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2014-15 school year to start early

Last year’s decision overturned by board

By Doug Lindner
Solon Economist


Classes for the 2014-2015 school year will now start Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, with graduation Sunday, May 17, 2015.

SOLON– If you started planning for the Solon school district’s 2015 graduation last year, you might want to update your plans.
On a 3-2 vote, the members of the Solon school board have adopted a new calendar for the 2014-2015 year, changing both the start of classes and commencement for seniors.
School will now start Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, with graduation Sunday, May 17, 2015.
The new calendar will also implement a weekly 1:45 p.m. early dismissal to provide more collaborative learning time for teachers.
The earlier start will allow the district to align the end of the first semester with winter break and to keep graduation ceremonies on the weekend before Memorial Day, but one board member was openly critical of the decision and the process.
Last year, board member Dean Martin noted, the school board approved a start date of Aug. 20 for both the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years.
It passed by a similarly narrow margin.
“That was done after much input and deliberation,” Martin said at the board’s Feb. 10 meeting. “There were surveys given out to the parents and other stakeholders, there was a lot of work done by the calendar committee to provide information to the board last year. The board took all the information into consideration and spent a lot of time before making the decision.”
Martin said the calendar committee which presented the new option for next school year should have worked with the dates already established by the previous board.
“Why would the calendar committee come to the board with different start dates last month?” he asked. “That is going against the decision that was made by the board, and that is not proper procedure. That sets a bad precedent.”
The proposal to change the start of the school year resulted from the board’s stated desire to see graduation remain on the weekend before the Memorial Day holiday, according to superintendent Sam Miller and high school principal Nathan Wear.
In addition, the district was seeking to increase the amount of professional development time for teachers, and to adopt a calendar based on instructional hours as opposed to days.
State law now allows the district to construct a school year based either on a required minimum of hours (1,080) or days (180). Switching to the hours requirement would provide the district more flexibility in dealing with certain types of events, such as an unanticipated early dismissal due to a state athletic event or inclement weather.
Board member Dan Coons defended the committee’s actions, noting that options were provided which would maintain either the start date or graduation.
“Both have effects on the community, and I think that’s where our role is coming in now,” Coons said.
Coons supported the earlier start date, as did board member Rick Jedlicka and board president Dick Schwab.
“Each board can modify previous board’s decisions, or uphold them, and that’s the position we’re in this evening,” Schwab said. “We’ve got to decide whether we’re going to honor either a consistent start date or a consistent graduation date.”
Joining Martin on the dissenting side was board member Tim Brown.
“I think it does create challenges,” Brown said. “When the board’s asked to project out three years of start dates and we tell the community school will start on Aug. 20 for the next three years, it’s also bad form to go back and then say, ‘Well, we were just kidding about that, we didn’t really mean Aug. 20.’”Schwab acknowledged the conflicts– the trade-offs between an earlier start and a dependable graduation, and the possibility of aligning the end of the semester with winter break.
“All that is on the table tonight,” Schwab said.
The board was presented with the same options it looked at in January– two calendar options for starting and ending school, and two options for increasing professional development.
According to Miller, the district has attempted to move professional development time to a more regular schedule over several years. He pointed out that in his first year in the district, the school system used a combination of late starts and early outs, while for the last several years the school has had 15 early outs with 1 p.m. dismissals.
At the February meeting, board members needed to decide whether to implement a weekly 1:45 p.m. dismissal or a 1 p.m. dismissal every other week.
The first option would provide an additional 19.5 hours of professional development a year, while the other would add eight hours.
“From a parenting standpoint I would think it’d be easier to do every week,” Jedlicka said. “That makes it a lot simpler at my house.”
There was no clear recommendation from the calendar committee for either start dates or professional developments, Wear told the board. The various groups represented on the committee split on both issues.
“It’s important to me to try to get the end of the first semester prior to Christmas,” Jedlicka said. He also supported having more snow days built into the third quarter, something made possible by starting earlier.
Martin countered that a shorter first semester might create more problems because school cancellations prior to winter break could push finals into the new year.
“I value having the semester completed before Christmas break,” Brown said. “The risk with this calendar is that we’re not going to be done before winter break and it’s going to be pushed to afterward.”
There are no snow days built into the calendar, and Brown suggested the district consider adding the buffer for future years.
That might come soon.
At the January meeting, the calendar committee had been asked to bring a two-year calendar for consideration, but only the 2014-2015 year was on the agenda to approve.
Wear said in an email the committee wanted to wait for board action before preparing the 2015-2016 version. He indicated it could be presented to the board in April or May.