Traffic monitor Pat Mendez held up a stop sign for students yesterday as Maemae Elementary School let out for the day.

School calendar
going to a vote

About 400,000 surveys ask
parents, students and teachers
to help decide the 2006 year

Parents, teachers and students are getting a chance to help decide what calendar will be adopted when Hawaii's public schools shift to a single, uniform schedule in the summer of 2006.

5 choices on ballot

Before adopting a single public school calendar for the 2006-2007 year, schools are surveying parents, teachers and students to decide the most popular approach. The five options:

School starts July 26:

Option 1: 2-week fall break, 3-week winter break, 2-week spring break, 6-week summer.
Option 2: 2-week fall break, 2-week winter break, 2-week spring break, 7-week summer.

School starts Aug. 3:

Option 3: 1-week fall break, 3-week winter break, 2-week spring break, 7-week summer.
Option 4: 1-week fall break, 3-week winter break, 1-week spring break, 8-week summer.

School starts Aug. 10*:

Option 5: No fall break, 2-week winter break, 1-week spring break, 10-week summer.

*The ballot sent to schools mistakenly lists this start date as Aug. 17.
Note: Start dates are subject to negotiation with the union. School years appear short on the ballot because waiver and professional development days are not included.
"We're going after widespread participation, because it affects everybody," said Robert Campbell, director of program support and development for the Department of Education.

The department is distributing 400,000 surveys this week to schools statewide, listing five options. All school staff and parents may vote, along with students in grades four through 12. The results will be used to guide the Board of Education, which will make the final decision next year.

Most schools have already abandoned the traditional school calendar, with its long summer vacation. This year, 178 schools -- or 63 percent -- are on one of three year-round schedules, each featuring different breaks in fall, winter, spring and summer.

Public schools in the same neighborhood are often on varying tracks, creating logistical headaches for families with children of different ages, as well as for central department staff who handle items such as payroll and transportation.

"Everybody's running around to accommodate all these different schedules," said Barbara Lurie, a registered nurse who has a daughter in ninth grade at Roosevelt High School, which is on a traditional calendar, and another in sixth grade at Pauoa Elementary School, which operates year-round. "It's really hectic."

"I totally welcome the move to a single calendar, and I don't think I'm alone. I think there could be a parade to ring in the single school year," she added with a chuckle.

The Legislature passed a law this year to mandate a single school calendar starting with the 2006-2007 school year, after Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto called for the change. It is part of the Reinventing Education Act.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Suzie Lee, vice principal at Waipahu Intermediate School. "I wish they had tried to implement this sooner, because it really does make things so much easier for parents." The seven schools in her complex are on three different calendars.

The five options listed on the ballot offer either no break or a one- or two-week break in the fall; two- or three-week winter vacations; one- or two-week spring breaks; and summers of six to 10 weeks. All include the same number of instructional days.

"I think it's great that they're giving us an opportunity to vote," said Betsy Denzer, a parent coordinator at Stevenson Intermediate School who has three children on two different calendars. "If we all follow the general calendar, it would help as far as planning vacations and taking time off from work to keep an eye on the kids."

She prefers the year-round schedule that starts Aug. 3 and has a one-week break in the fall, three weeks at Christmas, two in the spring and a seven-week summer. That has also been the most popular choice among schools that have adopted modified schedules since the first one, Waihee Elementary, broke with tradition back in 1988.

Hamamoto considers a year-round calendar more effective for instruction, with academic quarters that end before the breaks, and shorter summers so students don't need as much review time. Three breaks during the school year can be used to help ensure students don't fall too far behind.

A uniform schedule will be more efficient for payroll and personnel management, which is handled centrally and now juggles different calendars for more than 250 schools. It will cut school transportation costs, which have been rising, Campbell said. A standard calendar would also allow youth organizations to plan activities better and help police officers track truants.

"I think it's good for the kids to be on the same track as a community," Lurie said. "Everybody's involved because they're on the same schedule, which is really important. If breaks are predictable, then other activities might be available or offered, and the community can respond."

While some observers might be concerned that traffic might increase with all schools on the same schedule, Campbell said that because public school students attend neighborhood schools, he doesn't expect a noticeable effect on major roadways such as H-1 Freeway.

The idea of tapping public sentiment on the issue is popular, but Campbell acknowledged that adopting the final recommendation will be far more controversial.

"No matter what is recommended, I suspect 20 or 30 percent are going to be saying, 'But wait a minute,'" he said.

Completed surveys should be returned to schools by Dec. 15. Charter schools and multi-track schools will not be affected by the move to a uniform school calendar.

For more information, visit the Reinventing Education Act Web site at reach.k12.hi.u.


Waipahu problem

Public schools are on various calendars now, a logistical challenge for families and the Department of Education. In Waipahu, for example, children face three different calendars as they move from elementary to high school:

Modified calendar A:

(2-week fall break, 3-week winter break, 2-week spring break)
Honowai Elementary, starts July 23
Waikele Elementary, starts July 22
Waipahu Elementary, starts July 22

Modified calendar B:

(1-week fall break, 3-week winter break, 2-week spring break)
August Ahrens Elementary, starts Aug. 2
Kaleiopuu Elementary, starts July 30
Waipahu Intermediate, starts July 30

Traditional calendar:

(No fall break, 2-week winter break, 1-week spring break)
Waipahu High School, starts Aug. 23



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