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District Adopts School Calendar It Did Not Want, Starting Late and Shortening Thanksgiving Break

| February 17, 2015

Florida's school calendar has not adapted to changing times much, and Florida law forbids most local districts from adapting it to their needs, as the Flagler County School Board found out this year. (Robert Huffstutter)

Florida’s school calendar has not adapted to changing times much, and Florida law forbids most local districts from adapting it to their needs, as the Flagler County School Board found out this year. (Robert Huffstutter)

After weeks of wrangling—mostly with the state Department of Education—to get around a state law that forces most local school districts to follow a school calendar set by Tallahassee rather than by local districts, the Flagler County School Board on Tuesday reluctantly adopted the calendar it did not want for the coming school year.

The adopted calendar has school starting on Aug. 24 for students, ending on June 7. It ends the week-long Thanksgiving break, reducing it to three days, to the displeasure of parents. But that way more instructional days can be built into the calendar ahead of December’s exams. But those end-of-course exams will still take place the second week of December, rather than in January, with, absurdly to board members, two and a half week of school left in the first semester, which does not end until Jan. 12.

The district and the board would have preferred a significantly different calendar. That one would have had school starting on Aug. 10 and ending May 24. It would have preserved the full-week Thanksgiving Break. And it would have enabled the district to end the first semester on Dec. 17, just before the two-week winter break, with the second semester beginning more logically immediately after the break, as it does in most of the rest of the world’s school systems, private or public, as it does in most colleges and universities.

That alternative calendar would have added weeks to students’ and teachers’ ability to prepare for standardized tests. It would give AP and IB students almost three more weeks to prepare in spring. It would have aligned high school students who also attend college with their college calendars. And it would have prevented long holiday breaks from disrupting the learning flow that helps students perform better.

But Florida law forbids it. It does so even though the law’s application in education matters has often been at odds with educators’ preferences and troves of research that points to the better way to build school calendar.

A proposed bill would only move up the calendar by one week, without giving districts like Flagler more flexibility to craft their own schedule.

As written, the law allows only A-rated school districts to set their own calendars. The rest must follow the state’s parameter. Flagler is a B-rated district, missing the A mark by a very slim margin. Weeks ago the Flagler school board asked the commissioner of education for a waiver to the law, so it could set its own calendar. “We believe this mandate is too restrictive,” Superintendent Jacob Oliva wrote Commissioner Pam Stewart. “Allowing Flagler Schools to start earlier would be in our students’ best interest.”

Stewart rejected the request.

That left the school board with little choice, and it left Board Chairwoman Colleen Conklin livid. “The idea of doing EOCs in December when there’s three or four additional weeks of school left for that semester is just insanity to me,” she said, referring to end-of-course exams. “I’m not in support of the calendar that follows statute. I don’t think it’s good for kids, I don’t think it’s good for families, I don’t think it’s good for what they need to do in the classroom as far as teachers in the classroom as well. So I would not support the motion as it stands.”

It’s not as if the Legislature isn’t hearing the howls from districts. But it’s not listening very closely. A Senate bill (SB 688) introduced by Bill Montford, the North Florida Democrat, would merely move the calendar up one week, so that school could start no earlier than 21 days before Labor Day, instead of the current 14. But it preserves the exception that applies only to high-performing districts. An identical companion bill was introduced in the House by several Republican lawmakers. Even if that bill passes, it would only meet Flaglere’s needs halfway.

Still, Conklin sought on Tuesday either to delay adoption of the calendar, pending the direction the Legislature takes when it begins its session in the first week of March, or adopt both its desired (or “contingency”) calendar and the one forced on the district by state law.

“There are districts that have adopted two calendars this year in anticipation of a legislative change,” Oliva said. But he wanted a drop-dead date of when the new calendar would be finally approved, to reduce confusion and allow his administration to plan. That didn’t sit well with some board members.

“The public already has a problem with one calendar, and confusion,” Trevor Tucker said. “If you adopt two calendars and say to have two calendars anywhere on our website, and people not knowing, I think you’re going to lend to greater confusion.”

Sue Dickinson (© FlaglerLive)

Sue Dickinson (© FlaglerLive)

To board member Sue Dickinson, the board had little room to maneuver whatever calendar was adopted. “If parents are going to take their kids away at Thanksgiving break they’re going to do it whether we have school or not school,” Dickinson said. “Parents are going to do what they want to do. If they have plans, they’re going to go, and unfortunately we’re going to be looked at as the bad guy because we’ve opened school on those days.” But, she said, faculty needs the time to prepare, and waiting until the legislative session ends on May 1 could be problematic, even though Oliva said his administration could wait until then.

An impatient Andy Dance then called for a vote, and the board voted 3-2 to adopt the state-imposed calendar (with minor allowances for local say).

“The proposed calendar carries, unfortunately,” a dejected Conklin said.

“Miss Conklin,” Dickinson reproved, “you’re supposed to be positive once there’s a motion that’s been approved and accepted by the board, remember?”

