Glut of shortened school weeks to start 2017 has some Shawnee Mission parents frustrated

Jay Senter - January 19, 2017 11:55 am

No-School

If you’re a Shawnee Mission School District parent who feels like you’re seeing more of your kids during the school week lately than you’re used to, you’re not alone.

SMSD off days

Shawnee Mission School District students don’t have class the following days during the third quarter:
• Friday, Jan. 13
• Monday, Jan. 16
• Friday, Jan. 27
• Friday, Feb. 3
• Friday, Feb. 17
• Monday, Feb. 20
• Friday, Mar. 10 (K-8 day off; high school early release)

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A district calendar that has packed seven days off into the third quarter schedule has many parents frustrated as they try to find childcare or get their jobs to accommodate time off. Between the start of the third quarter Jan. 4 and the end Mar. 10, just two of seven school weeks meet for a full five days. In fact, the first full five-day school week of the quarter won’t come until Feb. 6. Two of the seven off days — Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and Presidents Day — are federal holidays. The rest are professional learning days over which the district largely has scheduling discretion.

Melinda Lewis, who teaches at the University of Kansas, has four children at Prairie Elementary. She said she’s heard from a number of other parents who have been scrambling to make plans to have their kids supervised during the days off.

“It’s not a calendar that was constructed with the needs of families in mind,” Lewis said. “If it was occasionally, it would be fine. But this just seems unreal.”

Lewis said she’s also heard from district employees who have been struggling with the schedule.

“It’s really hard [for teachers] to get students in a routine, particularly in the younger grades,” she said. “Kids thrive on routine, and you can’t set one with all these days off.”

National Education Association — Shawnee Mission President Linda Sieck said she knows people have been frustrated with the inconsistent schedule for this quarter.

“It is difficult to maintain a routine with so many shortened weeks,” Sieck said. “I believe the district has heard these concerns from students and staff and will make some changes in next year’s calendar.”

According to Sieck, there are three off-days from the third quarter that are mandated by the teachers’ contract with the district: the two federal holidays and a work day for K-8 teachers that falls on the final day of the quarter. The rest of the off-days are slotted by district administrators. (One of the off days is a teacher facilitated professional learning day which must fall sometime during the third or fourth quarter under the teachers’ contract. This year that day was scheduled for Friday, Jan. 27).

District spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said that the district recognized the challenges this year’s calendar posed to families. She said the board of education will address the issue by discussing a series of potential guidelines meant to improve the calendar for the coming school year at its meeting on Monday, as well as a proposed calendar for 2017-18.