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School calendar may change again | District reconsiders mid-winter break

A year after dropping mid-winter break, the Mercer Island Education Association (MIEA) and School Board are preparing to review the district’s school year calendar. As promised when adjustments to the 2007-08 calendar were made last year, the district is conducting a parent/faculty survey, asking for public input on the current calendar.

“Part of the 2007 agreement [to get rid of mid-winter break] was that we’d survey parents and staff after a year and see how things were working out,” said School Board President Pat Braman, referring to the March 2007 decision to shorten February’s mid-winter break to a four-day President’s Day weekend. “We’re surveying both parents and faculty to see what their opinions are. Students will have a say as well.”

The MIEA and School Board will use the survey results to determine whether this year’s schedule should be continued into the 2009-2010 school year.

The decision to get rid of mid-winter break, a week-long holiday between winter and spring break, stemmed from the concern that three vacations in such a short time period interrupted academic fluidity.

“A number of teachers were concerned that kids get back from winter break, then they have MLK weekend off, a week’s break in February and then they have to take the WASL in March. This is a lot of disruption in the learning process, which makes [preparation for the WASL] difficult,” Braman said.

In place of the mid-winter vacation, the district took a few days off at the end of the 2008 school year, allowing students — snow days permitting — to begin their summer earlier in June. Students ended the school year on June 13, more than a week earlier than the previous year.

Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services Kathy Morrison said that she has heard both positive and negative input on the current school calendar.

“I hear both sides. I think it depends on people’s situations. Lots of families had the tradition of taking vacation during mid-winter break and possibly miss that. Others are just thrilled to get out earlier in the year,” she said.

The tempestuous weather of December 2006, which left the Island without power for a week, had students at their desks until nearly the end of June. This had a big influence on the School Board’s decision to shorten mid-winter break, thereby allowing more flexibility for make-up days. In a parent survey taken at the time, nearly three quarters of those who responded favored a schedule allowing for “built-in snow days.” Teachers also supported the move to cancel mid-winter break, saying they would benefit from the extra instructional time before spring testing.

“A lot of people — teachers and parents — think it’s helpful to have kids in school prior to the WASL tests of March and April,” Morrison said.

Negotiations between the MIEA and School Board will commence early next year, after the online survey is studied. Other factors, such as the calendars of nearby school districts and family vacation plans, will also be considered, Braman pointed out.

“We don’t know yet what other districts are doing, but that always impacts decisions because many teachers have kids in off-Island schools. Also, the Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010, so maybe we will want to have mid-winter break to allow families to attend,” Braman said.

The parent/faculty survey, available on the district’s Web site, proposes eight scheduling possibilities for the 2009-10 school year, including an early or late September start, an eight- to 10-day winter break, two- to five-day mid-winter break, and final day of school from June 11 to June 25. It is open for response until Dec. 5.

To take the survey, go to www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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