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School Board Axes 2013 Feb. Break

President's Day weekend will be a four-day weekend next school year.

 

is no more, at least for the 2012-2013 school year. But it did not go down without a fight.

After a narrow 5-3 vote ( chair Pamela Iacono abstained), the board on Tuesday moved to move the Jan. 18 professional development day to Friday, Feb. 15 and added Feb. 19, 20,21, and 22 as school days.

President’s Day weekend, normally the start of February vacation, will now be a four-day weekend, beginning Friday, Feb. 15; students will return on Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Superintendent of Schools David Title shared with the board the Norwalk, Monroe, Ridgefield, and Shelton schools have also done away with February vacation.

Board members Jessica Geber, Paul Fattibene, Sue Brand, Tim Kery, and John Convertito voted to eliminate the vacation days in favor of ending school early in June, a motion put forth by Convertito. Perry Liu, Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, and Philip Dwyer voted to keep February break in the calendar.

The 2012-2013 school year will now end on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 -- weather pending. With the loss of four February break days, there are now seven snow days built into the calendar. The calendar was approved; April break will remain in the third week of April, rather than being moved up to March.

A lively discussion preceded the vote. Here’s what the board and members of the public had to say on the February break matter:

In Favor of Cutting February Break

  • Sue Brand, board member: “My concern with having school at the end of the year is that not all our schools have air conditioning…the kids get terribly hot…this is not a devastating change. I’d like to try it for a year.” Brand added that she spoke to members of the Board of Health, who said that no studies have substantiated the notion that February break helps keep winter illnesses like the flu from spreading.
  • Christine Vitale, Board of Education representative: Vitale said the Dwight Elementary School PTA executive board voted in favor of eliminating February break prior to the Board of Education’s meeting. “No one wants their kids in school far into June,” she said, and “no one wants April break taken away due to snow days.”
  • Marc Patten, representative for District 7: “Change is good,” he said, adding that students come back from school in January only to lose days to snow and then have another vacation.
  • Doreen Herron: “All the schools have heat…not all the schools have air conditioning.”
  • Julie Gottlieb: Gottlieb said that, as a working parent, she always dreaded February break. “It was a completely hellacious time when you would have to figure out where to place your kid during February break,” she said

Opposed to Cutting February Break

  • Perry Liu, board member: “I think the calendar is perfect just the way it is. February break is a good vacation time. It’s good for people who are sick. If you take it away, there will still be absences.”
  • Jay Wolk: Wolk said he spoke to several custodians at the schools, who told him they look forward to February break as a time to clean the schools. It also gives time for sick students to get better, he said.
  • Anne Pasco, President of the Fairfield Education Association: Pasco said she’s observed the school calendar and various changes over the past four decades. “I’ve seen a March break -- it was a disaster.” Pasco said that families that want to go away in February will still go away and take their children out of school, and that week in February is “always the week we have a snow day; the week the flu has always struck…When a community is used to doing something and you change it, they continue to do that something.”
  • Sue Dow, former Board of Education member: Dow argued that students -- especially high school student bogged down by AP classes and numerous extracurricular activities -- are burnt out by February and need the break. The teachers are burnt out as well, she added.

What’s your take on the board’s vote?

