As a former staff writer for the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers -- and a contributor to the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Diana Chapman has covered the issues peoplefind important. In this blog, she focuses on the community programs and resources that benefit children and teens. Also visit her blog: http://www.secretlifeinmybackyard.blogspot.com. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org @
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
WITHOUT MUCH INPUT FROM PARENTS, LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL BOARD MUSCLED THROUGH A NEW CALENDAR;
SCHOOL BEGINS AUG. 15 THIS COMING YEAR
By Diana L. Chapman
Despite one school member’s wariness that a calendar change had limited parent input, the Los Angeles Unified School Board forged ahead and adopted a policy Tuesday to begin school Aug. 15 district wide – a decision that will impact thousands of students and their families.
The board voted 6-1 to begin school in one of the hottest months of the year -- mid-August in summer of 2011 while not all campuses have air conditioning. The only schools not included are those that remain on a multi-track calendar.
School Board Member Richard Vladovic, who heads the Harbor area and parts of northern Los Angeles, heatedly dissented.
In the lone no vote, Vladovic urged other board members to wait until more data had been collected and parents received more information and time to respond to the change.
“There was clearly not enough information given to parents about this calendar change,” said Vladovic, who is up for re-election in June. “Parents and families need to be part of the process. Though I think that educationally the early start calendar change makes sense, I supported the parents who have expressed to me that they have not been given enough information.”
The new calendar does not garner students any additional educational time. While Los Angeles Unified will start earlier in the year, students will be released at the beginning of June rather than toward the end of that month – as was done in the past.
Besides seeking further information from parents, Vladovic argued that the district should wait for such a change until all its schools were off multi-track, a system that school officials determined later to be a failure for its students, but was forced into due to intense overcrowding. With bond measures, the district has been able to build new schools and slowly return most schools to the traditional schedules, starting in September and ending in June.
Vladoic’s amendment – which asked for the board to allow school complexes by community to decide their fate -- died on the table.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the district would incur higher costs by implementing the early start by complex, citing additonal transportation and special education expenses.
David Kooper, Vladovic’s chief of staff, said it was ironic how the board voted after spending several hours earlier in the day debating how they could get parents involved and engaged.
And yet, families were only notified about this as a proposal in October on
a Los Angeles Unified website.
“It’s not fair to families,” said Kooper, who added that he received emails from upset parents. “It is incredibly unfortunate for those families who already planned vacations. Now these families have to make the decision whether or not to cancel their trip and perhaps incur a cost in doing so or go on the trip and miss school. If this was done next year, this issue would not be a problem.
“This is a clear example of doing one thing and saying another.”
Should families decide to go on vacation, the district will lose funds from ADA, or average daily attendance. States fund schools about $30 per day per student
One mother agreed with Kooper’s assessment.
“Here goes LAUSD again making a desperate stab in the dark to make changes with little data to support it,” said mother Jennifer Marquez, who has two children in a San Pedro elementary school. “I think families were defeated again and students are being treated like nothing more than test scores. I know many families that are upset over this and wonder if LAUSD knows that they may end up losing more students over this decision.”
Seventeen high schools – driven by their principals – urged Cortines to allow them to begin school early this past fall so that its students could end their first semester before the winter break.
Many administrators believe adding three weeks to the beginning of the year – and loping off June, which one principal called a “dead” month, would raise student test scores. Most of the year is dedicated to working toward the test, which are taken in May. After that, both teachers and students are exhausted, school officials said.
Linda Del Cueto, the superintendent who heads 14 of the high schools that started early this year, said while she’s heard few complaints, she has not been able yet to delve into the data of how successful the early start has been.
At the end of the semester, Del Cueto said they will be able to look at students grades, but test scores will be unavailable until the summer.