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The PPS calendar might change. What do you think?


I've long been troubled by the academic calendar, especially as a working parent.  Now if I had 12 weeks, not 3, of paid (or unpaid!) vacation every year, I might feel a little differently.  But in general, I find the long summer hard to manage - not to mention the very obvious lost learning we experienced (and yes, my kids learned plenty of other incredibly useful - and fun - things while not in school). 

But I digress, because PPS' current look at the calendar isn't just about summer vacation.  It's actually mostly about the variability in calendars across district schools. Variability that might go away.  Not a bad thing if you think all schools perform best on the exact same calendar.  Does one-size fits all work?  Does it matter when talking calendars?  But if you're someone who thinks that individual schools know how they work best and that human beings do well with a little bit of room to make decisions, it might not seem like the best idea. 

Here's how PPS described it in an email I received from them just today - what do you think?  Good idea?  Bad idea? 

The Portland School Board's performance auditor is recommending that PPS reduce or eliminate individual schools' deviations from the standard school calendar, and encourages PPS to move to a common single calendar for the district's 85 schools.  He wrote: 

 "There are a variety of benefits to providing flexibility to schools to adopt various unique school calendars and schedules," Tracy wrote. "However, the multiple calendars and schedules used by Portland schools also result in higher transportation costs, reduced nutrition revenues and more administrative burden. More importantly, many of the deviations from the standard calendars reduce the amount of instruction time provided to students."

For this year, PPS adopted both a trimester and a quarter (semester) calendar for schools, which set school start and end dates, holidays, parent-teacher conference dates, teacher planning days, late openings and annual days of school instruction. Those calendars must comply with state laws and regulations, and must meet the terms of employee contracts, which specify work hours and days for staff.

This year, schools asked for 180 waivers from that calendar -- to shift the timing of parent-teacher conferences, allow kindergarten students to begin school later in September, alter the high school schedule for a modified block schedule or for other reasons. A similar number of exceptions to the teacher contract provisions were approved by staff at schools, with most allowing schools to operate on a trimester calendar, rather than quarters, or to offer more parent-teacher conference time in the evening rather than morning.

Superintendent Carole Smith agreed that PPS should reduce, if not eliminate, the many variations in calendars that require waivers and contract exceptions. She said the district would continue to:

  • Move toward a consistent calendar for schools at the same grade level.
  • Use staff professional development and meeting time already built in to the calendar more effectively.
  • Negotiate more calendar and scheduling flexibility into the teacher contract.

She also said the school district would examine options for moving schools at all grade levels to a uniform calendar, including examining a true year-round or "balanced" calendar for all students.

Further audits planned for this year include reviews of supplemental education services offered to students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (now called Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and an examination of the development of school improvement plans and the operation of site councils at PPS schools.

Read the full audit and this year's performance audit plan.

[thanks to cafemama for another stellar school pic]


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I can appreciate all kinds of innovative, flexible programs by PPS. And it's great when they can meet some non-traditional needs by families. But, they don't really structure the variable programs to be available to folks who need them unless it happens to be in your neighborhood or you lottery lucky. Unless people can really take a look at the program that fits them and be able to get in, it just turns into inequity.

In my opinion, a public school district has a responsibility to decide on the structure of their programming, make it fit within the budget, make it appealing to the community, and then apply it equally across the board. There really just isn't any other way. We elect the schoolboard, so I'm assuming we trust their ability to do this. If they want to make sweeping changes, and they get enough support for it, then I suppose they're doing as they should. Likewise if they don't get support. But I don't think it's okay to have non-traditional programs available to some and not others , or to force folks into them just because they don't have the choice available to get away.

And, I don't think it's okay to ask some people to pay for a public education, but that's another topic. I just can't help throwing that in, because this "pay for puclic kindergarten" thing is a prime example of this. No one guaranteed my child a spot in a school that offered him a whole day without having to pay for it. Absolutely wrong to have that available for some and not all.

