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Newport-Mesa cites benefits of starting school year earlier, but some parents and teachers are skeptical

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Kirk Bauermeister, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s executive director of secondary education, discusses the potential benefits of starting the school year up to three weeks before Labor Day for students in seventh through 12th grades during a public meeting Wednesday.
(Photo by Priscella Vega )

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District on Wednesday promoted the potential benefits of starting the school year up to three weeks before Labor Day, but several parents and teachers at a public meeting were skeptical.

The change would apply to all students except at Early College High School, which already starts in August.

For the record:
4:50 PM, Nov. 02, 2017 This article originally stated incorrectly that a new school calendar would affect students in seventh through 12th grades. It actually would be for all students, except at Early College High School.

About 20 parents, teachers and district administrators attended the meeting at Newport Harbor High School’s gymnasium, where Kurt Suhr, district executive director of elementary education, and Kirk Bauermeister, executive director of secondary education, led a presentation about a possible new school calendar.

A committee of staff members, administrators and parents met several times to develop an information sheet the district released last month listing the possible benefits of an earlier start date, Suhr said.

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An earlier start also would mean an earlier finish, the district said.

Once input is gathered from community meetings and a survey — which is available on the district website until Nov. 15 — the committee will reconvene Nov. 20 to review the feedback, Suhr said.

Any committee recommendation to change the calendar would go to a bargaining process between Newport-Mesa and its teachers union, Suhr said. The earliest it could be approved is for the 2019-20 school year.

Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, assured parents, “Your voices are part of the process.”

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Possible benefits

Bauermeister discussed the potential benefits of starting the school year earlier. Among them are additional instruction time before Advanced Placement testing; more opportunities for internships, summer jobs and camps; providing final transcripts to colleges faster; and more opportunities for high school seniors to participate in year-end events.

Many students already return in mid-August to start fall sports, he said. Moving the academic year up a few weeks would align it with the sports season, he said.

Of the 14 unified (K-12) school districts in Orange County, Newport-Mesa and Laguna Beach are the only ones that start after Labor Day, Bauermeister added.

The majority of parents and teachers at the meeting weren’t convinced of the benefits cited by the district and instead encouraged administrators to focus on ways to encourage student success.

Parent Cynthia Laurence distributed her own information sheet disputing the district’s.

Laurence said a shift in the school year would be a “strain on students” and would “increase stress and anxiety” because activities at end of the first semester, such as projects, papers and final exams, would happen near the December holidays, an already busy time of year.

Matt Armstrong, a teacher at Newport Harbor High, said he was skeptical of the process.

“This wasn’t something demanded by students [and] it’s not a hot-button issue for parents,” he said.

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Cara Boyd, a teacher at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach, said many schools aren’t equipped to handle high August temperatures because of a lack of air conditioning.

Currently, 17 of Newport-Mesa’s 32 schools have air conditioning, and the district plans to install it at six schools next summer, leaving nine without air conditioning after 2018.

Parent Leslie Bubb spoke in favor of the calendar shift and suggested that district administrators gather input from high school students.

Public meetings

Here is the schedule for the remaining community meetings about the possible calendar change:

Thursday: 5:30 p.m., Costa Mesa High School theater, 2650 Fairview Road

Monday: 6 to 7:30 p.m., Corona del Mar High School lecture hall, 2101 Eastbluff Drive

Wednesday: 6 to 7:30 p.m., Estancia High School gymnasium, 2323 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

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Twitter: @vegapriscella


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