School Calendar

I received an email from some concerned and loving grandparents who want to spend some quality time with their grandchildren. I am including below the portions relating to the calendar and leaving out the personal information.

The email stated in part:

“Specifically, we are extremely supportive of the Governor’s order/position to have all public school systems in the State begin the school year after Labor Day and end no later than June 15. As grandparents to three in the Frederick County School System, adopting the Governor’s position would, at a minimum, provide us with more quality time to be with our grandchildren. It is difficult for us to believe that students could not receive a quality education within the dates established by the Governor.
We would be interested in your position regarding this issue, as a number of other County/City school systems throughout the State are challenging the Governor.”

I have my own opinions on this topic and they are mine alone, no one else’s. My email response stated in part:

The calendar is actually much trickier than just stating when to begin and end. I have no doubt that your grandchildren will get a quality education in Frederick County whether we begin before or after Labor Day. I have no problem with beginning after Labor Day conceptually. I also find it very interesting that the start date after Labor Day is reported as extremely popular yet only one county, Worcester, actually does it. (http://marylandpublicschools.org/about/Documents/SchoolOpeningsClosings20162017.pdf ) One would think that if there were so many people in the state that wanted it to happen at least a few other counties would have instituted that calendar.

I do have an issue with having to end by June 15, as it can be a problem if we have snow. The Governor, in mandating these two dates to book end the school year, has not taken into account a few other mandates that are also required of the school systems. The state mandates at least 180 days of school. There are our federally mandated and state mandated holidays. There are our contractual teacher workdays, at least one each quarter so four per year. Then there are the dates that everyone likes, not mandated but everyone likes. Fair Day, Spring Break beyond Good Friday and Easter Monday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving are all examples of those items. Lastly is the one I dislike the most, the testing calendar. Federal mandates require testing at the end of the year and the testing window is open to the school system but it is required to test each student. This is not a problem for our elementary and middle school students as they are on year long, 180-day calendars. Our high schools are on semester systems, which means the second semester, if we begin after Labor Day, will not begin until the end of January at best. Our high school students will be taking their federal test in May with only about 70% of the material covered. Other issues specific to high school are the Advanced Placement test dates, which we cannot change, the first two weeks of May, and the dual enrollment with Frederick Community College, which begins in August.

There are many other issues that affect calendar and most of them can be changed, adapted or eliminated. Getting rid of Fair Day, the extra day before Thanksgiving, spring break, renegotiating some of the teacher work days are all doable, but not popular. The things that are not easy to fix are the extra day or two that are added when Christmas falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday, or when we get a lot of snow. This year Christmas is easy to deal with and I believe the calendar committee is going to propose school ending on Monday, June 11, 2018 with four snow days taking us to June 15. But the 2018-19 calendar might not be able to get all 180 days in until June 13 or 14 leaving one or two snow days.

So if you have read this far you know this is a topic to which I have given considerable thought. And I recognize that it is both an emotional and logistic issue. If the state department of education measured educational time in hours, and we could lengthen the school day, instead of measuring it in days, it might be easier to accomplish. Also, there are some families who have to pay for childcare when their children are not in school and they would like the school year to be extended. There is the potential discussion of year round school for some of our children. Five to nine weeks at school, three weeks off in between segments. This would benefit our lowest performing students and lower childcare costs.

Ultimately someone will be happy and someone will be unhappy with the calendar adopted by the Board of Education. The Governors mandate has just made the conversation front and center. I do not believe the Board will request a waiver at this time. I believe the 2017-2018 calendar can be made to work and will be adopted. The following year will be the time for further discussion on options.

Please attend a Board meeting and take the three minutes for public comment to express your opinion to the Board of Education so they hear your take on all this. The Board will be receiving recommendation from the calendar committee at the November 2 meeting. If you get there about 5:30-5:45 you can sign up for public comment. The meeting begins at 6:00.

Thank you again for your interest,
Michael

I received a response to my email that supported the idea of lengthening the school day. That an efficient system that has teachers that are present at work, will create students success.

That email stated in part:

“Concerning the details of your response, first I believe that all of the “hurdles” confronting administrators in constructing the school year are valid but must be dealt with individually by each school system within the broad parameter established by the only state official elected statewide, and that is the Governor. No State Board, including the Board of Education, should be autonomous.

As you cite, many of the days off that have been historically observed in Frederick County, like Fair Day, as well as the more recent ones such as those resulting from Union bargaining agreements, need to be expeditiously reviewed and, in my opinion, ended. Further, I recommend that you and your colleagues consider analyzing less talked-about issues impacting educational quality such as teacher absences which have become epidemic nationwide, as recently reported by the Washington Post. However, when all is said and done, I firmly believe that the education of each student, regardless of grade, can be adequately accomplished between Labor Day and June 15. How we make the most of each school day is the real issue, and in this regard I respectfully urge you to consider changes to the existing school day schedule. For example, dismissing students as early as 2:30 is difficult to justify particularly considering that we compete in a world economy where our ranking compared to other nations, throughout all achievement measures, is abysmal. Extending the existing school day by just one hour would be in the best interest of students, and as a by-product quite possibly result in a workable compromise to the school year issue.

Great discussion…”

I agree…it is a great discussion and one that must continue.

Charter School Hosts Forum

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I want to thank the Governing Council of our charter schools here in Frederick for hosting this event as it was an interesting evening.

I believe, contrary to some opinions of bloggers that three of us are “… cookie-cutter Democrats. Three of them support federal mandates in education.” that we all answered questions last evening that showed many differences in our approaches to running a school system.  The questions and responses are not all included by the news paper account as there is limited space, but they were very comprehensive.  I was impressed by the questions generated by the charter school families and staff.  The questions were covered a broader range of topics than the FNP forum.

Only about 30 people in attendance but the forum was live streamed. Jeremy Bauer-Wolf captured some of the diversity of responses in his short article. He obviously could not capture them all but he wrote of a representative example.

One school asked us to submit answers to questions back during the primaries and mine are posted below from April.

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/continuing_coverage/election_2016/frederick-county-school-board-candidates-address-charter-schools-at-forum/article_5edc5ed6-e20a-5927-87fd-5a65aa7ab2f7.html

One of my former students wrote this LTE.

Keith Crum was a student at Governor Thomas Johnson High School many years ago when I was a social studies teacher there.   He has honored me with a letter to the editor of the Frederick News Post that characterizes a relationship that grew over the years.  Keith is a wonderful writer who expresses more than I ever knew was affecting his growth.

Win or not, this election has brought me back to the fact that for forty years I attempted to affect the lives of hundreds of children every year.  Keith’s letter lets me know I was blessed to have done some things right.   Thank you again Keith, for being willing to put yourself out there and for letting me be a part of your life.

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/opinion/letter_to_editor/even-though-retired-bunitsky-still-wants-to-make-frederick-schools/article_790758d9-509a-54ca-8c13-e91e1dbacc19.html