HARVARD — “It’s decision day, folks,” said School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls.
And to that end, the committee voted unanimously on Dec. 12 to tack on three more school days at the end of the school year and, depending on how the winter pans out, possibly keep school open during April vacation to make up any further school days lost to storms.
There are five snow days built into the 2011-12 school calendar, which indicates the last day of school would be Tuesday, June 12. The committee noted during the fall that the calendar actually should have mentioned the potential need to extend the school year by as many as five days to Tuesday, June 19.
A freak snowstorm on Oct. 29 promptly closed school for three of the five built-in snow days. But ‘what if,’ given Mother Nature’s penchant for stormy surprises, there’s a need for more than the two remaining built-in snow days this school year? Winter doesn’t even officially begin until Dec. 22.
The School Committee looked at alternative options that could come into play — with a warning to families now to “notify everyone early that we may need additional days,” said School Superintendent Joseph Connelly. “It all depends on how many snow days we have.”
One approach was to build in three more snow days, pushing the end of the school year to Friday, June 22, if needed.
That seemed to be the clearer-cut decision. Not as immediately clear was whether to change Friday, Jan. 13 — less than a month away — from a day off to a half-day of school, and thus qualifying as a day toward the 180-day requirement.
But that would have caused the loss of a professional development day scheduled that day. As the high-school decade certification process bears down, it was decided that day must remain a day off for students, but a professional development day for staff.
Others expressed concern, too, that tinkering with Jan. 13 would disrupt families’ pre-arranged four-day weekend plans (Monday, Jan. 16, is also a day off in recognition of Martin Luther King Day).
Feedback was clear — the teachers union did not favor moving the professional development day to the day after the last day of school — in late June — because it would have done nothing to aid in accreditation preparations.
The debate briefly brushed over a perennial issue — why are weeklong vacations in both February and April. School Committee members SusanMary Redinger and Kirsten Wright said they’d heard feedback from parents willing to forgo some (if not all) the April vacation week, scheduled for April 16-20.
It was decided — and in order to give parents the most advance notice — “If in mid-February we’re piled up with snow and we’re shoveling off the school roofs again, then April is where we’re going to go.”
So the final tally looks like this: If Mother Nature causes a total of eight lost school days (the three already lost in October plus the two left from the original schedule plus an addition of three more from June 20-22), then the School Committee — which has sole discretion over the school calendar — will take a closer look at recouping lost time from April vacation week. Notices to that effect were to be disseminated to families immediately.
There was no appetite for pushing the school year deeper into the summer, when warm weather tends to distract students.
Learning days now are “better than June,” said Cheveralls, prompting nods of agreement from the board. A spin-off benefit may be that the MCAS math test for fourth-graders is right after April vacation. “So, if we went there, it would facilitate the opportunity for more learning.”