Fewer half-days, shorter spring break possible for schools

Howard panel to examine policy changes to increase instruction and flexibility

September 10, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

A committee will begin working on the 2005-2006 Howard County school calendar, focusing on reducing the number of half-days and possibly shortening spring break to allow for more instruction and flexibility toward the end of the year.

The county Board of Education offered few suggestions yesterday so that the school calendar committee could bring back wide-ranging recommendations for the board to consider.

The committee also will discuss the schools' start date. Ten districts in Maryland began school earlier than Aug. 30, the first day for Howard County students.

"I'm interested in hearing about an earlier start date," said board member Joshua Kaufman. "It's certainly worth thinking about."

The committee will start meeting this month and focus on several issues, including eliminating two of the three half-days at the end of the year if the high school exam schedule is changed, and shortening the weeklong spring break to increase instruction days before Memorial Day, said Patti Caplan, the committee chairwoman and a schools spokeswoman.

The current high school exam schedule calls for students to take tests for a longer period during half-days, which gives teachers the remaining time to grade them, Caplan said.

Going to a full-day exam schedule would require revisions to the school system's high school grading and reporting policy, which is under review, Caplan said.

Board member Sandra French told Caplan that she preferred that the policy changes dictate revisions to the calendar instead of the other way around.

"The policy should be approved first, before the calendar is constructed," she said.

Another committee reviewing the high school grading and reporting policy is expected to present recommendations next month, said Sandra Erickson, chief of administration and school instruction.

In addition to exam scheduling needs, half-days are allotted for parent-teacher conferences and teacher work time. But half-days have been a concern because they disrupt instruction time and create after-school issues for some parents.

This school year there are 11 half-days scheduled for high schools, and nine for elementary and middle schools, Caplan said.

Shortening spring break at the end of March would give teachers and students extra time in class and for preparation for the High School Assessments, as well as the possibility of ending school earlier in June, Caplan said.

"If we shorten spring break, it gives us flexibility at the end of the year, especially if we have to make up days for inclement weather," she said.

In other business, the school board approved three legislative proposals for the coming General Assembly session, including charging administrative and maintenance costs to organizations using school facilities and giving local school boards more authority to hire and fire superintendents.

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