Proposal to Equalize Term Lengths Prompts Debate

The faculty have voted on a proposal to change to an academic calendar with terms of equal length from Wednesday through Friday of this week, according to Head of School John Palfrey.

Under the revised calendar, Fall Term classes would begin the day after Labor Day in most years and would end the week before a two-week-long Thanksgiving Break. Winter Break would be shortened to two weeks, and the two weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks would be part of Winter Term, according to John Rogers, Dean of Studies.

Each of the three terms would consist of 11 weeks of school, including Extended Period Week.

Fall Term currently begins eight days after Labor Day and ends two weeks after Thanksgiving Day, with a week-long Thanksgiving break. In most years, this schedule yields a Fall Term of 12 weeks, including Extended Period Week, but in some years the term is 13 weeks long.

Winter and Spring Term currently consist of about 10 weeks each. Winter Term begins after a Winter Break that is a few days longer than three weeks, depending on when New Year’s Day falls.

The proposed changes to the academic calendar would synchronize Andover’s schedule with those of its peer schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy and Deerfield Academy, which currently have terms of equal length.

Discussion over the proposed changes to the calendar began last spring and have been the focus of two faculty meetings, according to e-mails from Palfrey to the student body.

In an e-mail to students on Monday, Palfrey attached a document of “student grievances” and arguments against the proposed changes, compiled and written by Hemang Kaul ’13, School President, Rolando Bonachea ’13, Vice President of Student Council, MJ Engel ’13, Executive Secretary of Student Council, and Junius Williams ’14, Upper Representative.

Palfrey also held an open-microphone “student opinion session” on Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., during which students voiced their thoughts on the proposed changes.

Palfrey e-mailed students on Thursday evening with notes from the session. Nine students and 23 faculty members attended the session, according to Palfrey.

Under the current academic calendar, the College Counseling Office (CCO) sends projected fall grades of early applicants to many schools because final fall grades are not available until early to mid-December. Most early application deadlines fall during the first week of November, according to Sean Logan, Director of College Counseling.

The shortened Fall Term in the proposal would enable the CCO to send final fall grades in mid-November, according to Logan.

An earlier start to the year would also allow also Seniors and post-graduates more time during the Fall Term to work with their college counselors, according to Logan.

“One of my biggest takeaways from last year… was how little time Seniors at this institution have to do the college counseling process in the fall,” said Logan. “I have 31 less days [at Andover than at] the high school I worked at in San Diego, just from the fall. I think this is a huge disadvantage for Seniors.”

Logan added that new Seniors and post-graduates, who begin their college counseling process at Andover at the start of Fall Term, do not have actual grades from Andover to report to colleges if they decide to apply early.

Patrick Farrell, Instructor and Chair in Mathematics, said, “I think there is enough movement in that last two weeks in math classes with final exams that the projected grades are not necessarily the true indication of where the students will be at the end of the term.”

One concern listed in the document written by the members of Student Council is that the proposed changes would make it difficult for international students to travel home during breaks, as Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break would both consist of two weeks.

Flying home for both breaks would be expensive, but it would also be difficult to make arrangements to stay in the U.S. for two weeks at a time, particularly for students who choose to stay with their host families.

Under the current calendar, most international students currently make arrangements to stay in the U.S. during the one-week Thanksgiving Break but travel home during the three-week Winter Break, according to Susanne Torabi, International Student Coordinator.

“I do believe that the equal term length is a good idea for various reasons but… international students need to reconnect with their families. That means it’s critical for them to go home, but this plan, having two equally long vacations will not work well because then they have to choose [between breaks]. Also, for the host families [two weeks] is too long,” said Torabi.

She continued, “Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when you invite others or newcomers to this country, so it kind of lends itself to do this for the international students, and I think host families often are very aware of that. But doing that a second time in such a short time frame is just not right.”

Alessa Cross ’16, an international student from Tokyo, said, “If we have a shorter Winter Break, I won’t have time to adjust to jet lag… The flight is 14 hours, and the time difference is 13 hours. It makes a big difference because it usually takes maybe four days to get adjusted to jet lag.”

The proposed changes would facilitate the teaching of term-contained courses. Students would have the same amount of time to learn a particular course’s material, regardless of the term. For example, students who take Math 360 in the fall currently spend two more weeks in the course than students who take it in the winter before both groups meet in the spring to begin calculus, according to Farrell.

