Nine Academic Days Added To 2007-2008 Year: 147 Days To Be Second Lowest Total Among Peer Schools

The 2007-2008 school year academic calendar has approached finalization, though it has not been officially confirmed. According to Dean of Studies John Rogers, Head of School Barbara Chase drafted most of the new academic calendar through her administrative authority along with Dean of Faculty Temba Maqubela and former Dean of Studies Margarita Curtis. Next year’s academic calendar consists of nine more school days, adding up to a total of 147 days, not including Head of School Day, as a result of extended Fall and Spring terms. Other than the lengthened school year, the academic calendar underwent no other changes. Although Commencement will start a week later, the school year will retain the same number of holidays, long weekends and end-of-term breaks, according to Instructor in Chemistry and Scheduling Officer Paul Cernota. Compared to other schools, Phillips Academy’s school year is much shorter. Exeter requires students to attend 169 days of school, with 22 days of Saturday classes and slightly longer winter and spring vacations. Choate Rosemary Hall’s school year has 148 class days, six Saturday classes and fewer vacation days. In a letter to parents, Mrs. Chase explained her reasons for increasing the number of school days. “This increase provides us with the envelope we need to meet our academic goals while providing our students some relief from their hectic pace of life,” she said. “The expanded academic calendar will allow us to implement a longer Fall Term, which we can use to help new students adjust to the school. A longer Thanksgiving break will provide more family time for students who travel, and shortened winter break will make it easier for students to retain information from term to term.” She continued, “Slightly longer winter and spring terms will be helpful for term-contained courses. Finally the longer school year provides us with the opportunity to add faculty development days, which will be used to discuss Strategic Plan implementation.” As a teacher, Dr. Cernota welcomes the lengthened school year. “There have been times when I felt that the short years in the calendar caused me to rush through material that should have been taken at a more luxurious pace – particularly in the shortest of years, which was 133 days – five days shorter that the current year,” he said. “The discussions about the length of the school year urged teachers not to include more material in their courses, but to use the time to teach better. Whether this will actually happen depends on the individual teacher or course head,” he added. Still, Dr. Cernota disagreed with various aspects of the calendar. Instead of lengthening Fall and Spring terms, he preferred either having terms of equal lengths, with Fall term ending at Thanksgiving, or lengthening Winter and Spring terms. He admitted, however, that faults in the academic calendar would always arise because of the difficulty to accommodate different holidays and events. “I think based on when traditional holidays occur – Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in particular – there isn’t a calendar that doesn’t have a downside,” he said. Earlier this year, Instructor in Mathematics Shawn Fulford proposed her ideas for the new academic calendar. Though she did not object to the longer school year, she worried about the lack of breaks in between consecutive weeks. Ms. Fulford had discovered that stress peaked every three weeks, as studies revealed. The calendar that she had proposed consisted of breaks, such as three-day weekends, every three to four weeks. Ms. Fulford’s proposal, however, did not pass. Mr. Cernota, though unfamiliar with the proposal itself, surmised that part of the reason for the lack of discussion of Ms. Fulford’s ideas could be attributed to the extensive discussions held about the previous academic calendar during last year’s faculty meetings. “Large issues like the calendar tend to be addressed infrequently because changes must be made well ahead of when they will be implemented and take a lot of conversation to address,” he stated. “This year we have been addressing the Strategic Plan recommendations and that has taken up most of our time,” he continued. According to both Ms. Fulford and Mr. Cernota, the faculty expressed mixed feelings about the new academic calendar. “I think the faculty is split into three parts: there’s a whole section that thinks we shouldn’t have any more school days at all. There’s another section – in which I would say I’m a leader – that doesn’t mind a longer school year as long as there are breaks,” said Ms. Fulford. “Another third thinks it’s fine.” Students also expressed mixed feelings about the increased school year, especially the Junior class. “We always work so hard, we deserve a break at the end,” stated Rachel Zappala ’10. “If we make the school year longer, it will only be more intense,” she continued. Academically, Jennifer Miao ’10 believed that a longer school year would prove advantageous. “I think it’s really beneficial because if we have more school days, theoretically things will go at a slower rate. If we slowed down, even by a little, it would really help,” she said. The majority of the students worried that the faculty would not maintain the same amount of work that would be spread out over nine extra days. With regards to this issue, Simone Hill ’08 said, “I think it’s going to be more days with more work to fill up those days. Just because there are more days, I don’t think teachers will actually lesson the work load.” Elizabeth Chan ’08 said that even if the faculty upheld their promise to spread out the work load, students would still feel unsatisfied. “Even if they don’t add on more work,” she said, “the student body is just going to get restless. It’s hard to stay focused at this school, so stretching out the school year will only make it harder to concentrate.” Though William Koven ’08 expressed no major objections to the increased number of days, he noted that adding extra days to Spring term would not be the best choice. “Adding more time in the spring is useless because a lot of students would get less work after APs anyway,” he said. As an alternative, Breezy Jordan ’09 suggested, “Instead of adding on days to Fall term, we should add on the days to Winter term, because Winter term is really short,” an idea that Many Uppers also commented on the fact that their Commencement in June would also be delayed by a week. Though none protested ardently, the majority of the Uppers preferred to start school earlier in order to graduate sooner. “Everyone just gets restless,” said Hill. The academic calendar has gone through at least seven drafts. The faculty did not receive the power to vote regarding the length of the school year, nor were they encouraged to discuss the matter, according to Ms. Fulford. The calendar is expected to be finalized soon.