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‘Complicated’ NPS calendar issue inspires debate

An excerpt from the Norwalk Public Schools proposed 2020-21 school calendar, showing a 5-day break in March and two early dismissal days to allow for parent-teacher conferences.

NORWALK, Conn. —A proposal to reschedule Norwalk’s winter school break to March, instead of April, is inspiring controversy and debate.

The proposal ­– which would take place in the 2020-21 school year, not next winter – also includes two three-day weekends to coincide with Presidents Day and Easter. It originated from a discussion at the May 21 Board of Education meeting, where Chairman Mike Barbis suggested the March break in response to concerns raised by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski about the time students have to prepare for state testing.

“I would simply welcome that. I think it makes sense, more sense educationally because it puts much more time of instruction between the break and high stakes testing,” Adamowski replied, commenting that March breaks are standard in the Midwestern calendar, “which I was very familiar with at one time in my career.”

“That would be the worst case scenario for teachers with children in suburban school systems because it would be totally off but if I knew the Board would consider something like that I would be interested in presenting that in a heartbeat because that would actually be the most sound way to handle the break,” Adamowski said.

Indeed, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting protested the resultant proposal, announcing that slightly more than half of NFT members do not live in Norwalk and will be out of work while their children are expected to be in school because those communities will be “out of sync” with Norwalk, should the proposal be approved.

A husband and wife team of parents said Barbis had asked them to poll the Fox Run Elementary School community, and results show more parents are against the idea than for it. Not only that, but staff members complain that students really struggle with lethargy in February and that’s when a break is needed, one said.

The proposal has created an outcry on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, where some parents called the drafted calendar “horrific,” “awful” and a “disaster.” Nora King, in return, said many parents have wanted a March vacation and, “There have been a lot of parents unhappy about the April break for years.”

“Our interest in the calendar as educators is one which is helps facilitate the achievement of our students,” Adamowski said Tuesday. “So there are two variables. One is how much instructional time we can get because our students need that, and they need more of that to close the achievement gap.”

Gloria and Eric Neiderer said Barbis asked them to poll Fox Run parents to get their thoughts on two four-day weekends coinciding with Presidents Day and Easter and a week off in March instead of April, but the draft in front of the Board specified two three-day weekends.

Barbis in May suggested that Board members poll their stakeholders. Fox Run is in District E, which Barbis represents.

“Why weren’t we asked to also poll the scenario that is on this proposed calendar?” Gloria Neiderer asked. “Ideally, I would prefer a week off in February and also a week off in April so I could choose which vacation time would best fit my family, so schools could be properly cleaned during flu season.”

The decision is up to the Board and will be considered at the July retreat, Adamowski said.

Board members Sarah LeMieux, Julie Corbett and Heidi Keyes in May indicated support for a March break while Barbara Meyer-Mitchell pushed back, asking for data about absences inspired by parents seeking a vacation.

Adamowski on Tuesday said that “many, many families in our school system” do not have the option of taking a vacation, given that more than a third are single parents who hold a job and two-thirds of families have both parents at work, with more than half of Norwalk’s school children “in poverty.”

He listed advantages to a March break:

  • More time between NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) end of year testing and the “high stakes” Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) state assessment in May
  • More time between the spring break and the SBAC testing
  • Dividing the school year into thirds

 

“This lends itself to the current trimester system we have at the elementary level and would enable an easy transition to trimesters at the middle schools, where it is also our goal to implement parent teacher conferences twice per year, similar to the elementary level,” Adamowski said. “If you look at the calendar, all of that just works very well and more organically because we’re not interrupting a trimester with a break at that point.”

Adamowski in May had presented a draft calendar that gave students Good Friday off and then a one-week break following Easter, which would mean NWEA testing before the break, he said.

“Then the research tells us we need at least three weeks back in school before we take the high stakes SBAC testing in May, to avoid disadvantaging our students,” he said.

The administration would be happy with either calendar, either the traditional one or the one putting the break in March, but the question is the disruption on families, Adamowski said Tuesday, stressing that it’s up to the Board.

NPS has 1,986 employees, including part-timers, of whom 1,035 are teachers or administrators, he said, also explaining that 52% of the staff and 35% of the teacher/administrator staff live in Norwalk. Of that, 21% of the staff with school age children live in other districts, primarily Trumbull, Stamford and Fairfield.

It’s good that the Board is planning ahead because there’s time to study the issue, he said.

“We know the calendar is a very complicated issue,” Barbis said. “We sometimes know, I think, we need to relook, or consider other options, try to experiment, because, just because we have always done it that way doesn’t mean we should continue doing it that way.”

