Correspondent

PLEASANTON -- The Pleasanton Unified School District is putting into place a controversial plan that rearranges the district's instructional calendar to reduce summer vacations by a week for all students.

The change was supposed to begin during the 2015-16 school year, but, due to a procedural oddity, it's possible that implementation could be moved back to 2016-17 instead.

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, school board members opted to go with the median of five different instructional calendar formats shown to them. The one they selected, dubbed "modified lite," reduces summer breaks to nine weeks, creates a weeklong break in early October, and moves the first semester's end date several weeks earlier, to the beginning of winter break.

Other options presented to the board ranged from keeping the traditional calendar, with a 10-week summer, and the first semester ending in late January, to the more extreme "modified" or "modified hybrid" options, which would have reduced summer to seven and eight weeks respectively, in addition to adding/extending break periods during spring and fall.

All of the options gave the same amount of break weeks; it was just a matter of how those weeks were arranged.


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Just before the board's vote, though, it was revealed that the district had already agreed to start/finish dates with district staff that corresponded with the "modified lite" plan, as part of their collective bargaining agreement. The agreement stated that, if the board voted for "modified lite," that plan would be implemented, or the board could have opted to go with the traditional option. But, if the board had voted for any of the other options, the district would have had to go back to the bargaining table with teachers and staff before the changes could take place, said Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.

That revelation drew groans, shouts, and a grumbling of sarcasm from the crowd of parents on hand, most there to oppose the change.

The district began exploring the idea of modifying the academic calendar in October 2013, saying at the time they were going to study other districts with non-traditional calendars and make a data-based decision. They ultimately arrived at the conclusion that adding a weeklong break and changing the semester end date would help reduce stress for high schools, particularly for advanced placement students, said the district's human resources director, Mark McCoy.

"The October break would allow students to do some of their college visits, and semester transcripts will be ready weeks earlier than they would have been, to be sent to colleges," he said.

Parents who oppose any changes have cited many reasons, including less summer job availability, interference with summer camps, and the extra cost of air conditioning and health risks of having school during August.

"I feel like there needs to be more research done and more conversation with parents," said Kathleen Benson, of Pleasanton, one of at least 20 parents who showed up in opposition to the calendar modification. "I feel like I've told every single parent I knew about these forums that were happening, and people just didn't know about them."

Board member Chris Grant acknowledged comments from parents who turned out against the modification, but said "There have been hundreds of districts that have modified their calendar to earlier starts, and there's very, very few that have decided that didn't work for them in a favorable way," he said.

The district surveyed staff, held forums with parents, and conducted a formal parent survey this month, which garnered thousands of responses, but only 3,000 from high school parents. Board president Jamie Hintzke, who supported the "modified lite," said she wasn't satisfied the district had done a good job surveying parents.

Trustee Valerie Arkin agreed, and cast the board's lone "no" vote, asking to put off a decision for a year.

"Only getting 3,000, to me that isn't really statistically significant," Arkin said. "In hindsight, maybe we should have sent a letter home to every parent, because then everybody would have known. There would have been no excuse," she said.