The DeKalb County School District (DCSD) recently proposed changes to the 2012-13 school calendar that some residents say could affect the entire community.
“In March Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson tasked a committee of stakeholders with looking at a balanced calendar for the school district to build [in] more instructional days for the students,” DeKalb Schools spokesman Walter Woods said.
DCSD posted three calendar options and a survey on its website asking stakeholders to provide input and vote on which calendar they favored. The survey closed April 12, and parent Jennifer Hatfield said that wasn’t enough time for the district to propose such drastic changes to a calendar that has already been approved.
“Parents have planned their summers accordingly—they’ve put their children in camps and scheduled trips—because the calendar was published,” Hatfield said. “Now here we are four months before school starts back and they’re presenting all of these changes.”
Each calendar proposed has different start and end dates for students—one calendar has the school year starting 12 days earlier than the approved calendar. Another calendar changes the dates when students have spring break.
Hatfield, who has two children attending Evansdale Elementary School, said she is aware Atkinson is pushing for a more balanced school calendar but thought the changes should have been proposed for the 2013-14 school year.
“I also think that that the calendars are not different enough. All three of them have an early release day on Wednesday and it doesn’t really give parents a choice in the matter. Also, the proposed calendar that most resembles the one voted on by the district doesn’t have a spring break that syncs up with the other systems in the metro area,” Hatfield said.
Woods said the early-release days will provide teachers with an extra hour of professional development training.
“We’re trying to build that into their week because due to furlough days, we have less of an opportunity to pull them out for training,” Woods said.
Christine Humphreys is the director for St. Bede’s Episcopal Day School, a day care in Atlanta where Hatfield works. St. Bede’s is in the Northlake/Tucker area of DeKalb and Humphreys said nearly 70 percent of the children who attend the school have siblings in DCSD.
“When we have our registration in January we make our calendar for the upcoming year and try very hard to follow the [DCSD] calendar. There’s a whole community structure that revolves around the calendar for the [DCSD] school system and people need time and notice to adjust to these things,” Humphreys said.
Additionally, Humphreys said there are a lot of single-parent families, including herself, who have already scheduled trips for their children to visit family members.
“My son’s father lives in Seattle, and as it stands right now, the nonrefundable plane ticket for him has him due back on Aug. 12,” Humphreys said. Two of the proposed calendar options have school starting Aug. 1, and Aug. 6, rather than the Aug. 13 date of the approved calendar.
Humphreys said she thinks Atkinson has done a lot of good things for the school district since her appointment, such as taking a closer look at central office positions, but the proposed calendar changes aren’t among them.
“Even the early release days, I understand that, but she’s got to realize that’s going to cost parents to pay for child care—good will and common courtesy dictate you need to give people more notice than this,” Humphrey said.
SunDee Jones, a French teacher at Chamblee Charter High School, said she thinks the early-release days are a good idea if they will allow teachers time for planning and development. However, Jones said, she and other teachers at Chamblee weren’t notified of the proposed early release days until they received the proposed calendars in the mail.
“They never mentioned there was going to be a calendar change and a vote, but people need to realize that we have a new superintendent and she’s going to make some last-minute changes to try and make the district better. I think that’s what she’s trying to do,” Jones said.
Woods said the district received more than 30,000 responses to the online survey and the committee is reviewing its findings. He said it will present them to Atkinson to bring before the board of education at its May 7 business meeting.
If Atkinson’s recommendation is to change the 2012-13 calendar, the board will then have vote to amend the calendar and Woods said residents would have another chance for input.