Just One Teacher December 21, 2011 at 10:19 PM
I love the whole anonymity is for cowards routine. It is such a farce. People seem to forget our democratic process is based on the benefits of anonymity. Voting privately allows people to be more honest and the same applies to posting opinions online.
Just One Teacher December 21, 2011 at 10:39 PM
There is time for that. Every weekend, the 26 days off in the school year and the ENTIRE summer. How is learning about the world through class activities and electives not time to explore? I am not a fan of CAPT either. It is a flawed test with too much weight. However, “teaching to the test” is not inherently wrong. A test should be well written and measure the students understanding of the most important aspects of a curriculum based on legitimate standards. If that is so, then we SHOULD be teaching to the test. The problem with CAPT and CMT tests are they only cover a limited portion of the subject matter and punish students who strengths lie outside of the particular skill set needed to do well on such tests. Gardner realized that there are multiple types of intelligences quite a while ago, yet we continue to create very narrow systems of assessing education. As I pointed out earlier, though, debating the merit or failure or CAPT is mostly a waste of energy since the state is likely doing away with it in the near future.
Fairfield Parent December 22, 2011 at 12:22 AM
Just One Teacher, I completely respect your post, but I do have to say from firsthand experience, I have seen teachers tailor the curriculum to suit what they want to teach. From one elementary class to another in the same grade, parents would compare how different their child's educational focus was. In 2nd grade, one teacher liked to focus on writing and creating a "book" - another spent more time on social studies. To say that teachers have no say in the curriculum would imply that teachers are puppets. We don't have a unified "state" curriculum like they do in China (nor do we need this!). What I am saying is that the curriculum is flawed. My child is completely bored at school, earning top grades, yet, I will be the first to admit my child is vastly behind in knowledge to what I learned in 8th grade. A few parents, not just myself, asked on back to school night where the focus would be this year. Spelling and grammar are not the focus in 8th grade English. So it is either the teacher's fault, the school's fault, the BOE or someone. This is tragic. And while you say it is up to the state, well then how do you explain a non English teacher, who believes that correct spelling and grammar should be graded (currently the program focuses on the style of writing). My child had a 5th grade teacher who STOPPED teaching math as a priority after CMTs because she wanted to focus on social studies. Teachers do make decisions some good and some not so good; the program needs review.
Fairfield native December 22, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Well said Just One Teacher- You are absolutely right.
Just One Teacher December 22, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I do not work in the elementary level, but I imagine they are expected to follow the curriculum same as everyone else. If some teachers are not then I can definitely see cause for concern. I do not know the specific circumstances that are occurring to cause units to be dropped, but my guess is there is good reason. One possible scenario would be as follows. No class is the same as the next. Some get it faster than others and if the majority of the class is struggling with the material you only have two options: keep trying different approaches until they get it and fall behind, or let them fail the unit and move on so they don’t fall behind. We are not handed a stack of activities and quizzes from the government and told, “Teach this.” I do not mean to insinuate that our curriculum is already created by the state or feds. The fact is, however, what is written by curriculum leaders and teachers MUST contain the content listed in the standards. As I said, the content is set, teachers have to decide how best to deliver it. I also agree that is it a VERY good thing our system is not that rigid. It allows us to tweak lessons and activities to fit particular student’s needs. Along the same lines teachers often work of their individual strengths and experiences to enhance lessons when and where they are able.
Just One Teacher December 22, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Grading policy is not dictated by the state. That is district controlled. There is effort under way to create a more uniform grading policy, at least at the high schools. The administration and teachers have been working on implementing common assessments between the two schools. I regularly communicate with my counterparts at the other high school and discuss how to better coordinate our curriculum. There may be similar work being done at lower levels, but to be honest I am too busy tackling the 3000 items on my plate to spend much time trying to fix other people’s classrooms.
Just One Teacher December 22, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Perhaps that is one of the biggest challenges/problems with education. It is very hard on the teacher level to coordinate curriculum on a vertical level. It takes very talented and strong leaders and a lot of time to locate and fix such issues. I myself believe that the middle schools and high schools could do a much better job coordinating the flow of content form one level to another, but getting so many people in so many areas to work in concert is no simple task. We are human beings, not miracle workers. There is only so much time in a day and I do believe that vast majority of us do the very best we can. We have to keep finding ways to improve without biting off more than we can chew. Other perspectives can help shine light on issues that we often fail to see through our perspective. So parents, keep in touch with your child’s teachers, but realize your child is not the only one we are trying to help. Voice your concerns at every meeting you can. If we all work together we can make these great schools even better. One step at a time. Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!
Melioro January 03, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Just One Teacher. When you put it in the context of "going from 26 days off to 24", of course it sounds benign. I hope the instructions our children are getting don't lead them to take the simplest argument on a subject, but rather consider the impact of a decision as a whole. With that argument, one could assume you would have no issue with the Board of Education taking away your summer break and instead, spreading those days off you would have had sporadically throughout the year. After all, it would only mean you were working two extra days. Or perhaps, people who work year round jobs should be given their two weeks vacation, but not allowed to take more than one day in a row, after all only the total number of days off in a year is all that matters. So now, February break is gone so we can cram more useless CMT prep down the kids' throats in the hopes of improving the test scores. Mr. Convertito and the rest of the BOE, I hope are prepared to take the blame, should the CMT scores fall, most likely due to burnt out kids. Irregardless, it makes no sense and despite your assurance that, "everything is going to be just fine.", it was and continues to be the wrong decision.
