Impassioned parents voice calendar concerns at Newhall District board meeting

Parents fill the Newhall School Board's chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, to address the board about the school's calendar. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Newhall School District parents packed the district office Tuesday night to speak out against the district’s calendar not aligning with the William S. Hart Union High School District calendar.

There are 26 days throughout the year where there are discrepancies between the districts, which led to the creation of a Facebook group, a website, a petition and rallied some parents to pass out flyers on school sites.

Many parents cited the added expenses they pay for childcare when there are days one child has school and another has off.

Rachel Davis, a mother with two kids at Pico Canyon Elementary and one at West Ranch High School, said it is costly to pay for someone to watch her elementary schoolers when both she and her husband are working.

“It’s confusing to us why such a great school district would have a problem like this,” Davis said. “It does cause a lot of unnecessary conflict and tension in our family.”

With students at Hart High School, Placerita Junior High and Valencia Valley Elementary and a three-year-old, Megan Christianson said she has struggled with mismatched calendars for five years.

“I have yet to hear a reason why this schedule is beneficial,” Christianson said. “Every year we think it couldn’t possible get worse, and then it does. I urge you to take action.”

Mother of four Kelly Privett said her family had to sacrifice a family vacation to Mexico during the summer because the calendars did not align.

“As parents, as moms, all we want is for be our families to be together,” she said.

Old Orchard Elementary Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President Ryan Haslam said he has endured six years of conflicting schedules between his six children.

“I’m very invested in this issue and would like to see some changes very soon,” Haslam said. “We know your motivations are good and you want to better our community. We see you as our partner in this.”

Newhall School District parents pack into the board’s chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, to share concerns about the school’s calendar. The calendar does not line up with other districts in the valley, so parents with children at differing grade levels may not all have the same school breaks. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Haslam pointed to the Castaic School District Union School District’s calendar, which is only mismatched with the high school for two days during the year.

Melanie Musella, Newhall Teachers Association Co-President and Pico Canyon Elementary School teacher, said the calendar is aligned the way it is because it results in positive educational outcomes for students.

The district’s negotiations team and the teachers’ negotiations team collaborate each year to align school vacation days with the trimester system and benchmark testing, she said.

“It pains us to read (on social media) that we don’t care about children or our families,” Musella said. “Both sides look out for the best educational outcomes for our students.”

Teachers overwhelmingly vote in favor of a two-week spring break in the Newhall School District because it shortens the summer vacation to minimize learning loss, she said.

Newhall School Board President Christy Smith said the board primarily considers what teachers say results in the most effective learning outcomes for students when making decisions about the calendar.

The first day of school is purposefully different between the districts because of traffic concerns and the time needed to do first day of school rituals and photos, she said. Also, the end of the year differs for the high school district because of finals and Advanced Placement testing.

In her seven years on the board, Smith said she has never heard such overwhelming discontent with the calendar.

“Ultimately, our responsibility is to the highest level of education for your kids,” Smith said. “We hear you and we are taking your concerns.”

The board is unable to make any changes to the calendar for this year but will consider parents’ concerns when making decision next year, she said.

This will not only be something for the Newhall district to consider, but will require some collaboration with the Hart district, according to Smith.

For parents considering taking their children out of school in protest of the calendar, Smith said that funding could be taken away from music and the arts or result in the layoff of teachers because of the loss of revenue.

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