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Norwalk BoE breaks with tradition, gives March school break ‘a try’ in 2021

From left, Norwalk Board of Education members Bruce Kimmel and Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, as shown in the Norwalk Public Schools video of Tuesday’s meeting in City Hall. While Kimmel argued that a March school break is in the best interests of the children, Meyer-Mitchell countered that family time is important for socio-emotional development and that poorer families won’t be leaving the state for vacation.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Public Schools is “experimenting” by moving to a  March spring break in 2020-21, instead of the existing April break.

This was approved Tuesday by the Norwalk Board of Education in a 6-1 vote, with Barbara Meyer-Mitchell arguing in favor of April and Board Chairman Mike Barbis announcing that his district is in support of the March break.

School will start on Aug. 31 in 2020 and end on June 14, 2021, barring snow days. That start date “essentially preserves two full weeks of school in September,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

“My preference was to start after Labor Day, but I understand we’re hamstrung by state guidelines for these tests at a certain time,” Board member Bryan Meek said.

 

Align with neighbors?

Meyer-Mitchell kicked off the debate by advocating for aligning the spring break with surrounding communities; Stamford and New Canaan have time off during the proposed April 5-9 break, which includes having Good Friday off the week before, she said.

“I think we have a responsibility to our families and to our teachers to try and make an effort to align with communities around us so that as many families as possible can spend time together,” she said, calling special times with family “an important piece of the child’s social emotional development.”

Bruce Kimmel said she had some good points – to which she replied, “Don’t look so surprised” – but cited “a lot of logistical issues and family issues” to consider.

“You have to balance the best interests of the of the students … in terms of a whole variety of factors, which do include a state test as much as we dislike,” Kimmel said. “… I think that far outweighs any kind of problems or inconveniences that a family might face, or even staff.”

A March break is common in parts of the country and, “I’d like to give it a try. I’d like to see how we adjust do it, and let’s see what happens. Boards of Ed can always go back to a different schedule,” Kimmel said. “…There may be a variety of silver linings we haven’t even discussed yet. There may be some problems we’re not sure about. But I think it’s certainly worth a try.”

 

A ‘pervasive attitude’

Julie Corbett asked if Adamowski had consulted with other districts.

The answer was yes. Some districts don’t set calendars until halfway through a school year while others plan a year or two in advance, like Norwalk, he said. Whether the break is the week of Good Friday or the week after, there’s “a pervasive attitude” in the wake of the repealed “uniform calendar” legislation that “every district is the center of the universe, they’re going to do their calendar, the way they feel it works best for them,” and Norwalk’s staff is spread over 10 or 11 school districts.

“I looked at nine surrounding districts and even for this coming school year, there were three different options for which week in April is going to be out,” Corbett said. “No matter what we do, we’re not going to be aligned with everyone.”

“I think from an educational standpoint, not just the assessment cycle but overall instructional cycle, the March Break does make more sense,” said Corbett, an education consultant. “There is a reason across the country that many districts have moved to that from the former week in February, week in April, historical break calendar.”

 

However, she cautioned, Norwalk will have to monitor student and staff attendance to see what happens.

Adamowski agreed and said June is one of the worst months for attendance and the entire year needs to be monitored.

“There’s a lot of families with adult children who actually get the March spring break. So I don’t think you ever keep anyone happy,” Meek said, adding that not too long ago there was “angst about having Good Friday, the Roman Catholic day as opposed to the Greek day” and “you’re never going to meet everybody in the middle on this one.”

 

What’s best for the kids?

“Back to Bruce’s point, we just do what’s best for the kids. And I think this plan supports that,” Meek said.

“Is testing about the kids, or is it about assessment of the district?” Meyer-Mitchell replied, pointing out that teacher conferences are in March and the vacation schedule disrupts the “great deal of staff effort that goes into preparing that.”

“I also really appreciated the feedback from Darien that said they have a very intentional program of a week off every seven weeks between breaks, because they’ve discovered that that’s about as long as they can go without teacher and student burnout,” she said. “So they get a full week in February, and a full week in April.”

Lastly, Connecticut’s weather is much more iffy in March than it is in April and “we know that we have a very high low-income population at our schools, these are not families that are likely to be able to travel,” she argued. “I know personally from the recession, what a staycation in Connecticut can be like when it’s cold and rainy. So an April date gives us a better chance of people being able to enjoy their break as much as possible with their families outside and getting exercise fresh air and engaging in the in the spring weather.”

Barbis countered that he polled his District E, basically Rowayton and West Norwalk, and “pretty much it was unanimous” that “we’re in favor of experimenting and trying this March break.”

“I think we should try this,” Heidi Keyes said. “I think we can tweak it if it doesn’t work. And we can, as Bruce had mentioned we can always change it we might go back to where we were, we might try just to find something different.”

calendar nps

assessment calendar nps March break

6 comments

Steve Mann August 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

Ironically, the subject of the school year and various “vacations” during the year came up in conversation last weekend with a dear friend and retired educator. Not surprisingly, she offered that March is a universally despised month among teachers due to it’s length and lack of off-days.

Nicole Memoli Murphy August 21, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Honestly born and raised in Norwalk, a 1993 graduate of McMahon, and siblings that graduated early 80’s from Norwalk High, I find it exhausting that every year my 3 children have attended schools ( currently a senior, sophomore, and 4th grader) they have NEVER had consistency in any schools they have attended. Class course and times changed to block scheduling, multiple Principals between 2 different schools, calendar constantly changing, teachers coming and going, guidance counselors shifting every year, teams to sections, math programs changing, school start times changing and that’s just SOME of it. Don’t get me started in the testing!!!
When is enough going to be enough? They are not guinea pigs. They are children that crave routine, stability and just frankly knowing who they can turn to in the school they are attending.
None of this happens when changes are constant. And for what?? For the people who sit at the Board of Ed to come up with new ways to screw with everyone’s lives, children their families and teachers as well. If you’re “BOARD” of your job then find a new one. Stop coming up with new ways to change things year to year.

Jeff August 21, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Sure seems like the Board of Ed takes a bowl a jello, throws it against the wall, and whatever sticks becomes the new and improved plan.
Consistency that lasts more than a semester would be great.

ConcernedToo August 21, 2019 at 8:30 pm

“We can’t satisfy everyone, so let’s satisfy no one!”

Wonderful argument lol.

There’s only one state test that truly matters to the kids, and that’s the SAT. What’s funny is this policy hurts students taking the SAT because it puts a break right before the SAT (which is in late March), where before it would have happened afterwards. It appears to this reader that the BOE is trying to create the illusion of growth by timing the break at a time when scores would be higher on the meaningless middle and elementary school state mandated tests, which doesn’t help those kids at all and hurts our kids taking the SAT.

It concerns me that they might be doing to that boost scores without actually boosting learning, because I’ve been worried for a while that our amazing accountability index scores are a mirage, a result of figuring out how to make ourselves look better without actually being better. Despite all the focus on the accountability index, SAT scores basically haven’t budged. Meanwhile, the graduation rate has gone through the roof, and the district touts some stats that seem impossible. For example this website reported that Adamowski said that 97% of high school graduates from Norwalk in 2019 will go to college in the fall (for the class of 2017, the most recent data available, the state reported Norwalk at 69%. 97% would be an absolute miracle – let’s see what the state says in two years!).

Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s hard to be convinced yet that we’re actually on the sustainable path of growth that everyone seems to be saying we are.

Ah well. Early start times, year round school, changing vacation… I wonder what the next experiment is going to be.

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