Fairfield Parent January 04, 2012 at 12:00 AM
It has all been said, but I do worry about the burn out rate of our children going non-stop from December to April...and long weekends really don't do much to help them catch up sleep or some necessary down time. I thought the overall suggestion was a horrible idea and still trying to understand why the removal of February break was such a timely issue. What the BOE forgets is that just because a family travels or DOESN'T travel, doesn't mean we all (parents included) don't need time to refresh and rejuvenate. Studying non-stop for 3.5 months will ultimately lower school grades and CMT scores. Mr. Convertito "thank you" for putting our kids first - it is a shame you were able to push this idea through and that Dr. Title didn't back the majority of families in town in favor of February break.
Fairfield native January 04, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I agree Fairfield Parent - December to April is a very long span for students without a break.
FFLDRESIDENT January 04, 2012 at 01:35 PM
It is NOT December to April, as students are off starting December 24 until January 1. Returning on January 2, 2013, there are 13 school days before a 3 day weekend for Martin Luther King Day. Then 18 school days before a 4 day weekend (Professional Development Day and Presidents Day, in place of February break). Then 28 school days before a 3 day weekend for Good Friday, followed by 10 school days before a week off for spring break. Then the students have to go for another 25 days before a 3 day weekend for Memorial Day, followed by hopefully only 13 more school days before summer.
Fairfield Resident January 04, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Exactly! That is why our country is losing its competitive edge in the Global Economy. We are raising generations of dullards.
momof3 January 04, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Exactly FFLDRESIDENT!
Melioro January 04, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Maybe we should look at cancelling December and March break, too; then the kids can get out Memorial Day! Or better still, go to school every weekend and make the days longer so we can get all their education crammed into a few short months! Sarcasm aside, I think the problem here is there a big difference between what constitutes a long time in school for 6 year olds vs 17/18 year olds (or us bickering adults for that matter). And we have to remember these changes that seem so inconsequential to full grown adults, have a far greater impact on a 6 year old. So yes, for a 6 year old having school from January 2 to the third week in April with little more than a few three day weekends IS a long time and WILL have an effect on them. This may not be as true with High School seniors, but everyone needs to remember these changes affect everyone in a very large age distribution.
Paula Landesberg January 05, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I agree FFLDRESIDENT! I still can't believe people are going on about this - get over it. If it fails miserably, then the Board of ED will discuss further for the next year. Focusing on what is taught in school is much better than focusing on days off. I would love to know what other schools that never had a Feb break handle it? Because the majority of schools do not have a week off in Feb.
Fairfield Parent January 05, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Paula - my point exactly - we need to focus on the quality of education. I am deeply upset that the BOE is focusing on the days in which the kids attend school. Why was this ever a priority to begin with? That has been my main point here. On a secondary level, whether you are 6 or 16, everyone does not a proper break. In states that do not have February breaks, the kids get a March break. My point is that we are going to see this fail next year. Two long weekends between early Jan. to the middle of April is not balanced. The BOE never seems to prioritize what is important. Let's focus on the QUALITY of education, safety, facilities, etc.
Melioro January 05, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Wow. Really, Paula? First, it's far easier to, "get over it" when you agree with a bad decision. And to follow that with a comment like, " the majority of schools do not have a week off in Feb.", which is patently wrong only proved most of the people who agree with this decision either haven't thought about it fully (like convertito) or they have false information. If you read through previous threads you'll see even our highly paid Superintendant got his list of schools that don't have a February break wrong.
momof3 January 05, 2012 at 03:23 PM
The BOE spent part of one meeting on this. It came up because MANY people feel more snow days needed to be built into the school calendar so April break is not lost and kids aren't in school until end of June. Last year, when half of that break was lost, parents were asking why couldn't Feb. be cut instead as the kids needed to get back in school! This just proves you can't make everyone happy. The BOE asked for input prior to vote and at meeting. There was strong support for the change. If it doesn't work, it can be changed. Time to move on.
Fairfield Parent January 05, 2012 at 04:52 PM
BOE did not seem to waste any time pushing this through. I don't know anyone who wanted this change. Each winter is unique obviously. Now we are having no snow. I think it was a rash decision momof3.
FFLDRESIDENT January 05, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I know MANY who wanted this change. For this 11-12 school year, we've already used 3 "snow" days (1 more and we begin to lose April vacation). Last school year, we didn't use our first snow day until 1/12/11 I believe, so yes, each year is different.
momof3 January 05, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Each year is different. Let's hope this year we have no snow and we don't lose April break; however, it will be interesting to hear how much people love February break when there is the possibility of no April break and kids are in school for 2 1/2 months with just Memorial Day weekend for a break. Thinking everyone will really be missing that April break when Spring fever sets in, dare I say, they might even wish they had a shorter Feb break. BOE probably needed to act quickly because calendar probably needs to be set before teacher contracts are negotiated. BOE did ask public to weigh in. They did research--spoke to health department about whether there was a health benefit in kids being home during that week--there wasn't. Asked PTAs for input. Didn't want to spend too much time on this issue because as many have commented--they should be focusing on more important issues.
