Pleasanton School Board members seemed to embrace an idea that would start and end the school year earlier, and possibly add extra breaks during the year.
The idea came up in negotiations on school calendars with other districts, including Dublin, Livermore, Sunol Glen and the Tri-Valley Regional Occupational Program, which provides hands-on career training.
At the School Board meeting Tuesday night, Human Resources Director Mark McCoy outlined two possible new calendars, explaining, "This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive exploration."
He said local districts work together to keep their calendars as closely matched as possible.
During those discussions, McCoy said, "the question has been raised: 'Are there adjustments to our calendar that would better serve the needs of our kids?'"
An early start calendar would have classes beginning in mid-August and ending in late May or early June. A modified calendar would start classes in late July or early August, also ending in late May or early June. McCoy said the main benefit to either would be that the fall semester would end by winter break, so that students in high school wouldn't have to complete three more weeks of school in January before moving to the spring semester classes.
"Winter break symbolizes the end of the semester," he said, adding that under the current calendar, students "don't get a true respite. You have the specter of more school hanging over your head."
Neither calendar change would add instructional minutes to the year.
McCoy and others exploring the idea took a field trip to Brentwood, where the modified calendar has been in use for years.
While schools using that calendar start and end early, they also get several breaks during the year, generally one in October and in the spring, along with the traditional winter break.
In Brentwood, the additional breaks help those who are falling behind, provide more study time before AP tests, and "an expanded window for curriculum coverage."
McCoy said Brentwood also found fewer employee and student absences.
"When students' capacity is getting exhausted, they get a break," he said. "We found that fewer personal necessity and sick leave breaks were taken."
The are some drawbacks: changes in athletic schedules, making sure parents can arrange for child care, a shorter summer break the year the plan is put into effect and resistance to any shifts in the calendar.
"Certainly change is change," McCoy said. "The real big thing that's holding people back is teachers who live in other districts."
School board members were enthusiastic about the idea, although they wanted hard data that would support a switch.
"I think it's something many of us have been hoping for for a while," Member Joan Laursen said.
Board Member Jamie Hintzke said she was excited, pointing out one concern about the current calendar, where students who go away on vacation leave group projects for those staying at home to complete, although they all share the grade.
Bowser said it's important to communicate any change well in advance.
"If we're going to make a change, let's do it right the first time," he said. In an aside to the Pleasanton Weekly, Bowser said, "Please don't call this year-round. That freaks the public out."
Board Member Chris Grant suggested the district take the lead role in pushing for the plan with other districts, and said the San Ramon Valley district should be included.
The school board approved a contract with CSEA employees that would offer similar gains to the contract approved earlier by the teachers union.
Under the new contract, CSEA members would receive a one-time payment of 1% of their salaries, get a 1.1 % raise and secure their pensions under Calpers, the state retirement system.
The board also heard an overview of changes in testing under the new Common Core State Standards. Under the plan being implemented this year, students would be assessed by computers that would test the limits of the students' knowledge. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill eliminating traditional STAR testing for the year so that districts could begin to incorporate the new tests.
The district plans field tests to see how the new testing would work and to help work out the bugs. Students in third through eighth grade will take the tests, along with 11th graders.
Hearst Elementary School Principal Michael Kuhfal told the board that his school has embraced the new concepts, which encourage less rote knowledge and memorization and more conceptual knowledge and strategic thinking.
"We're all going to be taking it as a staff," Kuhfal said.
He said a recent PTA meeting drew about 40 parents, who were given information on what the tests look like and a website where they could see tests questions for themselves.