Farrell said, “We found that there were five times as many Ds and Fs at midterm in math classes for Winter Term than in Fall Term. A possible reason that that’s occurring is that we condensed the same amount of material into a shorter period, not giving that day before the test to prepare for the test. When you do that over several tests, then you keep on putting in new material without having a break, [and] I don’t think that that’s necessarily a healthy situation for the students.”

In addition to the dilemma for international students, one concern is that it would be difficult for students to remember information from the first two weeks of Winter Term after Winter Break. The members of Student Council argued in their document that since teachers would want to conclude a unit within this time frame, it is likely that several major assignments would be scheduled for the week before Winter Break.

However, the proposed calendar would match term lengths to the lengths of athletic seasons. This change would facilitate the school’s participation in athletic tournaments at the ends of seasons, according to Michael Kuta, Director of Athletics.

“Currently, we have a schedule that puts us [out of] sync with other New England private schools, especially because of [the] two weeks before Winter Break. Therefore, if we had terms of equal lengths, we would match up externally,” said Kuta.

“But also, internally, we can start all three programs before the winter holiday. Currently, we have intramural sports and life activity programs wait until the first week of January, and therefore, we have kids without exercise or sport for up to seven weeks,” he continued. Under the current schedule, only the interscholastic sports begin before Thanksgiving Break.

Kuta said that the changed schedule would benefit varsity athletes who participate in holiday tournaments during the third week of December, which are showcases for colleges, because the schedule change would allow more time for teams to prepare. “I admit that it’s a small percentage of kids, but it matters a lot to them,” he said.

Andover Boys Varsity Hockey participates in the Flood Marr Hockey Tournament every year, which, under the current schedule, is normally held a week into Winter Break. Players on the team remain in the Andover area the first week of Winter Break to practice for and participate in the tournament. Under the proposed schedule, the tournament would occur as soon as Winter Break begins.

Eddie Ellis ’13, Captain of Andover Boys Varsity Hockey, said, however, that the new calendar would allow less time to prepare for the Flood Marr Tournament.

“For that full week when we’re not in school, that’s a lot of fun just to be able to focus on hockey and be with the team for a few days without having to worry about school… That would stink if we got that taken away,” said Ellis.

Many students have voiced concerns about the proposed changes to the calendar, including the grievances relayed by Student Council.

“I’ve talked with my classes, and they seem pretty much universally against it. The students won’t necessarily have a vote, but they should have a voice,” said Gregory Wilkin, Instructor in English.

While the CCO believes the change will benefit students applying early, many students are concerned that early application deadlines would coincide with “Penultimate Week,” two weeks before Extended Period Week in the fall and the last week of the term during which teachers can schedule tests and assign papers.

“This would defeat the ultimate [college counseling-related] purpose of the Equal Term model in that it would add stress to the already-busy early application period. It is likely Seniors applying early would see their grades decrease during this period,” wrote Student Council in its document.

Students have also voiced concerns about removing the vacation that currently breaks up the last two week of classes in the Fall Term.

“I’m pretty disappointed with the calendar proposals. I feel that people use Thanksgiving Break to review for finals, so taking that away will definitely affect people’s finals grades,” said James Heaney ’14.

“The week in between school and fall finals is really helpful to everyone to rest. [The schedule change] would create more problems than solve problems, and I think everyone pretty much likes what we have going now,” said Paul Kinard ’15.

Another concern is that Fall Term currently allows extra time for students to transition back into Andover’s academic rhythm.

“Personally, I believe that the new schedule changes would give new students, especially… Juniors who might not be used to the workload, some difficulty transitioning,” said JP Mayer ’16.

“There’s definitely a lot of security in doing things the way we are doing them now, but I think that this is an opportunity to reconsider how we’re doing things and how to solve some of the problems. But we need to go into this realizing that we can create other problems,” said Farrell.

Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English, said “I personally think that if we want to make changes, let’s think deeply and thoroughly about a variety of changes and do have those meetings and have those conversations in the context of the broad strategic plan—not just this one decision right now.”

“We should discuss calendar changes among many other things, but this is really not a model that would serve us well right now, and it might preclude more interesting conversation later on,” Vidal continued.

The members of Student Council listed alternative proposals in their document, one of which would turn the two-week period between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break into a separate, short fourth term. During this “December Term,” instead of attending regular classes, students would have an opportunity to pursue different subjects of their interest. They also proposed scheduling Wellness Week for the “December Term.”

However, Palfrey tweeted on Monday night, “Definitely up for considering flexible term option someday myself, though not on table right now.”