Good Idea. It's about money folks. The way they do it now is just plain more expensive. Now maybe this would be OK in a state that fully funded education, but Oregon does not. Time and time again Oregonians have decided to fund education at the absolute lowest level possible. So the district needs to save where ever it can. If you want more flexibility you will have to pay more taxes, I'm willing, but you will have to convince everyone else to too!

I'm brand new to this whole PPS thing (barely two weeks in as the parent of a Kindergartener) but unifying the start times, etc. seems okay to me. As I looked at schools I found it odd that some start at 8 and others 8:45. Looking at the quarter and trimester calendars, it seems like the only real difference has to do with number of grading periods and when they begin/end. Planning days, etc. seem to be the same. I am much more concerned about individual teachers having autonomy to respond to their class's needs (i.e. my daughter's teacher taking them for an extra recess in the mornings). If it will save money, I say go for it.

The staggered start times during the school day help save money by allowing bus drivers to shuttle one set of kids to school, then turn around and get another. We avoid having many more buses and many more drivers working fewer hours. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's a question of schedules, the start and stop times everyday. The auditor distinguished those questions from the calendar issues -- days off, professional development time, grading period length.

As far as planning days, the teachers' contract calls for a planning day for teachers to compile and enter grades at the end of each grading period. When school started switching to trimesters, they had one fewer set of grades to enter, but they kept the 4th planning day (which I'm sure teachers much appreciate to keep up with their workload).

As always, you may learn more at our Web site: www.pps.k12.or.us or find us on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/pr9b69

Sarah Carlin Ames
PPS Public Affairs

"But if you're someone who thinks that individual schools know how they work best and that human beings do well with a little bit of room to make decisions, it might not seem like the best idea. "

I find this statement to be rather off-putting. I happen to agree with both parts of the statement, and also have no problem with the PPS calendar being unified.

It's ironic that this poster is concerned about calendar, while glossing over the fact that allowing individual schools to make calendar decisions is actually more expensive. This leads to "reduced nutrition revenues" which means the crappy lunches UM (as a whole) likes to complain about.

I could care less about what days my kids go to school. But if unifying the calendar means that the schools are better funded the days my kids are there, then I am all for that.

If the direct and indirect costs of variable calendars outweigh the benefits, I completely support a change.

I am onboard with more funding for schools, but am not sure about the year round schooling idea. I waiver back and forth with the idea. Traveling is very important to our family and we'd love to spend a month or two abroad with our children as they get older. Having a year round schedule would make this hard, but I think having more breaks for longer periods could make travelling more of a possibility for shorter trips.

One bad apple, Sorry to put off. My intention was to put the issue out there for readers to debate. Perhaps I over polarized those two positions. And you're right, I didn't say enough about the cost factor, which is important to me, as well. If $ can be saved through scheduling that has fewer downsides, I'm all for it.

Perhaps I am scarred by years of working in a very large bureaucracy where I had very little flexibility as a worker and I found it to be professionally stifling. I really get the fact that equity in the district is essential and a very important goal.

I also worry a little that too little variation where variation is needed causes its own set of issues. I'm not an ed policy expert so I'll stop there. Just a parent with children in school with a personal opinion.

Thanks for adding to the debate.

YMCA, Peninsula, etc. after school care always make their schedules based on the "traditional" PPS schedule. So if Charter school A or Magnet school B have a delayed start (by an hour or a week), you're out of luck if you don't have resources to secure other child care.

This creates a lot of hardship for some families. So uniform would be better I think.

Well, my kids are in middle school and high school. I have one that has a late start every Wednesday and one that has late start just one Wednesday a month. Go figure.

Also, there are no buses to the Portland high schools. Non driving teens must be chauffeured to school or take the TriMet.

Yeah, the pay for kindergarten thing is weird. I moved here from Georgia and kindergarten was free to all. I was shocked to hear about paying for it and waiting lists. Jeez.

We need some sales taxes to help pay for schools. As much as it is nice to not pay a sales tax... the money would be there easy-peasy. If folks could just swallow a small sales tax and earmark it for education.

LTF (not to call you out, but in the vein of continuing the discussion), you worry that "too little variation where variation is needed" could be problematic.

