Ad Hoc Faculty Committee Aims to Shorten School Year

Shawn Fulford, Instructor in Mathematics, is leading an unofficial committee to shorten Phillips Academy’s school year. Fulford’s committee, which includes Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English, and Emma Frey, Instructor in History and Social Science, is advocating for Andover’s school year to correspond to Exeter’s in terms of days on campus, by shortening the year by four days. Those three members met in Uncommons on Monday night. Fulford’s committee also includes faculty from the Department of World Languages, Graham House, Isham Health Center, the Academic Support Center and the College Counseling Office, she said. The Phillipian is withholding the identities of these individuals due to their wishes and the unofficial nature of their committee. During the Monday night meeting, Fulford presented her comparison of campus days, class days and vacation days between Andover’s academic calendar and Phillips Exeter Academy’s academic calendar. Exeter has been her main focus among peer schools in hopes of constructing an effective argument. “I’ve been told, if I want to be convincing, the only school we really care about is Exeter,” she said. Fulford formed the committee Fall Term with seven other faculty and staff members to investigate the effects of this year’s longer Fall Term and shortened winter break, along with other changes that have been made to the 2007-2008 academic calendar. The committee’s goal is to make suggestions that are better for learning, health and productivity. “The three things you need for a good education are time with teachers, educational resources and energy. Both teachers and students need to be energized to be engaged in the material,” Fulford said. In previous years, however, the academic calendar has gone through several drafts in an attempt to lengthen the school year, a change that Head of School Barbara Chase felt was necessary. “The faculty had a long series of discussions and considered several models for how to lengthen the school year before voting on the current model,” wrote Dean of Studies John Rogers in an email to The Phillipian. This is not the first time that Fulford has tried to alter Chase’s plan to lengthen the year — last year she proposed a “Rhythm and Rest” calendar, which would have granted students a day off every three to four weeks. Although her plan did not pass, Fulford and her associates are still hoping to make a change. According to Fulford, Andover and Exeter begin and end the school year on the same days. However, Phillips Academy students spend 202 days on campus, 159 of which are school days, while Exeter students only spend 199 days on campus, 155 of which are school days. The Exeter numbers Fulford presented do not include Saturday classes because they do not affect the number of teaching days that count. Because each school day during the week at Exeter is shorter, the amount of time students spend in class is approximately the same for both schools. The members of the committee are looking for concrete and realistic ways to shorten the academic year. Fulford’s ultimate objective is to reduce the number of class days by four, to match Exeter’s numbers. Some of her suggestions to reduce class days include adding another three-day weekend during Fall Term, extending winter and spring break by one day, and having no classes on Memorial Day in Spring Term. “[Right now] we are still thinking through some of the issues so that when it opens up on a larger forum, we can have an informative conversation,” said committee member Frey. Fulford said, “One of the arguments for making the year longer was that Phillips Andover doesn’t have as much student-teacher contact as other schools, but if you take into consideration the academic resources available to students, there’s really a lot of time spent outside of class between students and teachers.” Fulford and Vidal pointed out that teaching continues outside of the classroom, such as in the Academic Support Center, the Math Study Hall, the Language Learning Center, and Writing Lab. With academic resources expending teaching time that is not accounted for, some faculty members feel the drag of a longer fall term and effects of a shorter winter break. In addition, Frey and Fulford both observed that the cycle of fatigue among students this term seemed to be every three to four weeks, although School Physician Richard Keller said that the influx of Isham patients during the third week of this term was not out of the ordinary. Keller said, “In terms of the fall [term length], [Isham] was busier than usual during assessment week. Kids seemed more worn out and tired. [Fall Term] seemed to wear on both students and faculty.” Some students and faculty felt strongly against the extension of Fall Term into the former winter break. Vidal, who traveled home to Brazil over winter break, was largely affected by the decrease in vacation. She said, “For the people who have to travel internationally, that’s not even two full weeks. For me, the tickets are $1000 [one-way] and I have to return the day after New Year’s.” “I think we are feeling the effects of short winter break now, and I think we’ll see the effect of a shorter spring break when we get back,” she said. Nicole Okai ’10 said, “It seemed like Fall Term was the same length as last year because of the nice weather, but Winter Term is so much worse because it’s colder and people are getting sick. Still, it’s not fair that Fall Term is three months and we get a shorter break.” Other students saw both good and bad effects of a longer Fall Term. “Fall Term feels like winter and spring combined, and during the short Winter and Spring Terms we don’t have a chance to pull our grades back up,” said Anita McDowell ’10. Winter break felt especially short to some Seniors, some of whom worked on college applications over break. “Most of the people I know finished their college applications during Christmas break, and it I think the extra time would’ve helped a lot,” said Madison McGreal ’08. “What I was more mad about was that most of my classes ran out of material during the last week of Fall Term,” she added. Fulford, Vidal and Frey will probably present their research and opinions at the next faculty meeting for open discussion and are hoping that changes will be made to the 2008-2009 academic calendar.