Survey shows: Ponaganset parents like March school vacation alternative

Survey shows: Ponaganset parents like March school vacation alternative

But teachers express opposite feelings

GLOCESTER - Most parents in the Foster-Glocester Regional School District favor replacing February and April school vacations with a week off in March, according to a recent online survey conducted to find a way to move up the increasingly late end of the Ponaganset school year.

Regional Supt. Michael Barnes in April posted the survey on the district's website to elicit feedback on the regional school board's search for a way to increase classroom time before spring testing, while at the same time ending the school year earlier than usual.

"The main reason we are considering this is because we were ending the school year so late," Barnes said.

Results as of June 4 were:

From 519 parent respondents, 60.43 percent favored eliminating February and April vacations and adding one week off in March, with 39.57 percent opposed.

In a second question, 55.51 percent supported eliminating the February vacation and retaining April, with 44.49 percent opposed.

From 172 staff respondents including teachers, results were the exact opposite. Adding a March vacation while eliminating February and April saw support from only 34.34 percent, with 65.66 percent opposed. Getting rid of the February vacation appealed to just 40 percent, with 60 percent opposed.

Barnes flatly declined to speculate on why the responses of the two groups were so diametrically opposed. The survey, although not scientific, was set up in a way to eliminate multiple responses from one computer.

With more inclement weather than most of Rhode Island, Foster-Glocester has many "snow days" that cancel school and push back the end of the year to late June, about a week or two later than other districts. In the last three years, school has ended June 18, June 22 and June 24, Barnes noted, while the current school year ends latest of all after a snowy winter, Wednesday, June 26.

No major changes in vacation weeks will occur next year. The regional school board at its June 4 meeting adopted a 2013-14 calendar - with both February and April vacations intact - that will see Ponaganset middle and high schools end June 10. Even with as many as eight snow days, school would still end relatively early, on June 20, Barnes said.

Four school holidays were eliminated, however, to achieve the early closing: two days off required in even years for election and primary days; Good Friday, in accord with new federal guidelines; and a professional day teachers agreed to relinquish.

And some classroom days were added. Regional schools start earlier than usual for the fall, on Tuesday, Aug. 27 (compared to this year's Sept. 3), with regional teachers asked to report two days before that, Friday, Aug. 23.

Ending the school year earlier would provide additional days of instruction before standardized testing takes place in the late spring, Barnes said, at a time when concentration is not hampered by excessive heat. Elimination of a February or April week off also would reduce the number of disruptive classroom breaks students now experience, on top of days off due to the weather, he suggested.

Barnes' survey also asked respondents their opinion of following federal guidelines to eliminate Good Friday as a school holiday, and again parents and staff were on opposite sides. Some 59.09 percent of parents were in favor, with 40.91 percent opposed. Staff respondents were 45.29 percent in favor of eliminating the Good Friday holiday, with 54.71 percent opposed.

Barnes said he intends to bring the survey results to the attention of the state superintendents' association to see if a coordinated statewide effort could be made on changing vacation weeks and Good Friday. In order to make the changes before parents make vacation plans, he said officials should start working on the 2014-15 calendar in the fall. In the interim, he said, the regional school board will "look at all of its options, under federal and state law and contract," to eliminate vacation days.

At the regional school committee meeting, Chairman Walter Steere Jr. was the sole vote against adopting the 2013-14 calendar. He said he is in favor of eliminating one vacation week. Other committee members seemed in favor of it as well, but felt it is too late to change vacations for next year.

The changes "will be discussed in the future again," said Commiteewoman Anne Ejnes.

Voting in favor of the calendar were Ejnes, School Committee Co-chairman Ron Cervasio, School Committee members Mary-Ann Carroll, Rebekah Reichert, Cindy Joyce, Beth Keeling, Shelley Pezza and Kathleen Swanson.

It is important to note that the 2013-14 calendar approved by the regional school board June 4 applies only to the regional district and its two schools, Ponaganset Middle School and Ponaganset High School. Foster and Glocester superintendents, Davida Irving and Patricia Dubois respectively, also approved the regional calendar, as did the Foster School Committee at its May 28 meeting. The Glocester School Committee will consider it June 18.

More information about the calendar and the survey can be found at the regional school district website, www.fg.k12.ri.us .