Op-Ed: The district is asking too much

Are your kids ready for school on Monday? No? Well, flash forward two years and they had better be, unless the school district rethinks its plan to revise the La Cañada Unified calendar.

In case you missed it, our school district has decided to start school one week earlier in 2013, and wants to start it on Aug. 11 (two weeks earlier) in 2014.

The district cites more prep time for state and AP testing, but primarily a more relaxed pace for AP classes, as the motivating factors for this change. Additionally, it notes that other school districts have an earlier start date, and suggests it would be a benefit if the first semester ends before winter break.

It is often said that our schools are our town's business, and our business needs to excel. But our children are not a business commodity, nor do they live in a paper world. Our children live in the real world with families who have real needs and real concerns.

One concern for my family is the high cost of summer vacations. We routinely plan our vacation for the last week of August when hotel prices drop, sometimes by as much as $1,000. This might not seem like much to some La Cañada families, but to us, it is the difference between taking a vacation and not taking a vacation.

Another concern is having my children attend school in August, when temperatures regularly top 100 degrees. High temperatures make for an uncomfortable learning environment, and in these budget-minded times, it seems foolish for the district to incur additional air-conditioning costs. Also, a recent UCLA study predicted that our area will experience three times the number of these 95-degree-plus days in the future.

I'm also concerned about ending the semester before winter break. This will not benefit my children. One need only look at last year, when school let out on Dec. 22, to imagine the stress that would be created if kids had to study for finals in the weeks leading up to Christmas, preventing them from making holiday preparations and enjoying holiday festivities.

I'm sure there are a handful of families who will like the new calendar because their kids are involved in football or they have older kids in early-starting colleges. But likely there are far more families who will dislike the changes for the reasons I've mentioned, or because their older kids attend late-starting colleges (like UCLA, Harvard and Stanford).

I also understand that our district feels pressure to constantly improve. However, I've seen no proof that two weeks of instruction would result in anything but an insignificant change in test scores. Our district is already ranked second in the state, and our children regularly pass the AP tests with very high scores. Why follow the lead of other districts when our district is currently excelling? Other districts should be following our model instead.

Sure, it might be nice if my teenager had a more relaxed pace in her AP classes, but not if it means that her younger sisters, and the remaining thousands of non-AP students, will be forced to attend school during the sweltering days of August. It's not worth the trade-off.

Like many budget-minded families, we've already made numerous trade-offs. We elected to live in La Cañada so that our kids would have a quality public education, knowing that this choice would result in fewer personal luxuries and no college funds.

Now, the district wants to send our children to school in perilous weather conditions, encroach on the celebration of our Christmas holiday and sacrifice our affordable annual vacation.

And for what? For a chance, and only a chance, of a statistically insignificant improvement in test scores, and a slightly more relaxed schedule for a few hundred AP students?

In my opinion, the school district is asking too much.

KRISTEN BRAKEMAN can be reached at kbrakeman@earthlink.net.

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