AISD Parents – Some of Them – Debate School Calendar Changes

District says getting parents involved poses challenges

The first day of school strikes fear in the hearts of summer-loving youngsters everywhere. It also strikes fear in the hearts of Texas parents who complain that early start times truncate family vacations, suck money out of the Texas economy (in the form of lost Schlitterbahn revenue), and are an all-around pain in the behind. As Austin ISD prepares to debate when school should start next year, some parents are worried that not enough of the community has yet weighed in on the issue.

"I became a member of calendar community because I think parents are concerned about school starting too early, getting out too early before Christmas, and there are too many inconvenient holidays it's hard to get child care for," parent Michele Worrel says. "People need to know that if you want a say in when school starts, now's the time to speak up."

A committee of parents and AISD employees has been debating two potential calendars for about a month. One begins Aug. 15 and ends on May 24, with a winter break from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1. The second begins Aug. 22 and ends May 31, with winter break from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5. Starting after Labor Day has been ruled out, because it would require the first semester to end after the winter break. However, parent Mary-Ellen Golden points out that if AISD replaced a handful of awkward holidays sprinkled throughout the year – Columbus Day, Veteran's Day, and a pair of spring staff development days – with class days, it would be possible to have a Sept. 1 to May 31 schedule, and would ease the child-care burden of the inconvenient holidays. "I have to hire a college person from UT who can come stay with my son, or I have to make arrangements with another parent, or I have to take him to work with me," she said. "He goes to work with me a lot."

Golden complains that the district hasn't done enough to publicize the debate and allow parents to weigh in. "What I don't understand is why AISD is hiding the fact that the calendar is up for a vote," she said.

However, Brenda Hummel, the AISD director of student services who co-chairs the calendar committee, points out that the information is on the district's Web site, and that AISD has asked all campus advisory committees and PTAs to spread the word. When the Board of Trustees meets Nov. 28 to discuss the issue, the item will be listed on the public agenda. Hummel explained that the district needs parents' cooperation in seeking out information because getting the word out is just plain hard. After elementary school, notes sent home with students have a funny way of not reaching parents; it would be expensive for the district to mail letters about the issues on the board's agenda every two weeks; and in a district where more than half of all students are low-income, e-mail is at best a partial solution. "There's a universal struggle to get information to parents," she said. "We're always looking for more and better ways to do that."

Parents hoping to weigh in on the calendar process can attend the Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7pm at 1111 W. Sixth. The board will make the final decision in early 2006.

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