Smithfield school officials seek parent input on fate of February vacation

Smithfield school officials seek parent input on fate of February vacation

SMITHFIELD - The School Committee wants to hear from parents before deciding if the February vacation week should be eliminated next year, an idea that has won unanimous support from the leaders of the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association.

The local committee made no decision at its meeting April 28, choosing instead to wait for feedback from parents before taking up the matter again in the future. No date was set for the continued discussion.

To obtain that feedback, Supt. Robert M. O'Brien said he and the district's technical director, Paul Barrette, will prepare an online survey for parents in the coming weeks. He could not say when the survey will be ready, but noted it will take a while to get it ready.

O'Brien raised the issue after the executive board of the RISSA voted unanimously in favor of eliminating the February vacation for the 2015-16 school year. The association vote is non-binding and is a recommendation rather than a mandate.

O'Brien, who is treasurer of the association, said it was "the first time" the executive board had a unanimous vote. Other local members of the executive board include Michael Barnes, secretary, who is superintendent of the Foster-Glocester Regional School District and the association's current superintendent of the year.

In the current school year, Cumberland schools saw the February vacation shortened, with Monday of that week a holiday (Presidents Day), Tuesday a teacher development day, and school in session the following three days.

O'Brien proposed a similar plan for Smithfield next year, with Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, a holiday as Presidents Day and Friday, Feb. 20, a teacher development day. He explained he chose Friday for the teachers' work day because, in Cumberland, many teachers were absent on the Friday and he wanted to avoid a similar situation in Smithfield. (Cumberland student attendance was "excellent" on that Friday, he added.) His plan also would give students two consecutive three-day weekends.

O'Brien predicted that "many districts" - as many as 15 or 16, he said - will eliminate all or part of the February vacation next year.

Dan Kelley, Smithfield High principal, asked the key question: "What is the reason for this?" he asked. O'Brien replied that the impetus for the change comes from the superintendents association and the main concern is for students spending time in school as June weather heats up to the point where learning becomes increasingly difficult. Eliminating vacation days also is seen as part of a growing emphasis on toughening education standards in the state.

Kelley spoke of a teacher who already has made plans for the February vacation next year. "The same could be true of June," O'Brien countered. "No matter what you do," he added, someone is bound to have made other plans for the affected time period.

This year, the last day of school in Smithfield was set for June 18, but O'Brien noted four days must be added to make up lost snow days, pushing the end of school to Tuesday, June 24, a date he called late. It is this type of situation that eliminating vacation days would prevent.

Committee members asked many questions about the change but generally seemed open to it. Chairman Richard B. Iannitelli, however, said he was concerned about the health aspect of the switch, suggesting that a February vacation "gets kids out of the schools" and so helps reduce the spread of contagious childhood diseases prevalent in winter.

There was general agreement that the best time for a week's vacation from school would be in mid-March, but this is the month when the next round of standardized testing is scheduled to take place in the state, O'Brien and others observed, so no week-long vacations are possible then.

Another idea mentioned would move the April vacation, now in the third week of the month, to an earlier week in April. Massachusetts schools now have the same April vacation week as Rhode Island, while Connecticut's vacation week was one week earlier than Rhode Island's this year, according to comments made at the School Committee meeting.

Comments

If we are truly concerned with the temperatures of the rooms students are leaning in, then why do we start them in AUGUST??? August has higher average temperatures than June and many of the school buildings have been closed up for the summer holding in the heat like an oven. This makes no sense. Also, The end of the school year was scheduled for June 12th and NOW goes to the 18th because of the snow days (not the 18th to the 24th). I say if you plan to take away February days, then START after Labor Day like we used to!

This is ridiculous. What happened to the argument that summer vacation is too long? So now we go from wanting to eliminate much of summer vacation to making it longer. I don't know where administrators get these ideas, but I don't think there is any solid research to back it up. Kids need a break periodically now more than ever thanks to the horrible Common Core. There is no value to rearranging the school calendar. They are still attending 180 days no matter what, so why not keep the breaks and think about the kids for a change. Idiots.