NancyOnNorwalk did not attend the meeting but watched it on the NPS video.

One parent on the Facebook page said she had been there and Meyer-Mitchell “attempted to speak on the calendar and despite being looked directly at 2 different times, she was not called on to speak. At least 3 different times during the meeting she had to start speaking into the microphone bc her hand up was not acknowledged.”

“I favor a full week in February and April, aligned with our neighboring districts, with coordinated camps through our Parks department and non-profit partners to provide affordable, enriching child care for families with working parents who need it,” Meyer-Mitchell wrote. “The argument for the March break is to allow at least three weeks of continuous instruction before the SBAC in May {…} My concern with this schedule is teacher and student burnout. They need regular breaks to recharge. Also, if one’s family couldn’t afford to travel, a ‘spring break’ with CT March weather won’t be very fun. During the recession when we couldn’t travel, at least we could go to the beach or parks. That would not really be an option in March.”

Board member Bryan Meek wrote, “The reasoning has everything to do with expectations for educational outcomes and not where adults are going to play.”

Other thoughts on the Facebook page include:

  • “what educational outcomes? Dr. A stated last night that instructional time was the biggest concern. Research again and again points to children needing more play and social emotional earning and THAT will help to increase their learning. NOT more instructional time.”
  • “Many issues: elementary events are on Thursdays and those are almost wiped out in March by this calendar, there will be a vacation in between conferences which is very disruptive. Most colleges offer accepted student days during our current April break which will cause seniors to have additional absences in April. The April May stretch is very long. SAT in school has generally been in March so it would hit near this break. There are some years that the April break coincides with Passover which allows for travel for the holiday. I don’t understand cramming a vacation into March, most of the towns that tried it went back. This only would benefit spring athletes but would be disruptive for most of our other students IMO”
  • “They want to test these children constantly but no true progress is being made.  Perhaps this top down model doesn’t work. Central office positions have been created these last few years but no true support on the front lines. Let’s give our teachers the tools to help our children succeed.”
  • “Where was the theory of poor people do not go away for April break? Is that just an assumption? It may be true that some do not go away, but alot of people have relatives that come during this break. They enjoy spending time with family. Taking time off from work to spend time with your children in a warmer month means a lot and does not always have to involve money.”

12 comments

Kathleen June 20, 2019 at 9:48 am

For once I would like Dr. A to actually state the research to which he is referring when he makes decisions. Adding days to the calendar does not result in higher test scores. I would add that higher test scores should not be the goal for districts. What does increase student LEARNING is represented in the academic literature as a healthy school climate and provisions for teachers to attend trainings that foster social/emotional behaviors that help kids feel connected to a teacher and feel safe in school. Dr. Adamowski should read the research before even suggesting that such a change “might” be vital for anything.

tests June 20, 2019 at 1:56 pm

“So there are two variables. One is how much instructional time we can get because our students need that, and they need more of that to close the achievement gap.”

Educating the youth of America IS NOT 100% ABOUT ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AND STANDARDIZED TESTING. I agree 100% with Kathleen that never once has the superintendent or the BOE cited ANY evidence that is educational or remotely sound. Watch the meeting and see how many times the BOE or Superintendent cites “research” – yet never provides any credible sources.

What good are all of these test scores going to do for the students of NPS? We have students who sit in blocks for an extreme amount of time (see the MS redesign, redesign, of the actual redesign failure) so now we are going to double-down on that time!? When they graduate we are going to have amazing test takers and students who lack the basic fundamentals to survive in the modern world.

Lets not forget all of the students who have special needs, or might have an interest in the arts that are being pulled because they are not on “grade level” according to these magnificent tests.