But would a unified calendar not allow for any variety? Is the calendar that influential on the school curriculum?

Perhaps in some circumstances, yes. But it seems like the majority of kids in the majority of schools are going to learn the same things however the calendar is set up.

Variety can still be part of the PPS system--each school has it's own personality, it's own strengths, etc.--and I don't see how unifying the calendar will destroy that variety.

(Again, sorry if it seems like I am attacking you. I'm mostly playing Devil's Advocate...)

I wholeheartedly support a unified calendar. To the extent it is possible to keep elementary and middle and high schools on one unified calendar (and still save money), I throw my support there as well. I have four years between my two kids and would much prefer that they are on the same schedule, even when they are at different schools.
I also support a true year round calendar (the faux year-round calendar that Abernethy used to have is NOT what I am talking about). I love the idea of longer breaks spread over the course of the year, but without the loooooooooong summer brain-drain and the need to get everyone back up to speed for an entire month when school starts up again. It always seems like an enormous waste of time. Even my daughter commented that first grade was "just doing kindergarten stuff right now."

I'll be curious to see how the teacher's union reacts to the idea of a year-round schedule (my prediction - not well). On the financial side, I'm sure PPS will also need to look at whether they will lose families if they go to a year-round schedule.

One bad apple, You are right that the calendar may not be a place to worry about lack of variation. What I meant to say earlier is that my worry is over lack of variation in general where needed (and no, I'm not 100% sure where that is), not specifically around this issue.

I've long been confused by the trimester, semester difference and always forget which one we're on. I understand the reason for the morning start time differences for cheaper busing (just glad we're the later start b/c I could never be anywhere at 8 every day!). Maybe the district rules could build in some flexibility by allowing indiv. schools to choose some differences within a range of acceptable, agreed-upon, equitable options? But I hear what another writer said who has kids in different schools, then there's the after-school thing, etc...where uniformity makes sense. No perfect answer, I guess. But glad to be discussing it :-)

And don't worry, I don't feel called out, per se, I put it out there to begin with and I've learned long ago on uM to expect differences of opinion - which is great. I think we all learn to see things from new, different angles that way - at least I do.

As a teacher I take serious issue with the very first statement in your posting "12 weeks of paid vacation." Are you kidding me? While I get 12 weeks off during the summer I AM NOT PAID for those weeks. I choose to spread my 10 month paychecks over a 12 month period. That's how I get paid over the summer. Teachers work a certain number of hours/days per year and they are paid only for those days. Now, having said that, I don't know a single teacher that does use their time over the summer to plan for the next school year, attend classes to further their knowledge, and work in the classroom on days they are not paid to be there. I take a lot of offense to your assumption I get 12 weeks paid vacation time that is funded by taxpayers. Maybe you should talk to your kids' teacher or better yet, look up the PUBLIC information on teacher contracts and the number of days they work and are paid for. Then ask your kids teacher how many more days (and nights) they put in for free that the taxpayer seems to disregard.

Kelly - I think the original poster meant that she only gets 3 weeks of vacation time from HER job and that if she had 12 weeks she might feel differently about long summer breaks. The implication (to me anyway) was that if she personally had more vacation time, she could spend it with her kids and not trying to schedule them with camp a-z. I didn't take it as a comment on teachers having 12 weeks of paid leave.

Kelly, I am the orig. poster and I absolutely meant me/most workers not having enough paid time off to adequately handle the 12 weeks that our kids are out of school in the summer, not at all suggesting that teachers are paid 12 weeks. Sorry for any confusion, LTF

ps- Thanks AR for jumping in!

I am a public school teacher and do not take offense to the "12 weeks off paid vacation" I get great benefits, summers and weeks off during holiday season ( so probably more than 3 months). I work less than my partner, get paid more (if you spread my salary out over the year for the time I actually work.) Coming from a different profession previously I find that I have a lot more flexibilty and time with my family. I am happy to be employeed, make good money and get benefits. MUCH MORE THAN MANY!!!!

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