In our Voices for Sunday — February 12, 2006

Public schools statewide are being mandated to adhere to a single school calendar beginning this school year that starts in July.

The single calendar settled on is known as the 1-3-2 because it offers a one week break in fall, a three-week winter break and a two-week spring break. Summer vacations will now be seven weeks.

Up until now, schools have adhered to traditional calendars that offered a much longer summer break, or under local control, have opted to go to some sort of modified calendar. Some 80 percent of the state schools have opted for modified calendars.

The days of localized control over scheduling a school district’s year are over. The statewide single calendar is required by Act 51, passed in 2004. Act 51 is called “Reinventing Education” and is supposed to help meet the tenets of the “No Child Left Behind Act.” Only multi-track and charter schools are exempted from the requirement.

The longer summer break of the traditional calendar has been a part of school year planning since the days when rural farming families have needed their children to help with the harvest. As the times change, one of the reasons the Department of Education has opted for the single calendar is it appears to be more conducive to student learning. Studies have shown that longer breaks make for a harder time transitioning back into the learning environment, especially among economically disadvantaged students. The shorter breaks help students retain what they have learned.

One of the arguments against the single calendar is it does not allow enough time for teacher development. Proponents of the calendar argue that it aligns all districts to the same schedule, making it less costly and easier to schedule workshops and training seminars for teachers. The three unions directly related to public schools — Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, and United Public Workers — have approved the new calendar.

Studies have also shown that seven-week summer breaks still offer enough time to for summer school.

Hanalei School remained for years on the traditional calendar after other schools in the East Complex went to a modified calendar more fitting to the area’s, and the community’s, specific needs. After the new schedule takes effect, it will bring those in the East Complex under the same calendar.

It will do the same for the rest of the island as well. The local control has been usurped, but at the same time, all schools will now be aligned as to vacations and breaks. Families with kids in different schools have lamented about trying to plan family vacations with staggered schedules depending on the child’s school. That will all change now.

State school officials say multiple school calendars with their varying beginning and end dates, as well as different vacation lengths, have proved costly as well. Student transportation costs have risen dramatically, squeezing funds for instructional programs. The new calendar will make bus and transportation scheduling easier and more efficient, reducing costs.

Teacher training had to be conducted at several different times with the differing calendars. Teachers have missed out on professional development opportunities because of the differing schedules. Community services have been negatively impacted, because coordination and staffing became more complicated when breaks in schooling occurred at different times.

Hopefully, the new calendar will improve operations, thus allowing the Department of Education to realize savings in school bus operations, meal preparations, and by consolidating contracts for other services.

Hopefully, these savings will be reflected in funding allocations at the local level.

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