It was recently determined by the school committee that next year, school will commence on September 7th, much later than usual. How this decision is made, as well as how this new starting date will effect other factors of the school year has been a topic of concern, and there are still some answers to questions that are yet to be determined.
Vishvesh Kaul, the Student Government Liaison for Andover High School, explained the decision making process as well as some of the changes. When asked how the decision is made as to whether it is democratic or an overriding decision, Kaul explained, “I wouldn’t say it is an overriding decision, but it is a decision made collectively by the school committee representatives: Ted Teichert, Susan McCready, Joel Blumstein, Shannon Scully, Paul Murphy and Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman.” As to why this decision was made by the school committee, Kaul explained, “It allows teachers time before the year starts and makes teaching more efficient and worthwhile avoiding a 3 day weekend to start the year due to Labor Day.”
According to Kaul, depending on what happens next year, this starting date could be subject change, or remain the same, but only time will tell. Also, no drastic changes to students schedules will be made, and AP testing dates will not be affected, though as more inputs are given, the late summer release could prove problematic to students learning AP material in time for these exams.
Many members and decision makers were involved in the decision, settling on a later starting date as a group. One of these members, Shannon Scully, gave her personal input of the starting date. As one of the school committee representatives who helped come to this decision, Scully explained the reasoning behind it. The school committee is in control of the calendar planning, but it is agreed with employees that teachers must not return to school before September 1st, and teachers must be there for two days before students attend. Scully stated, “In years past, the teacher’s union has waived this clause in the contract, which allowed the School Committee to consider a calendar that had students return at the end of August. However, the contract clause was not waived for the 2017/18 school year, which means the earliest school can begin for teachers is Friday, September 1st.”
The school starting date lies on the decision of whether or not to waive the teacher clause, though public opinion can differ as a result of this decision. On a public response to the later start, Scully offered, “I have heard mixed response to the plan to begin school after Labor Day this year. Some families are looking forward to a long 2017 summer vacation but some are worried about securing summer camps and keeping their children happily occupied deep into August.”
A long summer may sound great to most hard working students, but with every good thing comes some complications. As to how the starting date might affect student schedules, Scully was concerned that “the teacher contract does not allow teachers to work past June 30th. So if we have more than seven snow days in 2017/18, in order to meet our 180 day minimum, we will need to hold school on days currently planned as holidays/vacations or weekends. This would certainly be unusual, but it did happen in 2012/13 and school was held on a Saturday.”
On her personal input of this change, Scully explained, “Anecdotally, I can say that for my own children, June isn’t a time of great learning. When the weather gets warm and shorts are the norm, it’s easy to want to jump into summer vacation and that makes it hard to be productive for extended periods in a classroom. For this reason, I would personally prefer to minimize the number of June schools days, which means returning before Labor Day (assuming there are not other changes to Andover’s traditional holiday & vacation schedules).”
Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman, another member involved in the decision gave his input regarding information on the change. As to why the change was decided upon and what factors went into the decision, Berman stated, “There was some discussion of the Friday before Labor Day and that teachers would have preferred to have that day off. They would come back for two days, and students would come back for two days. So it’s Monday and Tuesday that staff would be there, and Wednesday and Thursday students would be there, and there would be a four day weekend. In the calendar that the school committee offered, the staff would come back for two days and then the students would be there for all three days and it would be a three day weekend. They rejected that calendar, so we didn’t have an option to go with the before Labor day start.”
Students often have varying opinions when it comes to changes in the schools scheduled, holidays, or starting dates. A concern of Berman’s of this later start and later release for students was that, “It pushes the school year later. Some of the students come back for sports anyway, so it actually gives them longer practice while they’re not in school, but they don’t have much to do besides practice. It actually means that we’ll end the school year very late in June. By that time students are pretty frustrated and ready to leave. When you start in August, it isn’t as much of a problem, but ending late in June, people get tired, it’s hot out, students are ready to start the summer.”
While the change would only mean getting out around a week later, the heat can make students more eager to leave, especially those who have already spent four years at the high school, and three waiting to leave for summer vacation. For the seniors, “It is in fact exactly a week later than they would usually get out. June 11th is the date. Otherwise, they would have graduated on June 4th, so it delays their graduation by a week, and I’m sure that seniors would not feel very good about that,” admitted Berman.
While the overall feeling seems to be that the earlier start would have been a more beneficial decision, sometimes one has to make the best with what they are given. On any possible benefits to the new starting date, Berman explained, “The one thing it does do is it preserves summer, and you go all the way up through Labor Day, and it’s still summer vacation. You extend the summer vacation, that may be one way to see it as a benefit. I do think that the advantages of starting earlier in August are much more advantageous because people like getting out in June and like getting a little bit of an early start to summer. Sometimes you make decisions because you have to, and this is one where you have to.”
With other schedule changes, such as the new 8 day schedule coming next year, it will be interesting to see how these changes affect one another and impact the students and staff at Andover High in this coming school year.
By Audrey Gallacher