August to take their vacation because of reduced rates at vacation spots. There is no need for an Easter break. Most counties take Good Friday and Easter Monday off only. Fauquier can do that here. Some holidays can be deleted from the schedule as well, and this should give the county the days to make the school calendar work. Other counties do this, and there is no compelling reason for Fauquier not to adapt it as well.
Jim O'Brokta
November 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm
CV -

It is true that there are 60 counties doing things differently than us. Could it be possible that we have different circumstances from those 60 counties in other meaningful ways as well?

Most of those counties do not have the wintry weather that Northern Fauquier experiences every year. This keeps their ending date in mid-June, whereas ours could potentially push towards the end of June if we chose to do the same thing. June, by the way, is a difficult time to get the best work out of our students. Distractions arise as quickly as temperatures do in late spring and early summer.

Many of those counties offer courses on an A/B schedule, rather than our 4x4 schedule. This means that their students meet every other day all year rather than every day for one half of the year. This allows for a later start but still an adequate number of days before national testing starts in May. The A/B schedule would make a late start easier, but our community largely shut down the A/B suggestion when it was made under our last superintendent a couple of years ago.

Fauquier County has made enrollment in AP courses a priority, perhaps more so than in some other districts. If we were not encouraging so many students to take the AP courses every year then the late start would matter less. Regardless of what you write we offer this program in the best interests of our students. At the very least, success on AP tests have been highly correlated to success in the university level.

Finally, if we adopt Calendar A then we will be one of only two counties in all of Virginia who finish the first term before the Christmas break. A mid-August start is required to make that calendar a reality. I have been collecting data in my school as a building rep, and I can tell you that the vast majority of teachers are really excited about the positive changes that this calendar will bring for our students. Students also seem to largely support it. While almost no other district is considering a calendar like our version A, if we adopt it we will become a leader in making student-centered calendar decisions. Sometimes doing things differently than everyone else is a good thing; in this case it will show that we are willing to accept change in the best interests of student achievement.
CV
November 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm
BTW, the notion that almost all the great innovators of the future are in AP classes does not hold up to history. It is actually the reverse. That is not to say we should not have accelerated classes, it is simply to point out the fallacy that AP classes translates into those who will be doing the innovating.
CV
November 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm
There are about 60 counties in VA that start after Labor Day.
Jim O'Brokta
November 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm
CV:

Show me a calendar that starts after Labor Day and finishes before Memorial Day and includes the 180 days mandated by the state of VA.

If we add up all of the school days that exist between Labor Day and Memorial Day that only gives us 166 days.* (We could get up to 170 days if we cut out all vacation days like MLK Jr. Day, President's Day, etc. Or we could get to 180 if we cut out Christmas break and Spring [Easter] Break, but I don't see our community supporting that.)

Simply put, if we start after Labor Day our final day of school will be sometime in the middle or end of June, depending on the weather. While it is fun to think of a school year that runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day the numbers do not actually work.

By the way, if you are looking at who in the next generation will create the great accomplishments of the future, perhaps not moon landings but other great successes, they are almost all in the AP classes.

* If I counted correctly, we have the following number of school days in each month: September - 21, October - 23, November - 16, December - 15, January - 18, February - 19, March - 20, April - 18, May - 16 (if stopping at Memorial Day). That adds up to 166 days.
CV
November 18, 2013 at 11:10 am
First, we should remember that Fauquier County is trying to keep its exemption from State Law which says school starts after Labor Day. Second, we should not craft a calendar for the entire Fauquier County Public School system around a test for a few. Lets all remember that the Americans who put man on the moon and pushed our society forward all went to school from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Jim O'Brokta
November 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm
It is odd that the question asked here does not actually represent a possible reality. We have two options for next year - why not ask the public for opinions regarding those options?

As a teacher in the county, I will put in my two cents and explain why we do not want a start after Labor Day.

One of the biggest reasons we should start as early as possible has to do with high school exams. More and more of our students are taking Advanced Placement exams. These tests allow our students to earn college credit and bypass many classes at the university level. The AP exams are given in the first two weeks of May every year. This is a national decision and those dates are set regardless of when Fauquier County opens our schools. If we choose to open after Labor Day then we are skipping out on two weeks of potential instruction before those tests. This would put our students at a huge disadvantage.

In the best interests of our students, at least those who are in high school and who will pursue AP classes and college degrees, the earlier we can start the year the better we are serving them.
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