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Boasberg to recommend later start date

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg told school board members Monday he will recommend a later start to the school year in response to complaints about uncomfortably hot buildings.

Change to the DPS calendar could take effect as soon as next year, if approved by the board.

“We have feedback from thousands and thousands of our parents, and we’re going to take that feedback into account,” said Boasberg. “A majority of folks would like school to start later, and we’re going to take that feedback very seriously.”

He added, “It would be our intention to come up with changes to the calendar as currently scheduled to the 2012-13 school year. We do not intend to recommend that we stick with the 2012-13 calendar.”

Boasberg made his comments following a presentation to board members from the Start Date Task Force, which studied the DPS calendar in the wake of record-breaking August heat that led to several students requiring treatment for heat-related illnesses.

Of the 153 schools owned by the district, 83 – or 54 percent – lack central air conditioning. Estimates to equip those facilities with air conditioning total about $400 million.

An online survey conducted last month by the Start Date Task Force, which saw more than 7,100 parents, DPS staff, students and community members respond, found that roughly two-thirds believe the year should start later.

The 2011-12 school year started Aug. 18 and the 2012-13 school year is set to begin Aug. 16.

Although nearly 66 percent of the survey respondents supported a later start date, they were split on what the calendar should be.

The greatest number, 37.6 percent, thought the year should start the first week in September and end the second week in June. However, another 28.5 percent supported a year starting the fourth week in August and ending the first week in June. The remaining 33.8 percent said it should begin the third week of August, running to the last week of May, as it does currently.

“Strong majorities did favor a later start date, and a strong majority did favor continuing to start in August,” Boasberg said.

Board members expressed support for addressing the problem, although many conceded a wide range of issues will need to be balanced, from coordination of athletic teams’ practice schedules to allowing preparation time for assessments such as Advanced Placement testing. The College Board, not the district or schools, determines the AP testing schedule.

“Having walked into South High School in the middle of August, I question how much learning is going on when the classrooms are 95 degrees.”
— Board member Jeannie Kaplan“Having walked into South High School in the middle of August, I question how much learning is going on when the classrooms are 95 degrees,” said board member Jeannie Kaplan.

Board member Andrea Merida said, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people on this topic. There are a lot of strong emotions on this issue, with people getting angry because their children are getting sick in schools.”

Boasberg said that whatever changes are proposed, expected after the winter break, they will be made in consultation with the district’s calendar review committee.

“This is a subject where people have very strong opinions, and there is no easy answer,” he said. “We can guarantee that not everyone will be happy with whatever decision is made, but I do think the feedback is very, very important and we will act on it.”

Board president Mary Seawell said board members are unlikely to limit their discussion to the school year’s start and end dates. The task force emphasized the larger issue of hot buildings still needs to be addressed, through installation of air conditioning where financially feasible, declaring “hot” days just as snow days are occasionally announced and possibly adjusting the hours of the school day.

“You wouldn’t leave a dog in a car on a hot day, so why would we do that with our children?”
— Board member Mary Seawell“Even if we move the start date, we can still have an incredibly hot day in September, or in June, and we don’t want children in those buildings in those conditions,” Seawell said during the board’s dinner break.

“It’s like someone on the task force said – you wouldn’t leave a dog in a car on a hot day, so why would we do that with our children? So if (the solution) is a combination of things, that’s fine.”

In other business Monday, the board received an update from the Northwest Community Committee on its work over the past 18 months. Committee members have met 13 times over the past year to formulate recommendations for the 24 schools in the North High School Feeder pattern.

Recommendations from the committee included building a school culture that emphasizes the value of diversity, supporting heightened academic rigor, providing opportunities to study multiple world languages with an emphasis on Spanish, and increasing elective offerings such as arts and physical education.

Additionally, the committee said all students should be given access to a wide range of digital resources. It also found that improvements are needed in communication by the district to parents, from teachers to parents, from school to school and from teacher to teacher.

The committee, co-convened by the district and the Institute on the Common Good at Regis University, was formed after a resolution that was passed by the board in June 2010.

“Parents recognize that the value and need for students who can participate and compete on an international level and the need for multiple languages, for feeder patterns within a neighborhood, high rigor, and the whole child are not separate concepts,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents Northwest Denver.

The board is expected to consider a resolution at its Thursday meeting that recognizes the committee’s recommendations.

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