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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Pinellas school calendar shifts timelines

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LARGO — Pinellas County students may have longer grading periods, fewer report cards and a shorter first semester next year if school board members approve the instructional calendar presented at their workshop Tuesday.

The school district is one of the few, if not the only one, in Florida that sends out report cards every six weeks in middle and high school, and every 12 weeks in elementary school, a timetable that affects everything from exam schedules to teacher planning time.

School district officials did away with the “half-day Wednesday” policy this school year, which was intended to give teachers more planning time. Instead, they opted for a more traditional nine-week grading period that begins with a teacher planning day, Deputy Superintendent Bill Corbett said.

In the proposed calendar, to be voted on in the coming months, the 10-month 2014-15 school year is broken into four quarters for all grade levels. It would begin Aug. 8 for instructional staff and Aug. 18 for students, giving teachers six weekday planning days before school begins. Students would have 83 days of instruction during the first semester, the minimum allowed by the Legislature, and 97 days in the second semester. That would allow students to take final exams, receive credit and complete their first semester before the winter break.

Currently, students take exams after they return from the two-week vacation.

“When we talked to students they were unanimous that getting exams done before they left for winter break was huge for them,” Corbett said.

Thanksgiving break would be Nov. 24-28, and winter breakfrom Dec. 22 to Jan. 5 for teachers and until Jan. 6 for students. Spring break is March 30 to April 3. Two potential hurricane make-up days would be Oct. 20 and Nov. 24, and the school year would end June 2 for students and June 4 for staff.

Groups of elementary, middle and high school principals, teachers, staff, parents and students overwhelmingly supported the change, Corbett said. With calendars more aligned with other school districts and colleges, it could open more doors for students, said Rita Vasquez, director of high school education.

“More and more students are now challenging themselves by doing college-level, dual-enrollment courses, and they struggle because college calendars don’t match ours,” Vasquez said. “There are some who even have to choose between attending their class final exam or a college course, and now, with more students working to graduate from high school earlier, our existing calendar could literally be a barrier to our students starting that first week” at the University of South Florida.

Students struggling in class also would have more time to master concepts before their report cards, school board member Robin Wikle said. However, parents also would have to wait longer to see their child’s grades and, in some cases, to realize the student is struggling.

“I think that’s something we need to pay attention to and, apart from progress reports, our teachers have got to keep their online portal data up to date so parents aren’t caught off guard,” Wikle said.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

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