Tuesday, December 10, 2013
PORTLAND – School officials are conducting an online survey to gauge public opinion on possible changes to the school calendar.
They want to know whether residents would support changes ranging from minor adjustments that could be made for the next school year, such as changing the times when classes start, to fundamental reforms that would take years to implement, such as year-round classes.
Officials are looking for ways to provide more learning time for students and more professional development time for the staff, said Jaimey Caron, who heads the policy committee of the Portland Board of Public Education.
Caron said the current school year was established in the 1800s, when the United States was an agricultural society. Researchers nationally have found that during long summer breaks, students forget much of what they have learned, he said.
Recent research also indicates that high school students might do better if they begin school later in the morning.
Portland's school year now begins in the first week after Labor Day and runs until early or mid-June, depending on the number of class days canceled because of storms.
In the school year that began last month, the district added five days for students, increasing the number from 175 to 180. It also increased the number of staff days, from 183 to 187.
The high school day runs from 8 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. The middle school day runs from 8:25 a.m. to 2:35 p.m.. The elementary school day runs from 8:55 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
Students leave school an hour early on most Wednesdays so teachers can participate in professional development and training.
Because 32 school districts send students to Portland Arts and Technology High School, Portland would have to make sure that any changes to its calendar could be coordinated with other school districts, Caron said.
"It's not like Portland can wake up some day and revamp its schedule," he said.
By state law, the school board sets the calendar. The board is looking to make revisions next year, but changes that add staff hours must wait until after the district renegotiates labor contracts with the four unions representing employee groups. The contract with the teachers union expires in June 2014.
The survey, which is being conducted from today until No. 2, is available at here.
It seeks input on various options regarding:
• The length of the school year.
• The school starting date.
• The length and hours of the school day.
• The number of teacher work days.
• Whether all schools in the district should have a consistent schedule.
• Whether the district should continue releasing students early on Wednesdays.
The survey also asks an open-ended question about priorities in setting the calendar.
Everyone in the city is invited to take the survey, including students, parents, staff members and business owners.
The district plans to create two focus groups in November to brainstorm ideas and analyze possible schedules. People who are interested in serving on a group can sign up at the end of the survey.
Chanda Turner, a part-time administrator in the district, is facilitating the public input. A steering committee will review the results of the survey and the work of the focus groups, and draft recommendations by early December. Those recommendations will be posted online and the public will have a chance to comment. The steering committee will present its recommendations to the school board in January.
"We have heard from community members that they really want to be more involved in the development of the calendar, and this is the structure that will allow for that," said David Galin, the district's chief academic officer.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org