Schools keep starting earlier

A half-dozen local school districts are starting classes at least a week earlier than last year, continuing a multiyear trend that has the vast majority of Dayton-area public school students now in school by Aug. 20.

Trotwood-Madison was the first local district to start school this year, moving up their calendar by eight days, to start on Monday. Huber Heights and Lebanon schools also moved up a week, with most students in class today. Kettering and Centerville schools start today, having adjusted their calendars forward two years ago.

Many school districts have moved up their start dates in part so they have more days of teaching before students take important standardized tests, ranging from state tests that control promotion to the next grade or graduation, SATs and ACTs that affect college admission, and Advanced Placement tests that earn students college credit. All of those test results can affect public opinion of a school district.

“This way, kids are in early, and we can get started mitigating that summer slide,” Trotwood Superintendent Kevin Bell said. “When kids are gone for multiple weeks, they start to lose ground (academically), so we get started on getting those gaps closed a week earlier.”

Bell said an earlier school ending date means third-graders who fail the state reading test will get more intervention time before their last crack at the test in the summer.

The calendar changes do not increase the total amount of time students and teachers spend in the classroom. A new state law eliminates the requirement that schools have 178 days of instruction, and replaces it with a minimum number of hours – 910 for grades 1-6 and 1,001 for grades 7-12. Few school districts in Ohio made any calendar change as a result.

Not everyone agrees with starting earlier. Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Year, argued that some national test score data doesn’t support the earlier calendar. And she said starting in mid-August costs schools more to cool buildings, when that money could be better used on things like small-group tutoring.

John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said school calendars are a local school district decision. He agreed that making sure students are fully prepared for high-stakes tests is important, but he said curriculum and teaching are the crucial elements to that effort.

Charlton also said Ohio purposely gives school districts a multi-week window to take state tests, so that districts that start later can also choose to take tests late in the window.

Local students may be less concerned with the academic impact than out-of-school implications. Vandalia-Butler schools will start on Aug. 19, a week earlier than last year. High school junior Tyler Nutt and two friends agreed that they were more interested in the effect on spring and summer breaks than on schoolwork.

“I needed a job this summer, and (the calendar) affected me a lot because all the college students got out before me and got priority on job options.”

Two Trotwood parents had different approaches to the earlier start. Lakeisha Dean said the schools should give families more summer time together, adding that she has to start thinking about back-to-school supplies in July.

Chibra Iheakaram likes the change, saying he enrolled his son in a summer reading program so he would stay sharp while school is out. In addition to starting earlier, he wishes students spent more time in school.

“My preference, I want my kids to be in school, I want them to excel academically, and we can rearrange our schedule to match that,” Iheakaram said.

Tipp City schools’ schedule has bounced back and forth. Superintendent John Kronour said Tipp moved its start date back to Sept. 4 in 2012, as a result of a community survey. But parents and teachers found they missed the occasional three- and four-day breaks that were lost in the compacted schedule, according to Kronour. So the district moved its start date up one week last year, and again this year, to Aug. 20. As a result of the earlier start, Tipp will have fans ready next week, as half of its schools are not air conditioned.

Huber Heights Superintendent Susan Gunnell said moving the school calendar forward will allow her district to finish the first semester before Christmas break, meaning high school students won’t have a two-week gap right before exams. She and two other superintendents said many families involved with fall sports or bands are happy with the change, because they have to be done with summer vacations by Aug. 1 anyway, as practices begin.

“There’s kind of a sense anymore that by the first of August, parents are in that mindset that school’s starting,” Gunnell said. “At our mandatory meeting for (fall) sports parents, I reminded the students who were there, ‘We’ll see you Wednesday,’ and the ones who clapped were the parents.”

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