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Hernando school calendar proposals juggle spring break dates

BROOKSVILLE — Spring break 2011 hasn't yet arrived, but spring break 2012 is already on the minds of Hernando school officials, employees and parents.

The district's calendar committee has come up with two options for the 2011-12 calendar, and they are almost identical except for one big difference.

In one option, dubbed Calendar A, spring break is Monday, March 19, to Sunday, March 25. Monday the 26th would be a professional day for teachers, so students wouldn't return until Tuesday.

In Calendar B, spring break is more than a month later, running from Monday, April 30, to Sunday, May 6.

The district is limited in its options, said Roy Gordon, the district's communications manager and chairman of the calendar committee. The committee is composed of staffers from various departments.

The two main factors are state mandates on how early the school year can begin and the timing of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, Gordon said.

By law, the school year cannot start more than two weeks before Labor Day, and that holiday is always "a moving target," he said. In both calendars, the first day for students is Aug. 22.

The math, science and reading portion of next year's FCAT is set for April 16-27. (The writing portion is in February.)

Calendar A has 13 days of instructional time between the end of spring break and the start of the FCAT, a cushion to make sure students don't sit down to the test cold, said superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

"You don't want to come back and have a short instruction period before you take tests," Blavatt said.

Students would get more instructional time to prepare for the FCAT in Calendar B, when spring break is after testing, Blavatt said.

"With more days of instruction, obviously we'd hope the students would perform better," Blavatt said. "But the problem is that spring break can't come until the end of April."

That makes for a long stretch without a break in the second half of the year. The last day of school in both calendars would be June 6, just four weeks after Calendar B's spring break.

Families, however, will have plenty of interest in another difference, Blavatt said.

In Calendar A, students and employees are off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, typically the busiest travel day of the year in the United States. Not so in Calendar B.

Both options continue an informal tradition of giving students and employees off for Good Friday, which falls on April 6. The proposed calendars don't mention Good Friday, though. They call it a "long weekend."

That became a flashpoint issue in Hillsborough in the last couple of years after the district decided to schedule classes for that day. More than half of the students and more than a third of bus drivers didn't show up.

"I don't think it's sacred, but if it fits into the calendar and works into an acceptable day for us, why not?" Blavatt, a veteran superintendent in his first year on the job in Hernando, said of Good Friday.

District employees are taking surveys on the calendars this week. Those surveys are also being distributed to school advisory committees and parent-teacher associations, so parents who want to weigh in should do so at the school level as soon as possible, Blavatt said.

Though Blavatt is leaning toward the later spring break, he will consider that input when making a recommendation to the School Board. The School Board will vote in March and could make its own changes.

The district might have more leeway next year to create the 2012-13 calendar.

Districts that have earned an A in the state's accountability system for at least two consecutive years are allowed to seek a waiver to start school earlier. Hernando earned an A this year and would be eligible for the waiver if achieving the same next year.

Asked if the district would seek the waiver, Blavatt didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando school calendar proposals juggle spring break dates 02/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 8:10pm]
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