Mid-August used to be about summer vacations, sleeping in and days at the pool. But for thousands of young students this week, it’s been about getting up early, wolfing down breakfast and going to school.
Kettering and Hamilton schools began on Tuesday. At least three districts, including Centerville, Middletown and New Lebanon, began Wednesday. Dayton schools began Thursday.
But some schools don’t start for another two weeks.
John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said districts have the power to plan their calendars, as long as they include the minimum 182 school days set by the state legislature in 1987.
“There is no guidance from us about that,” Charlton said of the timing of the school year. “Those are local decisions.”
Local superintendents cited three main reasons for pushing up the school year:
1. Providing more instruction before standardized tests in the spring.
2. Finishing the first semester, including exams, before winter break.
3. Aligning the school year more with the state colleges, which are on the semester system.
Over the past two years, Kettering schools have pushed up their start date two weeks. They did it, superintendent Jim Schoenlein said, to give students “a leg up on all the other kids in the state” when it comes to taking standardized tests.
“There’s a whole range of important tests that kids take in the spring,” Schoenlein said. “People think it’s just state tests, but it’s not. There are advanced placement tests, international baccalaureate tests, college entrance exams, college placement exams. All very important things for kids.
“When you move the year forward, you move instruction days in front of those important tests.”
Schoenlein admits that the change comes with “some inconveniences.”
“People have summer vacations,” he said. “There are places like Kings Island and Cedar Point. It inconveniences folks. And we surely understand that, but I think the benefit for our kids outweighs the inconvenience.”
Break at semester
Centerville, which started Wednesday, moved up its school calendar a couple weeks last year. Superintendent Tom Henderson said the main reasons were to align with the college schedule and to get the first semester finished before Christmas.
“In the past we used to come back after the winter break, in the new year, maybe have a week of school, then do review, and then have three or four days of finals,” Henderson said.
“If you threw in a snow day there, sometimes before you knew it you were to the end of January. So from that standpoint, it’s worked out really well.”
Henderson said the district began discussions about the schedule change during the 2010-11 school year. The district consulted with a parents group called the Curriculum Advisory Board that has a representative from every school’s parent-teacher organization.
“We actually ran it past them … and we asked them to get back to their buildings and get feedback,” Henderson said. “We had a lot of conversation with our board of education and also with our teachers.
“It was pretty much a ‘thumb’s up’ when the decision was made to go in that direction, and then the board approved it.”
Henderson said he only got a complaint from one parent last year who was worried about the heat. But the weather cooperated last August – as well as this month – and Henderson pointed out that the district’s buildings are air-conditioned.
“I think everybody that first year was kind of like, ‘Wow, we’re kind of going back in the middle of the summer.’ But overall, it was a very positive start,” he said.
Centerville junior Ben Brenner said he supports the early start.
“I think it’s really good now. Because of the change we don’t have finals after winter break anymore,” he said. “So it’s a lot easier to remember everything you’ve studied.
“I guess it is a little bit weird in that school doesn’t usually start this early. But it seems natural now after a year of it. And I think the benefits outweigh the costs of that.”
Greg Williams, superintendent of New Lebanon Local schools, which also started Wednesday, said both increased instruction before testing and finishing the semester before winter break were important reasons to start early.
He said he hasn’t heard any complaints.
Avoiding the heat
Not all districts, however, have made the mid-August choice.
West Carrollton and Vandalia-Butler schools, for example, don’t start until Aug. 27.
West Carrollton Superintendent of Schools Rusty Clifford said his district hasn’t changed its calendar during the 15 years he’s been there. He sees the logic of getting more instruction in and aligning with college courses that more high school students are taking.
And Clifford pointed out that West Carrollton has one of the oldest year-round elementary schools in the country, which started classes in the middle of July.
But he said the district hasn’t been tempted to change the calendar for all its schools. Part of the reason is that West Carrollton’s buildings aren’t all air-conditioned.
“You know, every August is not hot. Look at this one,” he said. “But 95 percent of them are.
“And to ask them (students and teachers) to come in in the middle of August … We’ve got fans and we can move the air in buildings. But when you’re moving that hot, humid air … that’s not a great start for what we want to be a great school year.”
New Vandalia-Butler school superintendent Bradley Neavin said he’s heard the arguments for starting earlier, but he said every community is different. In eastern Ohio, he said, some schools want time off for the beginning of hunting season.
“A lot of it has to do with the culture of the community in making that decision,” Neavin said. “But we’ll start that process in the fall, looking at what next year’s calendar will be.”