Streams

Multiple Choices for What Makes Up the Last Week of School

Monday, June 25, 2012 - 12:56 AM

The last week of school? How do you define "week"?

For some schools it's two and a half days. Some, one and a half days. Others, just a half day.

Many parents said they have had the toughest time in the last few weeks figuring out which schedule applies to their child's school -- or children's schools -- and then a tougher time figuring out how to make the schedule work for their families.

The only thing that is consistent is that the last day -- the start of summer vacation -- is on Wednesday, and it is an "early dismissal day." And for many students, that's the only day this week that they are required to attend.

Blame the confusion on the city's Department of Education -- or on the warm winter, which was virtually snow-less, which meant no snow days off from school. (In fact, there have been only seven snow days in the past 10 years, according to the Education Department.) That left extra days in the school calendar beyond the minimum 180 days of instruction required by the state.

This year, 657 schools, with permission from city education officials, are taking advantage of the extra time by canceling classes and allocating Monday and Tuesday as professional development days for teachers. Then students return for the last day of the school year on Wednesday, a half day.

But the decision was largely left to the schools, and it varies from campus to campus. And that is leaving parents -- and teachers -- scratching their heads.

"As a parent it makes little sense; as a teacher, I can't even imagine how upset most of them are of just the ridiculousness of this," said Lee Berman, whose daughters attend kindergarten and third grade at Public School 110 on the Lower East Side.

Schools submitted applications to the Education Department to be able to use one or two days as professional development on new Common Core curriculum standards coming next year, said Marge Feinberg, a department spokeswoman. The application required that teachers and parents voted to approve the plan.

Mr. Berman said he was one of two people at his parent association meeting to vote against the proposal.

Seana Wyman, whose son is in second grade at Paula Hedbavny School in Inwood, voted in favor of the plan.

"All development for our teachers I am in full support of," she said, adding that, since she works from home, child care would not be an issue for her.

To be approved for a calendar change request, education officials said, schools needed to meet the needs of any family not able to manage the change in schedule, as well as have a plan to accommodate any parents wishing to opt out of the calendar change.

Jaye Bea Smalley, whose son is in the fourth grade at the Richard Rodgers School of Arts and Technology on the Upper West Side, said she could see how the scheduling changes would be confusing to many parents who have children in multiple schools.

The Richard Rodgers School is closed to students on Monday only, Ms. Smalley said.

"It would be very nice if they would organize this a little more systemically," she said. "I've never seen this kind of variety."

While the schedule may be confusing to parents, it may also be puzzling to some of those schools that applied for professional development days but did not win approval.

Alison Hazut, principal of the Earth School in the East Village, submitted an application to cancel classes after teachers and principals voted for the plan. She said she found out about two weeks ago from an online system that her school's request was denied. She tried to contact the Education Department to find out why, she said, but has not received a response.

Ms. Hazut said she expected low attendance this week, since many parents had already made vacation plans. And she added that teachers were upset.

"In some ways, it was like a slap in the face," she said, because teachers at the Earth School already stay an extra two hours, unpaid, every Thursday for curriculum development.

"They feel like it's not equitable," she said, knowing that many of their colleagues at other schools will have the paid time to plan.

Ms. Hazut said she was hiring a few substitute teachers out of her budget to allow classroom teachers time to plan for the next year during school time.

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