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.”