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Scituate school officials look at earlier start to academic year

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 18, 2014 01:20 PM

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Starting school after Labor Day has been tradition in Scituate for dozens of years, but discussions are ongoing to start the school year earlier.

At the request of Superintendent John McCarthy, School Committee officials discussed the proposal at a recent meeting, debating if a start date change is in the cards and when it might be imposed.

“There are a lot of things to consider, but mostly it’s the fact that it gives you a cushion on those late start Septembers to alleviate any kind of snow problem,” said School Committee Chair Richard Hebert

Recent snow days have made the discussion ever more relevant, with school administrators trying to plan ahead for worst-case winter scenarios.

Changes won’t occur for the September 2014 school year start, as a draft calendar has already been created.

If changes were to be imposed for 2015, discussions would have to start in the fall with the teachers and unions to put a new start date into contracts.

“You’d want it early enough to not impact people’s vacation plans in the summer,” Hebert said. “I’d imagine before next January we’d have to come up with some kind of decision so people had plenty of forewarning.”

Reasons why an earlier start might be warranted are aplenty, officials said.

Under state guidelines, school cannot go into July and Scituate has come close to the deadline. Last year, school didn’t get out until the end of June due to snow. A few years prior, snow days caused the last day to be as late as June 28, Hebert said.

Though administrators can chose to have a late start to the school day rather than use one of the five snow days built into the calendar, schools still need to meet standards for in-class learning time.

At the secondary level, students must get 990 hours of learning. At the elementary level, students must reach 900 hours.

According to Hebert, some districts have had to cancel vacation times to compensate for missed learning.

Learning time also has more value at the start of the year than at the end, Hebert said.

“The educational value, of course, is in the fall. It’s a lot better than in the summer. The kids’ [attentions] start to wander and the conditions themselves are tough with those hot school days,” he said

A quicker return to classrooms also means more preparation time for state tests like MCAS, Hebert said.

Discussions were highlighted by the fact that the 2015 Labor Day falls especially late, creating more problems on top of a potentially shortened school year.

"The primary issue is that’s a very late Labor Day, I think it’s the 7th or 6th - it’s the latest you can have Labor Day," McCarthy said. "My concern is with starting so late and with the way winters have gone the past few years, we’re getting deep into June before we even consider snow days. We hope to start a conversation with the community if they are interested in starting prior to Labor Day."

Though the shift would be a big change for many in the coastal community, Hebert said School Committee officials would have the discussion.

“Being a costal community …[residents] hang on the summer as long as possible,” Hebert said, noting that in his 35-year teaching career, school always started after Labor Day. “It’s not something in the past that people were able to look at with any seriousness, but things change.”

“I'm not certain we can do it," McCarthy added. "Traditions are hard to change.”

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