In mid-February the Flagler County School Board had the latest in a series of discussion about next year’s school calendar. Board members felt the calendar the state was forcing on the district was too inflexible, and that the Aug. 24 start date was too late, given the district’s needs with testing, Thanksgiving vacation and trying to wrap up the first semester by Christmas.
The board had even directed Superintendent Jacob Oliva to write the education commissioner, asking for a waiver of state rules so Flagler could set its agenda more plausibly. A district-based committee had recommended a start date of Aug. 10, giving parents a full week’s break at Thanksgiving, ending the first semester by Christmas and, most importantly, giving students two extra weeks to prepare for critical, high-stakes exams.
The state Department of Education said no. In the meantime, a legislator filed a bill that would achieve precisely what Flagler was hoping for: it would change the law, moving up the earliest start school date to Aug. 10. That’s what the district and the board wanted.
But in February the board was facing its own deadline of getting its calendar approved so district staff and parents could start planning. The board at that mid-February meeting considered various options, including approving two calendars–one that complied with existing law at the time, and one that gave it the chance to switch to the calendar it really wanted, assuming the law was changed. But a majority of board members declined that approach, saying it would be too confusing.
The board in February voted 3-2 to adopt the calendar it did not want, but was compelled to approve by law. It made local tourist officials happy: Matt Dunn, the Flagler Chamber of Commerce’s and the county’s tourism director, had appeared before the Tourist Development Council last month to oppose an earlier school-start date, saying it cut into lucrative vacation weeks for the tourism industry (hotels, restaurants and so on). Members of the council echoed his opposition. Dunn made the same pitch before the county’s Economic Opportunity Advisory Council.
This morning (April 21), Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board, proposed reverting to the alternative calendar. She was suggesting bringing the matter for a vote at the next meeting, in early May.
None of the three board members who voted in the majority in February were willing to do that.
“When we had the conversation we stated that whatever the decision was that night,” board member Sue Dickinson, one of the three votes in February, said, “we were going to stick with it no matter what happened in Tallahassee, because we knew that parents were going to begin to make their plans for the following school year, so I believe that conversation happened and it was part of the vote.”
Andy Dance and Trevor Tucker spoke similarly. Tucker said adult education had already scheduled training at one of the two highs schools that ends on Aug. 16. Moving that again “doesn’t even make sense to me,” Tucker said.
“It doesn’t really meet our needs to change it. It’s not going to bring us to end of course exams and final exams before Christmas vacation,” Dickinson said.
“It would, it would, and it would give the Thanksgiving Week,” Conklin said.
Dance said it would be prudent to pull the calendar committee back in session to plan for the following year’s calendar. “It would show good faith to our legislators that were committed to the process since it was part of pour legislative platform that, given proper time, that we go ahead and start working on the 16-17 calendar and get one approved as fast as possible, to back-up our actions,” he said. Board member Janet McDonald suggested a multi-year approach. She had supported the alternative calendar.
“It was more academically advantageous,” McDonald said of the alternate version. “It’s a shame that we have to wait another year to help our students and staff.”
The matter died: the calendar approved in February remains the one in force for the 2015-16 school year.
“The notion that we don’t want to readdress this issue because families and parents have made vacation plans is in my opinion inappropriate,” Conklin said after the meeting. “I’m disappointed we didn’t adopt the calendar that would have most educationally benefited students. But I’m confident that now that we do have a uniform starting date, that we’ll be able to set multi-year calendars in the future. My hope would be that we set a three-year calendar with all our dates laid out to the best of our abilities.”
Conklin added: “I also understand the calendar has already been set and been publicized, and it is what it is. Irregardless, I’m very pleased that the Legislature addressed the start date and has adopted one that will be more beneficial to an educational calendar.”