Calendar reverts to status quo

The 2009 schedule will remain the same as this year, with school starting after Labor Day and midterms at the end of January, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said Monday night after a vote by department heads.

After “overwhelming” protests from parents, Huybrechts asked the Faculty Academic Committee to reconsider the schedule changes they approved earlier this year.

Departments were asked to vote by 5 p.m. on Monday, and Huybrechts e-mailed the results to the faculty Tuesday morning. The options were to return to the status quo or to hold exams before winter break with school starting Aug. 31.

The proposal, which was passed on Sept. 1, caused school to start earlier and midterms to be held a few days after winter break, with two days after break for review, one “reading day” without school for students to study and then exams, Huybrechts said. However, parents and students expressed their concerns that students would be forced to study during winter break instead of enjoying their time off, and that students needed the semester break in order to relax after the stressful finals.

“Any change to a school there will be a fraction of the school that doesn’t like it,” Huybrechts said, “but this was overwhelming, and so we just knew that we made a mistake.”

The proposal was “nailed down” by the end of last year, Huybrechts said, but it was officially approved in the joint Faculty Academic Committee on Sept. 1.

It aimed to relieve stress by increasing school days, Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said.

Due to the school’s 45 minute classes and most classes only meeting four days a week, “teachers at our school have less time to teach than many other teachers in the world,” Salamandra said.

By beginning school earlier and moving the semester finals, the administration was hoping to diffuse the number of stressful teaching days and also get rid of the teaching time in January between break and semester exams, which Huybrechts said “isn’t really high quality.”

“It’s all chopped up, and when you have eight days of new material, kids come back and you need a couple days to get everybody back in the flow,” she said. “If you simply have January as a teaching month it’s a better experience for kids.”

This plan would allow for an extra break in October instead of semester break in January.

“By the middle of October, many teachers have observed that kids need a little bit of a break,” Huybrechts said. “I know seniors could use four days for college visits or applications.”

The community responds

This proposal was reported in the Chronicle on May 28, and Huybrechts officially e-mailed parents on Nov. 20.

Within a day of the announcement, Huybrechts said that she had received enough feedback to recognize that “some elements of the schedule need to be rethought and refashioned.”

Because many of the performing arts events are between Thanksgiving and winter break, the Performing Arts departments is afraid they will lose time if students are forced to study during it, she said.

She added that “there are numbers of teachers here who worry that the time before winter break is a little more light hearted around here, with gift exchanges, and the caroling by the Chamber Singers, and they don’t want to take that spirit away from the kids and make it all about work in the week before winter break.”

Last week, department heads returned from the FAC meeting with two proposals to discuss with their departments. The first retains the current schedule, while the second begins semester exams before winter break.

The alternative plan

Another plan proposed to the FAC was to hold only one set of semester exams in March.

“With this proposal we gain about seven or eight extra days of school,” Salamandra said. “However, this proposal isn’t currently on the table, and it won’t be considered for next year.”

Departments are split about this proposal, he said.

The Foreign Language department adamantly opposes having only one set of exams in March.

Math Department Head Paula Evans sees “see many positives [but] I have learned that from a student’s perspective, exams are an experience when to help really develop a deeper understanding of the material.”

The students’ views

The majority student response has called for not changing the current schedule. According to a Chronicle poll, 64 percent of the Upper School students do not want any change in the schedule.

Senior prefect Kate Liebman believes that there isn’t a reason to change the schedule.

“I think [having exams before winter break] is hard for seniors because of college applications, but it makes it easier with APs,” she said. “I would still keep the schedule as it is,” she said, “I don’t really see any problem with it.”

Thirty-four percent would prefer having semester exams before winter break.

“Having exams before winter break is a really good idea,” Ben Dreier ’11 said. “It takes stress off after the break.”

Student opinion is split on having only one exam in March.

“Exams once a year cause less stress, and I’ve always thought exams twice a year are unnecessary,” Senior prefect Ariana Sopher said. “It would make it a lot easier for students and to me it seems more logical.”

Dreier believes that having exams in March would cause students to lose focus at the end of the year.

“I don’t think [having exams in March], is that good of an idea,” he said. “You wouldn’t focus during the end of school, and you wouldn’t be tested on learning material in the last two months of school.”

Lack of student input

Huybrechts said that while making the schedule proposal, students and parents were not consulted, because the school does not normally consult them for administrative and schedule decisions.

“Because the people making this decision did not see that it was radically different from what we do already there was not one in all the people who looked at this, and let me tell you all the adults in this community had some input because this was floated for a whole year,” Huybrechts said. “No one ever suggested that we poll parents and kids because they just didn’t see it as that different.”

“We’re trying to be the professionals here and because we do have to deliver the material and do the assessment and we are responsible for our students’ learning, we like to think we can figure this out on our own,” Huybrechts said.