Paula Landesberg January 05, 2012 at 07:17 PM
here we go again. I grew up in 5 different states. I have allot of friends out of state. I'm referring to schools mainly on the East coast. CT is the first state I have lived in that has a Feb break. So my information is not false, I lived it. From kindergarten through sophomore year in high school, I never had a Feb break (FLA, VA, NC and PA). I have many friends with school age kids and friends who are teachers that never heard of a Feb break. I just think too much time is spent on this. Move on.
Melioro January 05, 2012 at 08:24 PM
So, by that, we should not have February break because others aren't doing it. I hope when your kids try that argument on you for something else you remember that you use it. Last time I checked, "But all the other kids are doing it" was not an acceptable argument in my house. There are states that don't have school on the first day of hunting season. Since others do that, should we? Many of those other schools also start earlier and/or end earlier, have a March break instead of an April break, or an April break in the first or second week of April as opposed to the third. To argue on one isolated piece of data is useless. If we are going to copy an inferior school system's calendar than we should copy all of it. Last I checked, though, most parents around here want to be chasing the front runners. In 2010, Fairfield didn;t make the list of top 1,600 high schools (Newsweek). Locally, Staples, Wilton, Ridgefield, Greenwich, New Canaan, and Joel Barlow all did. Of all of those LOCAL schools listed in the top 1,376 (Joel Barlow)high schools in the country, a list Fairfield has yet to make, only ONE doesn't have February break, that being Ridgefield. However, their April break is positioned in the first week of April to accomodate. It's too bad our BOE can't take the time to do a little research of their own.
momof3 January 05, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Melioro--what other schools are doing is irrelevant. Were you at the BOE meeting at which this discussion was held?
Melioro January 05, 2012 at 08:48 PM
momof3. I completely agree. I was responding to Paula's argument against a February break based on her experiences in other states. I was not at the meeting. Were you to ask, "Why?" I would answer that my children attend one of at least two schools that had a student concert the same night they voted on it, in which they participated. Seems to me if you are going to vote on something that has such an obvious lack of majority (even Title said there was no majority opinion), you would make sure you were able to get the most amount of parents in the room, as opposed to scheduling it when the parents of at least 10% of the student population of Fairfield were put in a position of having to miss their kids' concerts if they chose to go to the BOE meeting for yet another vote that shouldn;t have passed. Well planned indeed.
vally January 06, 2012 at 04:05 PM
This is incredible -- I cannot believe how long this discussion has gone on. The facts are this -- EVERY year in November the Board is presented with the following school year's calendar, and then at the next BoE meeting the Board votes on that calendar. There was no hidden agenda. Some Board members reached out to the public via Facebook to ask for input. This online newspaper ran an article on the subject. PTAs discussed the issue as well. Between November 22 and December 13 the public was given the opportunity to contact the Board with their questions, views and concerns. The Board then discussed the calendar and voted. If this decision proves to be a poor one, the Board can revisit it each and every year in November/December when they discuss and vote on the next year's calendar.
Just One Teacher January 06, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Melioro, #1 February break is NOT GONE. It was shortened. #2 The number of consecutive days does matter. I have stated in an earlier post that a four day weekend should be sufficient for anyone to unwind unless that person’s daily grind is excessive. If that is the case, then that person should be looking at how much is on their plate, not how many consecutive days off they get. #3 You insult me without reading all my posts or at very least choosing to ignore my prior posts. Going by your example, should I be teaching my students it is acceptable practice to accuse an opponent his/her view is too simple and then counter with the most extreme exaggerations I can think off? Your example about spreading two weeks over an entire year is absurd. #4 Thousands of schools have no summer break. There are numerous studies and testimonials on the pros and cons of year round schooling. This district has decided such a system is not the right fit here, so it is moot.
Just One Teacher January 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
You could have counted these yourself, but I will make this very easy for you. In 11-12 calendar after holiday break we have: 8 days on and then 4 off, 24 on then 9 off, 29 then 3, 5 then 9, 25 then 3, and 15 till summer 12-13 calendar: 13 then 3, 18 then 4, 28 then 3, 5 then 9, 25 then 3, and 13 till summer. Total days off (not including regular weekends) - 11-12: 3 single days, 3 triple days, 2 4 day weekends, 2 9 day, and 1 10 day break 12-13: 2 single days, 6 3 day weekends, 2 four day, 1 9 day, and 1 11 day break. No matter how I look at this I just don't see the big deal. When I look at the numbers I do not see a drastic change. On that note I will be wasting no more time on this topic.
Michele Modugno January 06, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Not all PTA's discussed this issue...many parents were not aware of the change until the last minute. The only way I learned about it is from Facebook, and let's not make the assumption that all parents are on Facebook as many are not. I think a "survey monkey" survey which has been employed before, sent out to parents via the email alert system which is in place would have been a much better idea. More parents would have felt more involved in the process of making their thoughts known!
momof3 January 06, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Michele--maybe you should address this issue with your PTA--why wasn't it discussed? Board of Ed asked PTA for input. Agenda for meetings are emailed out to PTA presidents and Board of Education Reps. It isn't as though PTAs didn't know about it. Can't fault the Board of Ed for school PTAs not thinking this was an important enough issue to address or at least alert parents to. This issue was on Facebook, in paper, on websites such as this.

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