SD2 mulls over later school start next fall

Beginning in September, ending in June could beat heat, save money, but other concerns factor in
2012-09-05T21:30:00Z 2014-08-25T07:06:36Z SD2 mulls over later school start next fallBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Last week was hot, even for late August.

Temperatures in some School District 2 classrooms soared into the upper 80s and low 90s while outside the thermometer pushed 100. Eleven of the district's 30 schools, including West High, have no type of cooling system. 

With the heat, talk among teachers, principals and district administrators — along with students and parents — has prompted talk of pushing back the start of the school year to avoid some of the heat. 

"That's not acceptable," said Trustee Connie Wardell, speaking of the extreme heat found in some of the elementary school classrooms.

And it's not just Billings facing the problem. Schools in Pierre, S.D., canceled classes last week when temperatures reached 107 degrees, the Associated Press reported.

In Billings on Wednesday, a group of district officials debated pushing back the start of school anywhere from a few days to a week.

A later start helps to avoid that late August heat and would put the end of the school year later in June, when Billings is still in the midst of its spring weather.

"We rarely use the chillers in June," said Lew Anderson, facilities director for School District 2.

He calls June a "shoulder month," a time that saves the district money because neither heaters nor coolers are needed to keep classrooms comfortable.

By starting a week later in August and ending a week later in June, Anderson estimated the district could save roughly $8,692 a year. He arrived at the number by averaging the district's energy consumption during the last two weeks of August for the last four years.

"There is a significant savings, energy-wise," he said.

Superintendent Terry Bouck agreed but said ultimately the issue is about improving the learning environment for students. Saving money would be the bonus, he said.

The teachers and administrators involved in creating the district's school calendar — which goes before the board for approval on Sept. 17 — said shifting the entire calendar by a week could be tricky.

The district must balance holidays, sporting events and athletic schedules, semester breaks, testing and staff development days in the time allotted.

They also wonder if one more week of school in June would be detrimental to student learning.

"We see it," said Principal Jeri Heard. "Kids really do shut down" in June.

Heard is principal at Highland Elementary School. She said student attention starts to fade quickly the closer they get to June. It's a different attitude in August, she said.

"Despite the heat, kids are pretty gung-ho to start up," she said.

The district originally pushed the start of school back to mid-August as a way to end the first semester at the Christmas break. A change would push the end of the semester into January.

The calendar committee creates the school calendar three years at a time. The current cycle includes the school years through June 2016. However, to give themselves more time, it's likely the committee may send just the 2013/2014 calendar to the board for approval without the changes to the start of the school year.

That way, said committee Chairman Mark Wahl, his group would have more time to work out how to push back the school start date for the following year.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. MaryEdith
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    MaryEdith - September 07, 2012 12:07 pm
    We started the last few days of August not a week and a half in August.
  2. ringo
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    ringo - September 06, 2012 9:47 pm
    Underscore, The sad part is that this is something that we all should know before it feels like we are just trying out another experiment with no responsibility for accessing whether this inconvenience should continue.
    And the sadder aspect still is the experiment is using tax money not their own. I would be curious to see if these experiments would be suggested if the suggestors were held accountable for the results?
  3. Our MT
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    Our MT - September 06, 2012 1:57 pm
    Starting on August 22 is too early. As "MomKnows" suggested they should have begun the following Weds instead. Starting just prior to Labor Day makes sense without pusing us too far into summer on either end (Aug or June). Her suggestions allows a nice transition getting the kids into school mode with a 3 day week, a 4 day week, then the regular schedule.
  4. Eaglegear
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    Eaglegear - September 06, 2012 1:47 pm
    So I am smarter than everyone??? hahahaha
  5. Evil Twin
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    Evil Twin - September 06, 2012 1:20 pm
    If I am not mistaken, practices cannot start before the date set by the Montana High School Association. It doesn't matter when the school's instruction days begin.

    You said "if we are to stay competitive with other countries" and, yes, the length of the school day and the total number of days can be looked at. However, the schools in these other countries are able to focus on academics as activities and sports are not part of the school but are run as private clubs.
  6. Evil Twin
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    Evil Twin - September 06, 2012 1:13 pm
    "Sporting events and athletics are extra-curricular and should not drive the calendar."

    That's pretty naive. Sports drives EVERYTHING. For example, there is ample evidence that shows that moving the start of the school day in the high schools back an hour or two, such as having the school day run from 10am to 5pm, will yield an increase in student achievement. That's a very inexpensive change but SD2 tossed it out because coaches complained it would mess up practice schedules.

    The activities budget is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million per year. When we go through a budgeting "crisis," notice that that budget item is not on the table. They will cut classes before they cut activities.

