This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A proposed academic calendar that starts before Labor Day will increase instructional time and bring the Philadelphia School District in line with most other schools in the region, District officials say.
Karyn Lynch, director of student support services, said that the proposed change would be coupled with measures designed to combat reduced attendance toward the end of the school year. The School Reform Commission will vote on the proposal at its Dec. 15 meeting,
”Parents tell us they want more instructional time and fewer interruptions,” Lynch said in an interview.
Under the proposed calendar, the school year would run from Sept. 5 to June 14 in 2017-18 and from Aug. 27 to June 4 in 2018-19.
The 2016-17 school year runs from Sept. 7 to June 20.
Spring break would be reduced from one week in 2017 to two days by 2018, and half-days, which are now spread throughout the week, would be scheduled mostly on Fridays. A calendar that ends earlier would also enable the District to add more days in June to make up for any canceled days for snow or other emergencies, Lynch said.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has criticized the plan, with PFT president Jerry Jordan saying that “the extreme heat in August is not conducive to teaching and learning."
“It’s a health issue,” Jordan said, citing the prevalence of asthma in elementary school students and the absence of air conditioners in many schools.
Cheryl Logan, chief academic support officer for the District, said that the temperature differences between the two calendars are not significant and a review of weather data from the two previous years by the Notebook showed only slight differences between August days to be added and June days to be subtracted.
But, Jordan said, “those buildings [will have been] shut since June. It can be 85 outside, but it’s hotter than that inside, especially on the upper floors when the sun beats down on the roof.”
Weather issues aside, Lynch said, “We want September to be a good, solid month. Two years ago, we had 13 days of school in the month of September and attendance was pretty bad.”
The District has also had problems with June attendance, particularly when teachers turn in student grades well before the end of the year.
Lynch said that this gap, 10 days or more in previous years, has now been reduced to five. She said that the District was sending letters to parents emphasizing the importance of June attendance and that principals were also being urged to make the last days of school more enticing with incentives that might include uniform-free days or pizza parties.
Reaction to the proposals on the Notebook’s Facebook pages was mixed, with some parents expressing concern about August heat and others welcoming an earlier end of school. The District is asking for comment on the calendar proposals through a web survey.