RANDOLPH, NJ - When deciding the 2018-19 school calendar, Randolph Board of Education members began discussing options for an August start date in the 2019-20 calendar. However, most members voted “no” to this decision after discussion and surveys.
Each year the board tries to schedule graduation as early as possible, and an August start date would help that date get into the second week of June. They also considered starting earlier to help students prepare for AP and state assessment, since many other schools in the country receive extra time for instruction by starting in August.
While an earlier start date would mean an earlier graduation, staff and teachers presented concerns about child care, loss of summer income and increased vacation costs, according to Randolph Education Association President Eric Schaberg.
Superintendent Jennifer Fano performed a survey of REA members with one question and the two choices of an August 22 and an August 26 start date. 56% of the 668 members responded with only 163 respondents providing a comment with their vote.
During the Dec. 5 board meeting, members discussed the motion for over an hour. They suggested more surveys of different groups, the effect of an early start date on morale and if students even need the extra time for AP courses.
“I would say this -- that NJ, I believe, is ranked second in the nation as far as public school performance, and Randolph is rated 16th or 17th [in NJ],” Schaberg said during public comments. “Why are we emulating schools that underperform our state?”
Board Member Christine Aulenbach read through the 163 comments and pulled out the repeated “valid reasons to consider” for starting in September. These reasons included cooling the classrooms without air conditioning, and elementary teachers preparing their classrooms one week before they are required to be in school.
Additionally, survey comments indicated staff would be using personal days if they wanted to take their children to college.
Fano explained that the board has the final say on the school calendar, and her single-question survey was designed for simple feedback. “There are many people it will impact, because it is a potential change,” Fano said, adding she did not want to give the impression that the board would make a decision based solely on the survey.
Board members felt that the survey did not provide teachers enough information to provide helpful responses, and the end dates should have been included.
Towards the end of the hour discussion, board member Susan Devito encouraged the board to make sure these surveys have a purpose. She asked if the board’s responses would be different based on different results.
“I’m all for ending as early in June as we can, but not at the expense of causing upheaval within our teaching staff and with the people in our community,” board member Anne Standridge said. “But at this point in time, with the wheels we have spun tonight, I would like to see that the 19-20 calendar stay [similar to] 2018.”
Board member Sheldon Epstein commented, “we have information from only one party, and we can’t make a decision based on one party.”
In the end, Board President Al Matos forced a vote on the motion as it stands with start dates of August 26 for teachers and August 28 for students and a graduation date of June 15, 16 or 12. Epstein voted “yes” to adopt, and all other members voted “no.”