  7. Joe2
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    Joe2 - September 06, 2012 11:56 am
    Yeah let's spend millions of dollars to put air conditioning in the schools to keep them cool for the first week or so of school. If you can save 8000 dollars a year, school wide for changing the start and end of the school year that should only take about 125 years per million dollars to pay it off. I think our kids are not the ones who need to be in school.
  8. Billings-center-of-Montana-Wyoming
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    Billings-center-of-Montana-Wyoming - September 06, 2012 11:31 am
    the forecast is for a cool wet season next year
  9. liv2ski
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    liv2ski - September 06, 2012 11:22 am
    I'll throw my 2 cents in here, knowing that it is worth exactly that. I am okay moving school to start after labor day if the district eliminates the inordinate amount of partial weeks throughout the school year. My quick counts shows 15 partial weeks at the elementary level, that is ludicrous. Partial weeks, half days, etc all alter the normal teaching pattern, more fillers are used ( movies, etc) in those weeks. This stupid split spring break needs to end, twice the kids have a half day on Wednesday and then no school Thursday through Monday, what brilliant mind came up with that idea. Either have a single spring break or eliminate it entirely, I don't care but stop splitting the weeks.
  10. Underscore
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    Underscore - September 06, 2012 11:05 am
    Actually there is some data on the late start showing that kids in their teen years are better off coming to school later than earlier.

    http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/education/post-secondary/article/923380--toronto-school-starts-hour-later-and-grades-improve

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/8579951.stm

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6896471

    IMO the one day late start we have now are just baby steps.
  11. Lucas
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    Lucas - September 06, 2012 9:00 am
    The Gazette was less than forth-coming or were ignorant of the real reason for SD#2's late-August start time. It is the coaches' desire to get a leg up on other teams by starting their practice sessions early. The Gazette made a passing reference to this fact but not to its importance in the district's decision. And the statement by the Highland principal seemed to lack understanding of students. Students, in general, get into a 'shut-down' mode any time a long break from school is pending no matter what month it is. The real issue, if we are to stay competitive with other countries, has to do with lengthening the school day and the school year. As for school breaks, it may be more beneficial for learning if there were more but shorter breaks spread out over the school year.
  12. Evil Twin
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    Evil Twin - September 06, 2012 8:26 am
    FYI, students can get "a real education" in SD2. If that isn't true, you need to explain then why so many SD2 students are able to get into competitive universities and go on to become the professionals in our community and elsewhere. You'll need to explain how so many students go on to successful careers in the trades or an entrepreneurs.

    As for vouchers, they might have their benefit, however, research shows that in communities large enough to support educational competition, parents do not choose a school for its academic prowess but rather over issues like convenience of transportation, athletics, and other non-educational issues.

    If Montana did have a voucher program, where would you use that voucher if you lived in Roundup, Baker, Sydney, or Box Elder?

    And, while you're at it, please define "a real education" for us.

  13. ringo
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    ringo - September 06, 2012 8:14 am
    All decisions should be based on educationally sound rationale and at least some data to back it up. This school district is notorious for just lobbing out ideas for change, but after a while it starts to feel like change for change's sake. Take for instance the late start one day a week, what research shows this to be effective? Or are they just lobbing out ideas and checking to see what sticks.
  14. fixitguy
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    fixitguy - September 06, 2012 7:26 am
    It would make sense to wait until after the labor day weekend. Instead of running into June later, try taking fewer days off during the school year, then you could still end the year at the same time. I would start by eliminating spring break, I didn't have it when I went to school and I made it through just fine. I think it would be easy to clip a few days here and there and still end up with a later start time and earlier end time.
  15. Eaglegear
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    Eaglegear - September 06, 2012 7:21 am
    okay. so animals at the shelter and prisoners get ac but not kids and teachers in our schools?
  16. momknows
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    momknows - September 06, 2012 7:06 am
    The 1st week of school should always be the week before Labor Day. Week 1 (Wednesday start) would be a 3 day week for students. Week 2 (Labor Day) would be a 4 day week. Week 3 would begin the "normal" 5 day week.
    This would provide another summer week for families and an ease-in period for students and staff. This would NOT throw the school calendar into chaos. Sporting events and athletics are extra-curricular and should not drive the calendar.
    As a family, we would rather get that last August camping trip in or out-of-state visit than to sit home in the early June rains.
  17. Jesus Tomatoes
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    Jesus Tomatoes - September 06, 2012 6:41 am
    Start the school year after Labor day--it does little good, education wise, to start school for a few days then have a 3 day weekend because it is after that weekend that the "learning climate" actually sets in. Before that kids are just looking forward to that first break. . .
  18. Rancher59042
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    Rancher59042 - September 06, 2012 5:30 am
    the answer is school voucher programs where we can send our children else where to get a real education. when it comes to SD2 we build schools for the teachers not the students.
  19. MtVet52
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    MtVet52 - September 06, 2012 5:10 am
    When I went to school back in the last Century from the late 1950's to the end of the 1960's, our teachers would open the windows and turn on the fans. We did not have air-conditioning in all of the schools. I even did summer school to get extra credits in math and the place was hot and smelled of the wax they put on the wooden floors. There were no buses to bus us to school not unless you lived out in the country outside the city limits. I even missed the bus one day after football practice during Fall and had to walk home. Yes it was more then five miles since I was raised on a farm outside the city limits and no it was not up hill all the way. Take a deep breath and deal with the heat.
  20. dugger
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    dugger - September 06, 2012 12:20 am
    WE HAVE ALWAYS STARTED IN AUG... THEFIRST WEEK OR SO IS ADJUSTING TO SCHOOL AGAIN, AFTER THE SUMMER LAY OFF. COWBOY UP!!!!
  21. bewitched bothered and bewildered
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    bewitched bothered and bewildered - September 05, 2012 10:04 pm
    Leave the start date where it is. Graduation for all high schools held at MetraPark on Memorial Day weekend works well. There are several summer camps that are held in early June. Billings kids would miss out if they aren't out of school yet.

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