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No Decisions Made on Eliminating School Vacation Week in Mendon Upton

Discussions will continue on changes to the Mendon Upton Regional School Calendar after the School Committee members decided to gather more information before making a final decision.

During the March 3 School Committee Meeting, the group discussed the results of a survey sent to parents and staff about the school calendar including eliminating one of the vacation weeks between winter and spring. The survey was generated after a February 10 School Committee Meeting when a number of School Committee members expressed an interest in looking at eliminating one of the school vacation weeks, which could alleviate the issue of snow days pushing the last day of school into late June when the students are going to school in buildings without air-conditioning.

The survey, which went out to parents and staff on February 24 asked five questions: should the February/Winter break be eliminated; should the February/Winter Break be changed so students attend school at least three days that week, with President's Day and an adjacent Friday off; should the Winter and Spring breaks be consolidated into one vacation week in March; should the School Calendar remain as is with a Winter and Spring Break; and comments.

Maruszczak presented the results of the survey during the March 3 meeting, stating that the survey was only meant as a tool for the School Committee to use to make a decision on the calendar, and "wasn't meant to be scientific."

Maruszczak also reminded the School Committee Mass General Law requires students to attend school for 180 days per school year and teachers for 184 days. "The essential question is, what is the ideal end date for school? How productive is it when you are still in school on June 20 and 21, when the overwhelming majority of the classrooms are not air-conditioned?" he said.

Maruszczak said that they received 936 responses, out of approximately 2,400 parent surveys, and 205 staff responses. Going through each question, he shared the results, breaking down the answers by parents and staff for each question but stating there was no real consensus. Regarding eliminating February vacation, 56 percent of the parents "Strongly Agreed" while 57 percent of the teachers "Strongly Disagreed." Maruszczak said that there was a split on some of the other questions as well, though both groups, 62 percent, feel that the calendar should be changed. "There seems to be some very strong opinions on both sides," said Maruszczak, who read some of the comments that came from both parents and staff. He said a common theme noted the closeness of the February break to the winter vacation, while on the flip-side respondents said students under pressure from high stakes testing need breaks. He added comments were made about the February vacation being in the middle of cold and flu season, noting the schools should be "aired out" during that break.

Maruszczak said he recommended approving the 2014/15 School Calendar without any changes and that the School Committee should form a subcommittee of staff members and parents to develop a long-term solution for the 2015/16 school year and beyond.

School Committee Member Liana Moore said she favored eliminating February vacation. "From the parents I talked to.....there is an appetite for change," she said. "I see a lot of benefits to revising our existing schedule." Moore added she did not support forming a subcommittee, which would delay any change to the calendar.

Other members of the Committee said more information was needed before they could make a decision. "We need to get a cross-section of people in a room and see what is really best for the students in the district. I really think we need to include the teachers and administrators in this decision." said Member Diane Duncan. Committee Member Chris Russo said he felt that caution was warranted saying, "This is a subject that needs to be long thought out. We most likely need to do something; I just don't want to rush it."

School Committee Chairperson Phil De Zutter asked Maruszczak to gather more information and report back at the April 7 meeting about areas districts, which have changed their school calendars such as Taunton and look into other alternatives besides eliminating February vacation. De Zutter added by that date committee members would understand their options and have a better feeling for people's "readiness" for any changes.


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