OVER IT

John Popp June 20, 2019 at 2:24 pm

THANK YOU for finally considering a March break! This provides for a longer break earlier than NPS has now. There are still long weekends in February and April, to give kids a “mini-break”. The March break more evenly distributes the amount of instructional time before and after the break between January and the end of school. To say that it isn’t educationally sound to take a March break is ludicrous, where is the data to support that claim? There are a good number of states that have March breaks and the majority of private schools have their breaks in March.
It is true that many teachers may have different breaks than their children if they live in different towns but this is also true now. As a full-time working parent I don’t have the luxury of automatically being off when my child is on school break, let alone in the summer time. We find ways to make it work. It’s part of being a working parents.
As for the argument that March is not a good time to take a vacation, we could get snowed in, it’s not nice out, etc., this is just disgusting and reflective of the entitlement in this area.
Why are we even thinking of planning on when it’s a good vacation time?! Yes, you could get snowed in and miss your flight, oh well. That means the kids have to go outside and go sledding, play in the snow, be creative indoors, relax and read a book. There is still Christmas break for a winter vacation or take an extra day MLK weekend or Presidents weekend in February. For something warmer you’ve got from end of school in June until the end of August to plan a vacation, figure it out.
The “flu season” argument is invalid. According to the CDC the flu virus is only live on a surface for 2 to a maximum of 8 hours. Parents need to keep their kids home when they are sick and our schools need to be properly cleaned each day with a more thorough cleaning at least once a week.
I hope that the naysayers can take a step back and really look at what this means for the kids. They still get a long weekend in February, the week break is moved up so that they are not completely burnt out when it arrives and they still get a long weekend in April. They have the downtime they need to be refresh and ready to learn. It’s different from what we are used to but it makes sense.

Joe June 20, 2019 at 7:55 pm

Public schools have way too many holidays. All these holidays are too expensive and too disruptive to our students’ education.

We can’t afford this anymore. The school year should end in May so our teachers have a full three months to get another job.

If I was boss, I would allow one or two weeks for Christmas vacation (whatever we had in the 50’s and 60’s) four days for Easter, one day for Thanksgiving and that’s it.

Students need time in the saddle. It’s as simple as that. It’s common sense.

And kids who make the grade need three months of summer vacation to a have fun and be free of organized activities.

And the kids who flunk have to go to summer school to try to avoid the humiliation of being held back.

I was the laziest daydreaming student in the world and this type of system worked well for me and now I’m happy as a clam, eating well and I’m warm in the winter.

DT June 20, 2019 at 10:37 pm

Testing, testing, testing….that’s all this school system has become. And remember this quote from Dr. A.: “People don’t know what they want, they know what they have.”He should have been fired on the spot for making that comment to the media and public. Who cares what they do in the Midwest? Just because somebody else tries something doesn’t make it right.

April Guilbault June 20, 2019 at 11:25 pm

Have to say, I’m sort of fan of the March break idea. A break in February always seemed odd to me, given that just about 5 weeks prior the kids were coming off of December break. For those with older siblings, March break also potentially can sync up with college calendars allowing families to have a break together which, although not something to consider when weighing this decisions, could be a nice bonus.

Steve June 21, 2019 at 6:21 am

Gotta agree with those who say the cart is leading the horse. The school schedule should not be subordinate to testing. There is a place for testing, especially if the tests advance the curriculum, but the scope of testing and the weight out in the kids regarding the testing is ridiculous.

DT June 21, 2019 at 3:54 pm

I like Joes’s post and attitude!
But unfortunately our society has become much too “soft.” You can’t even look at a kid in the wrong way without parents complaining these days.
Oh, how I long for the 1960s and 1970s again. The good old days.

teachersfriend June 25, 2019 at 9:39 pm

While I normally agree that teachers with children in other towns should not be a consideration when cancelling school for snow, vacations are a little different because teachers don’t get other vacation days. While they do have a lot of vacation time, they do not get to choose when to use them. They get a couple of personal days but could not take a week off to plan a family trip the same week their children are off.

Mike Lyons June 25, 2019 at 10:57 pm

Re the various comments about testing above (e.g., “Testing, testing, testing….that’s all this school system has become”). As is so often the case in comments on NON, the comments seem completely disconnected from reality. SOME testing IS important in a school system – don’t individual teachers give classroom tests regularly? But excessive testing (especially high-stakes testing) is just as bad. We get that. That’s why two years ago we ELIMINATED 13 different sets of tests that we felt were pressuring kids without providing any real educational value. The tests eliminated were – 1) CT Preschool Assessment; 2) ELA Journeys; 3) GoMath; 4) Science Skills Benchmark; 5) DIBELS; 6) Smarter Balance Interim Assessments; 7) HMH Reading Inventory; 8) Big Ideas Math; 9) CCSS Algebra 1; 10) CCSS Geometry; 11) Science Skills Benchmarks; 12) Prentice Hall ELA 6-8; 13) Prentice Hall ELA 9-12. These were replaced by a three-times per year NWEA assessment, which is actually used to gauge where students stand so interventions can be made during the school year to help students with identified needs.

So yes, we have tests (like every other school system on the planet). But we’ve taken major steps to reduce the number of those tests and to only use ones that add value. The exact opposite of “Testing, testing, testing….that’s all this school system has become”.

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