Proposal to cut spring break meets with disapproval from parents

The Baltimore Sun

School officials expected - and received - a sizable reaction from parents as the school board considered a proposal to shorten spring break.

The school system was inundated with some 200 e-mails concerning the proposal, and opinions ran the gamut, spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

"The good thing is that people are responding electronically," she said. "It's great to have the option of people responding electronically."

Now, the break is six days - Monday through Friday and the following Monday. Under the proposed change, the new break would run three days - Thursday, Friday and the following Monday.

Officials have stated several reasons for the possible change, including a desire to shorten the school year, a need to create more time for summer school construction, a need to add instruction days leading to high school assessment tests, and more time at the end of the school year so parents and students can plan to pursue summer school courses.

In addition, a shorter break would allow additional instructional days before Memorial Day, Caplan said.

Educators believe that the most effective instruction takes place before Memorial Day, Caplan said.

Downsides of the proposal, according to a board report on it, include less time for high school students to visit colleges, the need for a longer break at that point in the year for teachers and students, the use of the time by some families for vacations, and the fact that the date of the last day of school is never guaranteed because of possible weather-induced makeup days added to the calendar.

The school board is expected to address the matter at its Jan. 8 meeting.

Food a successful draw

Principal Marcy Leonard used a little pizza to jazz up her conversations with parents at Atholton High School.

The food worked. More than 45 parents showed up for the first Pizza with the Principal, which is similar to meetings at other schools that use coffee and dessert to lure parents.

"Whenever we've got an event with a meal before, we have a good turnout," Leonard said.

Leonard deployed the new strategy after attendance at previous gatherings was less than she had hoped for. During the event, which was held last month, parents told Leonard that they were impressed with the availability of teachers.

"They loved the spirit," she said. "It's a really good community around the school."

One of the biggest concerns parents had was the condition of the school.

The school is three years from a major renovation plan that will address many of the concerns parents have, system officials have said.

Parent cell phone alert

The school system will use cell phone communication to keep parents up to date in times of emergency.

The public information office is urging parents to sign up for eCellAlert, a service that texts emergency messages to parents.

"We're always looking for ways to enhance our communications," Caplan said. "With parents not being near their computer, this is another way to reach them in times of emergency."

The service, which has been successfully piloted in other school systems, will be used in the event of school closings, natural disasters and other emergencies.

The service will be used sparingly, for "emergencies only," she said.

The annual fee for the service is $14.95 per year, covering August to August. The pro-rated charge for the first year - from January to August - is $9.50. Additional texting charges may apply depending on the customer's cell phone provider's plan.

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