Collier Schools eye weeklong Thanksgiving break, early start to school year

Juniors and freshmen listen to Gold medal Olympic inverted aerial skier Nikki Stone speak at Lely High School on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 in Naples. The gold medal athlete, author and motivational speaker told the students her story of overcoming a spinal injury to win a gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

Juniors and freshmen listen to Gold medal Olympic inverted aerial skier Nikki Stone speak at Lely High School on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 in Naples. The gold medal athlete, author and motivational speaker told the students her story of overcoming a spinal injury to win a gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. David Albers/Staff

— Collier County students and teachers came back from the long holiday weekend with a little something more to be thankful for.

The Collier County School Board’s education subcommittee approved calendar recommendations for 2011-12, which included a full week off for students and staff at Thanksgiving. Other changes include the possibility of starting the school year earlier and the elimination of hurricane make-up days

Debbie Terry, executive director of human resources, said when the calendar committee discussed giving students and staff a fall break, the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week seemed like the perfect time to schedule it.

“The number of teachers and students absent on those two days nearly doubled,” she said.

Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes said the suggestion takes into account all families in the district, some of whom travel a great distance to be with family for the holiday.

District officials brought two versions of the calendar, one in which the school year started Aug. 22 for students, which meets the state requirement that school districts cannot start the academic year more than two weeks before Labor Day.

The second calendar, called the early calendar, would allow the students to start school Aug. 15. The district can start early provided it qualifies as a high-performing school district by the state. The early start date is a new option this fall after the state passed a statute enabling high-performing school districts to begin school earlier than low-performing districts.

The Collier County School District has not received that designation from the state, but hopes to receive it within the month. The district has been an A school district for the last two years.

Subcommittee members enthusiastically supported the early calendar, which would allow the Collier County School District to end the first semester, and high school exams, on Dec. 22, which is the last day for students and teachers before the winter break. Under the regular calendar, the first semester would not end for students until Jan. 13.

Subcommittee member Howard Isaacson said he liked the early calendar because spring break would be held March 12 to the 16, which is four weeks before students would have to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

“That’s four weeks of academic instruction. And, because school would start a week early, the students would have an additional seven teaching days before the FCAT during the year,” he said.

Under the regular calendar, spring break would start April 2, which would give students only one week of academic instruction after the break before the FCAT test starts on April 16. The date of the test is set by the state.

Palmetto Ridge High School teacher George Frye said he was delighted to see the calendars. Frye has spoken before the committee before to stress the importance of having Veterans Day off for the students and teachers so they can participate in the community celebrations commemorating the service of the veterans. The calendar committee gave staff a paid day off on both versions of the calendar.

The one thing missing from the calendar, which has been a staple in years past, are hurricane make-up days. The days are built into the school calendar so that, should schools have to be closed due to a hurricane, the students could attend school on the makeup days. If they are not needed, students and staff have the day off.

Terry said the district’s calendar committee, which is composed of district and school staff, members from the district’s three unions and a community member, said they understood not building the days into the calendar was a risk.

“We hope the weather will continue to be as nice as it has been in recent years,” she said.

Terry did say should the district need to make up the hurricane days, it could schedule classes on Veterans Day, for example, as well as develop other alternatives.

While most of the subcommittee’s meeting saw praise for the calendar, community member Elissa Goldstein saw some flaws, including that the athletic calendar was not addressed. She told committee members that Oct. 7, 2011, is Yom Kippur, but it is also a Friday and the district traditionally schedules football on Friday evening. The Lee County School District, however, has been scheduling games for the Thursday before the holiday.

“I would ask that you recommend that the district does not schedule football games for Oct. 7,” she said.

Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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