WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — April vacation will be a thing of the past — at least for one year — if the Mount Greylock Regional School Transition Committee approves a calendar proposal presented at Thursday's meeting.
Acting on direction from the committee to try to end the school year earlier than this year's snow day-induced June 25 release, Superintendent Kimberley Grady and her building principals developed a proposal that replaces the traditional week off in April with two long weekends.
By recovering the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after Patriots Day, the district would have classes ending on Thursday, June 13 — or, with the state-mandated budget of snow days, June Thursday, June 20.
If the district goes with the traditional week off, the last day of school would be Tuesday, June 18, at the earliest and June 25 with the five snow days.
Eliminating days off during the school year is the only lever the committee has to change the length of the year.
The start of classes — Sept. 6 for students in Grades 1-12 — is the subject of a negotiation with the district's union personnel. The commonwealth mandates that classes be held a set number of days each year. That leaves days off as the only variable under the control of the elected school committee members.
"It's a reasonable proposal, but reasonable people can disagree with it," committee member Dan Caplinger said.
In a "normal" year, the school committee would have set the school calendar weeks — if not months — ago. But with the advent of regionalization this year, the newly expanded district had to negotiate new contracts with its union personnel. That created a delay in deciding the first day of school, which only was finalized at the Transition Committee's May 24 meeting.
Grady said she and the principals did not take the task of drafting a calendar lightly.
"This was not an easy task, but we're up against the wall with next year and the end of June being the end of the school year," she said. "None of this was easy. We live in the Berkshires. We're having a late start [to the year]. We have explored and will continue to explore the concept of ‘blizzard bags' so we don't have all these snow dates.
"But going to June 25 is just really tight for all of us."
The blizzard bags project has been tried in other districts around the commonwealth. It allows schools to send children home with work they can complete at home on a snow day. If enough children complete the assignments, the school would be eligible to count the snow day as a class day.
The draft calendar presented on Thursday preserves two other vacation periods during the school year: Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 and Feb. 18 to 22. It also has a half day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21) followed by two days off and five days off for students throughout the year: the second Monday in October, election day (a professional development day for teachers), Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Memorial Day.
Transition Committee member Carolyn Greene, who serves by virtue of her position on the Mount Greylock School Committee, asked about the possibility of a calendar that allots the vacation days in April with the stipulation that the district could pull some back if by, say, mid-March, it has used a given number of snow days.
"The problem with that is people can't plan [April] vacations unless they know for sure that they have them," Greene noted. "But I like the concept of saying, ‘You have April vacation unless we use our snow days.' "
Grady said Mount Greylock had toyed with the idea for 2017-18 at the middle-high school, but in the winter of 2017, when this year's calendar was developed, the district still was planning to use April vacation to move classes into Mount Greylock's new three-story academic wing.
One member of the five Transition Committee members who participated in Thursday's discussion advocated that the panel should pull the trigger on the draft calendar immediately.
"This is a win/win or a lose/lose situation," Al Terranova said. "We have 1,200 students. X percent will be unhappy whatever the calendar is. I applaud Kim and the staff for coming up with a reasonable solution.
"I have no problem voting on this calendar tonight. We can talk about it for two more weeks, but Kim came to us with a plan, and I support the plan she brought us."
Terranova moved that the committee OK the calendar as presented. Regina DiLego seconded the motion to get it on the table, but she ended up voting in a 4-1 majority against Terranova.
The majority of the committee felt the move away from having an April vacation was a radical enough proposal to warrant soliciting public input before proceeding. And Grady told the panel the decision could wait until its scheduled June 14 meeting.
"I personally, in my six years [on the Williamstown Elementary School Committee] have never had strong opinions about what the calendar would look like," Caplinger said. "My main objective was to try to align the three schools' calendars.
"What has surprised me in the six years is there is a large subset of people for whom the calendar really makes a difference. It draws impassioned discussion about things that I don't think are a big deal. To have an opportunity to hear from people about why April vacation should be as it has been makes sense."
Chairman Joe Bergeron encouraged members of the public who want to weigh in to email their comments to the district's office manager, Jonathon Nopper, at firstname.lastname@example.org