Saturday, November 06, 2010

By Diana L. Chapman
Claiming an early summer start is highly beneficial to its students, Los Angeles school administrators proposed beginning school this summer 2010 in mid-August while beach balls are still flying mid-air, sun block still scents the beaches and vacationers are checking in on planes and trains for holidays.
If it passes collective bargaining negotiation, campuses across Los Angeles would begin Aug. 15 and end next spring on June 1. This means students this year would miss at least three plus weeks of summer, a onetime sacrifice once the calendar catches up.
While many educators and some parents laud the proposal for educational reasons, one mother called it unfair to her children who have perfect attendance at LAUSD and deserve their family vacations.
“We’re losing five weeks of summer vacation,” said Jennifer Marquez, a mother of two students who attend an LAUSD school in San Pedro. “I am not in favor of this. This is  half a summer. If you come to school in the middle of August, then you better have air conditioning. Many schools do not.”
Several parents she’s talked with, she said, have decided not to change their summer plans to accommodate the district.
On the other hand, several administrators – including Bonnie Taft, the principal of  Point Fermin Marine Science Magnet Elementary School, embrace the calendar change with open arms. They contend  it will make the schedule smoother on teachers and students as far as test taking and ending out the semester for senior and middle schools before the winter break.
The entire year,  Taft said, is devoted to studying for the California state tests that typically run the middle of two weeks in May. After the students take them, they then have a three-day Memorial break and return for what seems a bleak June school ending.
 “I’m excited about it,” Taft said of the change, “and I’m looking at it holistically. After testing (which ends in May), there’s an emotional and mental let down. I call June the dead time. The kids are worn out and the teachers are tired. I’m just looking at it instructionally.”
The added advantage, she explained, is having of children learn in the beginning of the year with at least three additional weeks when they are fresh and ready to go.
So does the principal at San Pedro High School, who complains that her students can’t even do their mid-terms before a three-week winter break. This way, exams and the semester will be finished.
“It’s just like summer school,” Jeanette Stevens said. “You lose momentum. It’s just easier to be done with the semester prior to taking off for winter break.”
Seventeen schools are already on the plan at their request, said Zsuzsanna Vincze, an administrative coordinator for LAUSD.
Those campuses asked Los Angeles Superintendent Ramon Cortines to approve the calendar change and he did so readily. That move sparked interest at other schools after those campuses reported back successful changes.
So far, mostly high schools have joined the newly proposed calendar and  are finding it beneficial, Vincze  explained.
“We have been getting  requests for this from teachers and administrators for several years,” Vincze added.
Because of the repeated requests, the district agreed to put the information up on its website. Vincze explained she’s been receiving a mixture of comments from parents so far from both sides, “some who are really happy and some who are against it. I’m getting feedback, but I can’t see a trend yet.”
Already, many high schools have undergone the transition. Those include: Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Kennedy, Jefferson, Lincoln, Verdugo, Van Nuys and one primary school, South East Elementary.
School administrators, Vincze said, have made the request because it ends the semester before winter break, helps prep for test scores and aligns the district’s schedule with local colleges so students who desire to attend those campuses for additional educational support can do so.
LAUSD  Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he supports the change because its better instructionally for his nearly 695,000 students.
“I am very supportive of the early start calendar because it’s been proven to enhance learning,” the superintendent stated in a release. “Research shows that the earlier calendar helps students retain more material before taking the end-of-the semester exams before the winter break, instead of two months later in February.  Also, on the earlier schedules, students cover more material and are better prepared for the California High School Exit Exam (CASHEE) and Advanced  Placements (AP) tests.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the move toward the early start calendar is being driven in large part by the local principals who want to see their students improve their learning and academic performance and I want to be supportive.”
This is not a done deal by any means, said David Kooper, chief of staff for Los Angeles school board member Richard Vladovic, who covers the entire Harbor Area and northern regions of Los Angeles, including Lomita and the Harbor Gateway.  The entire proposal has several more hurdles, including going through the gauntlet of collective bargaining.
Officials agree that students this year will lose a large chunk of summer, but that will never happen again the following years.
For San Pedro High student Aubry Heberer, 16, she has mixed emotions about losing several weeks this summer. However, she added that she despised having to study for mid-terms over winter break and this would free her of that.
“I get why they are doing it and it makes sense to have the midterms before the break,” said the junior, who was disappointed that she would lose several weeks of summer, but explained it would become worth it the following year when vacation will be restored again.
That does not appease Marquez, however, who says she understands it might help high school students, but not elementary children. She adds in her calculations the students will lose another two weeks of summer the following year.
Classes are already way too overcrowded and due to budget cuts, there are fewer aides to help students with behavioral issues, forcing teachers to spend much more time dealing with those children, she said.
“Give me a class where the teacher has the proper tools and help and I would be happy to have my children spend more time there,” she said.

For now, however, she still wants her elementary school boys to have summer to hit around a baseball and smell the sun block wafting in the air on a scorching summer day.
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