Plan ahead for new breaks

Washoe County schools start classes next week on Aug. 12. Many parents who’ve had 30 or 40 years to get acclimated to a schedule that starts closer to the beginning of September are just coming around to the cold hard fact. Students, some of whom with older siblings may have had 18 years to get acclimated to long summer breaks, are reeling in shock. Some students are actually happy and ready to get back at it.

How could our school board have done this to us?

As usual, we at the Reno News & Review are a little ambivalent toward the changes. The fundamental reasoning for the change makes good sense: Students get out of the habit of learning during the long summer break, and they forget things they’ve learned. Students also perform better when there are more frequent breaks.

The argument that’s been tossed around that these changes somehow lessen families’ abilities to take vacations is just absurd. Most families had 59 days to plan a vacation during the summer. With the new plan, families will have new and longer opportunities for trips in the fall, winter and spring.

On the other hand, working parents with younger children are going to get hit with new planning responsibilities. Many day-care providers are not going to be prepared to accept additional children. In other words, many day-care companies will have to hire additional help in October, January and April or not be able to take on more children during the new and extended breaks.

As parents who’ve had to deal with sick children, unnecessary delays for testing, and unexpected days out of school because of weather, we know this is not an inconsequential problem. However, there is an option built in for children to go to school during those breaks that will somewhat alleviate the day-care issue and also allow struggling students to get additional help. Of course, the battles between parents and students who get sent to school while their friends stay home could be apocalyptic.

So it’s not all good news, not all bad news. But let’s take it one step farther. There’s room for more reform in school year scheduling. Washoe County schools could consider more ideas, like breaking the school year into a trimester system that goes all year round with three-week breaks in between trimesters. Students would attend classes in waves, which would decrease the number of students in front of a teacher by 30 percent at any one time. This could alleviate five problems: It would decrease student-to-teacher ratios, which could improve instruction; it would decrease the time students spend forgetting what they learned the previous year; it would decrease crowding in schools; it would decrease staffing issues; and it should increase graduation rates by creating a more stable school environment.

Teachers, politicians and parents can be expected to make the usual claim—“This is not how we’ve always done it!”—but is that really the argument that should be made in Washoe County schools? This new school calendar is just a baby step toward the reforms that must be made to build the school system that our children deserve.