School board dismisses early start for classes

PAT FRIDGEN

Twenty-five parents and students breathed a sigh of relief after the Greencastle-Antrim school board rejected a start date of August 15 for the 2011-2012 school year.

Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover had proposed the idea in the interest of better education. He believed the early start would benefit the students. At the secondary level, the semester would end before Christmas vacation, so final tests would not be delayed until the third week in January. In addition, he said kids learned better in August than in June, and the early schedule allowed more time to prepare for the PSSA tests in the spring.

Currently the school operates from late August into the second week of June.

The concept went down 7-2 on Nov. 4. Board president Arnie Jansen and William Thorne supported the motion to adopt the early start calendar. The members opposed were Paul Politis, Howard Ritchey, Mike Shindle, Kristy Faulkner, Joel Fridgen, Brian Hissong and Eric Holtzman.

Hoover plans to create another calendar for the board to review at the Nov. 18 worksession and to adopt in December. He said it would be similar to the 2010-2011 schedule.

Arguments

Hoover had polled his professional staff. He received responses from 159 teachers and administrators. Of those, 104 said more learning took place in August than in early summer. On the question of whether they supported the early start, 161 people responded and 90 said yes.

Only three citizens addressed the board. Rusty Bishop asked about the impact on students at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center. Dawn Boscolo read a prepared letter with reasons the shift was not a good idea and her husband Marty said his restaurant student employees would earn 20 percent less, since he wouldn’t need the full staff right after school ended in late May.

Boscolo’s letter said her research indicated finals after Christmas yielded higher test scores;  the amount of time preparing for standardized tests did not affect scores while curriculum, teachers and parents did; the Aug. 15 date would mean band camp started in July; fall sports would be affected, with athletes likely pressured to attend voluntary summer practices; and academic problems would surface in blending with FCCTC’s different schedule.

The audience cheered after her presentation.

Jansen liked the early start, with a clear delineation of semesters, and extra time on material prior to the state-mandated PSSA tests, with standards of performance rising each year.

“Education is getting down to fine degrees,” he said. “You have a chance to be more successful.”

Fridgen was concerned with the interdependence on the business community, and wondered why the district would rock the boat when it needed community support.

Politis thought it sounded like change for the sake of change and would be a hassle. Ritchey wanted all five school districts affiliated with FCCTC to make calendar changes at the same time.

Hoover and the administration had determined ways to cooperate with FCCTC to accomodate the various programs, but high school principal Ed Rife said there would still be a lot of work to do.

After the vote, Hoover thanked the public for attending.

“I’m glad I could stir up some trouble,” he added. “I bring ideas to the board I think will improve education. They can vote them up or down.”