Calendar Committee recommends continuing 4-day schedule, Governing Board decision still pending
By Dana Trumbull
The guiding principles stressed to the diverse participants in the Apache Junction Unified School District’s Calendar Advisory Committee were: 1) good for kids, 2) good for AJUSD and 3) good for our community. With these ideals in mind and after months of study, the committee’s presentation at the December 12, 2017, AJUSD Governing Board meeting offered two possible options for the 2017-18 school calendar: a traditional four-day calendar, similar to the current schedule, but with added days to allow for later start times; and a modified year-round five-day calendar with longer fall, winter and spring breaks and a shorter summer break. The committee’s recommendation is the four-day option.
Committee member Rachel Mangum explained priorities, “One of the biggest concerns that kept coming up everywhere among the people on the committee and on the surveys is about the school start times… and the end times, for that matter. At the high school and the junior high, we start very early. It’s very dark, and it’s cold this time of year. This was a big concern. And if the start times are later, our elementaries shouldn’t end after 4 p.m.”
Mangum also stressed the need to reinstate parent-teacher conferences at the junior high and high school levels. “There was a strong voice that we need to have that come back.” Both calendars presented embed professional development time for teachers as well.
Before and after school opportunities, child care and family time were considered by the committee, as well as potential savings through multi-tasking buses for additional routes, as proposed in the recent transportation audit.
To poll stakeholder preferences and concerns, the Calendar Committee sent surveys to former AJUSD families, current AJUSD families and AJUSD staff. Within the three groups, 60% of the current families stated that they prefer the four-day week, citing reasons such as increased family time, a better learning experience and better rested children. Ironically, those same reasons were at the top of the list for parents who expressed a preference for the five-day week.
53% of current parents stated that they feel the four-day week is academically better as well.
Many parents who favored the five-day week cited the need to secure Friday childcare with the current schedule.
30% of the district’s former families, stated that the four-day week was their primary reason for leaving, but 72% of these respondees stated that returning to a five-day calendar would not draw them back to the district. Full results of the survey, including comments, can be accessed on the district website: https://www.ajusd.org/Page/12156.
Committee research included presentations by AJUSD Director of Finance Cindy Reichert, Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell, AJUSD Director of Educational Services Heather Wallace, AJUSD Superintendent Krista Anderson and Apache Junction Director of Parks and Recreation Liz Langenbach. Topics included state and federal budgets, area demographics and housing estimates, student achievement and attendance and extended learning opportunities offered within the community. Participants reviewed data from high performing districts in Arizona, enrollment trends, research on instructional time, brain development, school calendars, sleep studies and juvenile offender data.
Jason Digos provided the presentation summary. “What we recommend to the Board is a four-day traditional calendar, similar to what we have now, but we’ve increased the calendar year by a few days. We are currently at 146 days, so adding a few extra days (to 150 days) will allow us to have the parent-teacher conferences, work in professional development for teachers and work in a shortened day so we’re not starting the school day quite so early. The start and stop times are a little bit fluid, but we are estimating about a 7:15 a.m.-7:30 a.m. start time at the junior high and high school levels, which are currently 6:50 a.m. By giving these guidelines to transportation, we can find the most efficient use of our routes and come up with a schedule that works for everyone.
“The length of the day is a factor, too,” Digos added. “Currently, elementary is at 7 ½ hours, which is a really long day for young kids. Junior high and high school are almost 8 hours and 20 minutes. By adding those few extra days to the school year, we can shorten the school days.”
The Governing Board will consider the Calendar Committee recommendations and revisit the topic in January.