BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The extension of the Los Alamos Public Schools calendar for the 2021-2022 school year is off the table for now. After holding four meetings and conducting three surveys, school district staff presented the resulting input from parents, students and the community to the board.
A summary of the survey results may be found at: https://losalamosreporter.com/2021/05/08/little-support-for-additional-laps-school-days/
More than 1,400 people commented on the proposal in one format or another, and in reviewing the responses there were some common themes. People had felt that the current school year had been complicated and challenging and that they are tired. Respondents felt that the 10 days or the 25 days would not make up for the time lost during the pandemic. Summer travel and family time were also concerns. Overwhelmingly people were not interested in the extra days at this time.
Students were asked what they would want to do with extra days and primarily they indicated social activities. Individual help was the second most common choice with remote learning days and test prep also popular. Lots of students commented that they wanted to enjoy summer without school.
Public comments included concern about the possible impact of additional days on teachers and students and how businesses that depend on student employees during the summer would be affected.
There was also some interest in optional days with many people asking why the programs could not remain optional as they were for the 2020-2021 school year. District staff have been advocating with PED to have participation be optional but nothing has yet been resolved.
Asst. Supt. Jennifer Guy said her biggest tale-away from reading all the comments was that the timing was bad, that there’s not a lot of interest in just adding days, and that if this is something the district was going to move forward with, it needed to be explored more deeply. The purpose of the additional days would need to be defined more clearly in terms of what would be done with the additional time.
“I don’t’ want to take lightly the comments that came in because we did have some amazingly creative and good ideas in all of those comments. It’s definitely data that we want to capture and keep. I’m glad we had the opportunity to explore the issue even if don’t make any changes because we did capture such good interest and the pulse of the community right now,” Guy said.
Board president Melanie Colgan said the additional days were obviously something that was not welcome at this point in time.
“I want to take all of these comments as well as our experiences during COVID and use them as a learning opportunity. While there was the overwhelming negative response, there were a lot of folks who wanted to use the time in creative ways but also in ways to truly enhance mental health and help students thrive that we can tweak the schedule in this way or that way, that we could have a few extra days off, a few extra breaks. Maybe we wouldn’t be so burned out at the end of the school year,” Colgan said. “I feel that this is a subject that we should explore, not necessarily to add more days – that’s obviously a very bad idea as we’ve seen – but just to really learn from this experience and to explore what is possible with our schedule. I would like to add not only the schedule of our years but also our days.”
Board member Ellen Specter said the quantitative data made it really clear that the additional days were not going to fly right now. She said the qualitative comments were very valuable and that the stakeholders spoke loudly and clearly in the surveys and that she hoped PED would work with the district to implement an optional extended learning time program that would work for the community.
“It’s clear that a one size fits all for the entire state just isn’t a good idea for us and that we need options for students and families to choose from. As we explore moving ahead I want to remind the board of our commitment in the area of student and staff wellness and that that be the lens through which we make these types of decisions,” she said.
Board member Dawn Jalbert said it was clear that flexibility and creativity were what was needed from PED and that she was hoping the district could get that with better timing than dropping the issue off a month before school is out.
Board member Steve Boerigter said he couldn’t help but be reminded that a few times in the past 14 months, he has said that the district has gone to a level of innovation in the schools that the board couldn’t possibly have imagined.
“”Maybe better school innovation than any of us have experienced in our lifetimes or any time in the last 100 years,” he said.
Boerigter noted that the suggestion to just add days to the calendar because of a concern that children didn’t learn as much, it not particularly innovative.
“Yet by going through the process and recovering input from so many stakeholders, what we’ve actually found is there’s a great number of innovative ideas buried in that content. I think what’s in our best interest absolutely is to read through all of that, absorb it and continue the innovation process. Somewhere in there are the nuggets that we’ll be executing years from now and wondering how we ever did it without them,” he said.
Board member Christine said she had learned from the survey and public comments that the community has certain values and values down time, family time, mental health, play, and vacation travel.
“That time is highly valued. And interestingly, money was not a value, especially for our teachers and it made me realize that they really are educators and they’re there to do that job,” she said.
Bernstein said she also observed that the community is exhausted at the end of the year.
“Our students, our teachers and even our parents are exhausted. And I started thinking why are we so exhausted. Education should not be exhausting. It should be energizing. Why are people so exhausted at the end of nine months doing this job? Looking at calendar days sounds like a good idea,” she said. “Maybe instead of looking at what a new calendar would like, maybe a good place to start would be looking at what is working and what it’s not working. What do we need to take away and what do we need to add. What do we need to do to answer all of these issues that keep popping up.”
Colgan said all the input is exciting.
“It gives us hope that we can build a better future for our education and maybe a more quality education,” she said.
She proposed that in the fall, after having the summer to recharge, the board would form a committee of parents, teachers, students and community members who could go through all the board and staff had just talked about, and look into what the district wants and needs as far as education.
“They could look at new choices for our calendar, not necessarily to add days to the calendar but maybe rework the current schedule that we have and maybe even rework the school day as we know it. This is not a guarantee that anything will change but it’s more of an exploratory effort to see what change for the better,” Colgan said.
She said maybe the board could revisit the committee idea in August after they have had time to think about how things would be structured.