JC public schools eye earlier start in 2014

First day of school may be Aug. 14

Classes could start a few days earlier next year — on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 — under a calendar being considered by the Jefferson City Public School’s Board of Education this month. The Board is poised to approve the new calendar at next month’s meeting on Dec. 9.

The two-day week will allow staff to have three full professional development days before the year starts, gives teachers a window to accomplish some housekeeping tasks and allows students to settle in, said David Luther, assistant to the superintendent for the Jefferson City Public Schools. The proposed calendar was devised by a committee headed by Luther.

“This would be considered an ‘early’ start to the school year by most people, but it allows for school to end prior to Memorial Day,” Luther added. “If we push until the 21st, we’ll go past Memorial Day and into June and that wasn’t well-received in our surveys.”

Other key decisions include scheduling two professional development days on Sept. 22 and Oct. 13 — days when school will not be in session for students. The latter date is Columbus Day and many state workers will have the day off.

“It’s important to sync days off with the community’s largest employer when possible, if it’s not detrimental to student learning,” Luther said.

Five other days — Oct. 21, Nov. 18, Jan. 13, Feb. 10 and March 17 — will be “late-start days,” also designed to allow the faculty time to work collaboratively. The committee contemplated holding one of the late-start days on Veteran’s Day, but ultimately determined — with all the school assemblies scheduled for that day — not enough time would be left for instruction.

The school year also includes two staff compensation days on Oct. 31 and Feb. 13, contractual time off for working four parent-teacher conference nights. Feb. 13, when combined with President’s Day on Feb. 16, will allow the possibility of a four-day weekend for staff and students.

The schedule also includes no school for Labor Day, Sept. 1, and Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19.

However, Luther said parents and guardians should be aware that President’s Day and Martin Luther King Day could be used for snow make-up dates if four or more school days are cancelled prior to those events. Otherwise, all weather-related make-up dates will be placed at the end of the school year, starting May 20.

Depending on the use of weather days, May 19 will be the last day of school, which will give summer school kids a break before class starts again.

As for the other major breaks, students and staff would have Nov. 26-28 off for Thanksgiving; Dec. 22 to Jan. 2 for Christmas; and March 30 to April 3 for Spring Break.

Students will be away from school for 16 days next winter. Luther said committee members are concerned about the length of that break, but weighed it against the wishes of many in the community who prefer a longer break. Luther said many children in the district rely on the public schools for nutritious meals.

“We recognize it’s a struggle for some families. We don’t want kids to go hungry or go for long periods without supervision,” he said. “But many families do want a full week off.”

Calendar planners avoided scheduling too many partial weeks, because they tempt families — and sometimes staff — into taking days off. That’s why spring break is a full week off, not a long weekend.

“It would definitely affect student attendance,” Luther noted, adding that the state’s School Improvement Program keeps a close eye on attendance in its evaluation of the district.

People who want to weigh in on the committee’s decisions can contact Luther with the ideas at david.luther@jcschools.us or at 573-659-3018.

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