Conklin wasn’t convinced. “That was painful,” she said, moving on to the next item on the agenda, which would prove even more painful: the fate of the district’s massive building on Corporate Drive, which formerly housed the Flagler Technical Institute.

The adopted calendar appears below and can be downloaded here. You can see the alternative calendar the district would have preferred to adopt, here.

Download Adopted Flagler County Schools Calendar, 2015-16

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12 Responses for “District Adopts School Calendar It Did Not Want, Starting Late and Shortening Thanksgiving Break”

  1. Just an observation says:

    I disagree with the board rushing to adopt a calendar. It makes much more sense to wait for the legislator to meet.
    Its crazy to have the semester end after the winter break and make the kids take these test without the extra days of preparation.And to shorten the thanksgiving break is not fair. Thats the only time I get to go see my family who live out of state.
    The whole thing makes absolutely no sense.

  2. Robert Ford says:

    So did Walmart and Target fund this decision? You all have removed all college prep for students, reduced funding for all programs, failed to promote proper knowledge of NCAA procedures and release kids into the world with little affective knowledge. To me it seems as a graduate from this area that after I left Walmart lost control of what stores are here and took over our students education since we are now just a puppy mill of sorts for low income low prospect garbage jobs. Our kids have no hope of a future here unless the parents know the information themselves. Welcome to lower home values, lower quality of living and perpetual minimum wage community. You school leaders have failed and should all be removed at the soonest opportunity this would never of occured under Delbrugge and these worthless EOCs would never have been approved you all are complete failures I hope no student aspires to emulate.

  3. Michael says:

    The same laws that are on the books for things like you cannot buy wine before ten AM on a Sunday, what is the difference if I get it at 0930? The government has become so overbearing in everones lives that it makes me sick. If government wants to really help, then fix actual problems and stay out of the control business.

  4. PCer says:

    I don’t like it, but it is what it is. I enjoy having my kids home for the break. However, teachers now have the opportunity to design some creative lessons for those couple of days that can be completed in the classroom or on the go. Students can get the lessons the Friday before Thanksgiving with the understanding that they can come to school and complete them in class, or stay home (or travel) and do them on their own (or via some social media collaborative tool). Since the kids all have access to laptops and/or iPads, the options are endless.

  5. Tom Jacks says:

    It’s a very easy fix, improve the school grade to an A and thus be allowed to set your own calender. Perhaps if the teachers didn’t worry so much about their union agenda, raises, working hours and just did their job, the school grade would take care of itself.

    • Mrs. Di says:

      Its a shame you always blame teachers.
      Inform yourself as to the hard word they do in school and many of hours after school, plus weekends, so inform yourself before you rush to judgement.
      so in regards to your not knowing, teachers work , after school and on weekends from home.

  6. Charles Gardner says:

    As a parent I’m with Conklin. I have been hopeful that our state and local governments would not become as idiotic as the federal government.

  7. uhh.. says:

    Yes, Tom Jacks… Teachers are always soooo worried about the union agenda. That union, that’s not even called a union, which teachers are not required to join or even be a part of. And those raises!!! Parking lots lined with Lambos and Hummers. And forget staying after school. Teachers wouldn’t want to do that without getting paid. Just pull in at teaching time and leave when those kids are gone. That’s why the parking lots are empty by 2 pm. (You need the Lambo to beat the traffic.) Then, I’m sure those rascally teachers take off to their vacation homes in the Bahamas, maybe Fiji, for the summer. So true Tom Jacks. Thanks for shedding some light on the plight of teachers in Flagler County. Since your rant had no notable argument which supported or denoted the school calendar, I guess mine doesn’t need it either…

    • Tom Jacks says:

      I am so glad you agree with me. I have worked and lived in over 30 different states over the past 40 years and they all had one thing in common, teachers complaining about their low pay and lack of parental, governmental support. Enough already, if you teachers don’t like it, quit and do something else. Summers off, paid vacation, sick leave, 1 week off at Thanksgiving, two weeks off at Christmas, an untold number of “teacher development days” are all benefits you will not find in any other position. Try working 13 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, then complain about how bad you have it. Remember those who can do, those who can’t teach. (I learned that from education majors while majoring in and earning my degree in Economics.)

  8. #1 Gator Fan says:

    I have a novel idea for all you whiners out there. Take your kids out of these government schools where bad behavior and drugs abound and put them in a private school. Well that was easy!

  9. Just an observation says:

    (In reply to Tom Jacks) I think that to allow only “A” rated districts to make the decision about their calendars is not fair. It seems that schools below the “A” rating would most need the extra time to prep for the test so that they might be able to score better and possibly be rated higher. But to take the schools that aren’t scoring the highest and force them to have less instruction is setting them up to fail. And often how well a school district does has a lot to do with the demographics of the area. Areas that are wealthier and have more college graduate parents do better. Its not about the teachers not doing well enough or the students trying harder. We should be comparing apples to apples and the state is not doing that. Instead they are penalizing the students they are supposed to be helping.

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