School adds full week at Thanksgiving, ski week in February, single week in spring in 2017-18 calendar

Photo by Ethan Hockridge
“It was a fun trip with my friends, and I’m sad that it’s not going to be possible anymore,” sophomore Blake Lincoln said. Lincoln was one of five Country Day students that attended the spring break 2016 trip to Europe, which included a visit to a square in Dresden, Germany.

A new calendar for the 2017-18 school year will be the biggest revision to the schedule since 2006.

Spring break will now be one week instead of two, and the Columbus Day holiday will be eliminated. Instead, students will have a full week off for Thanksgiving and a new week-long mid-winter break (often referred to at other schools as Presidents’ Week or Ski Week).

However, the total number of school days will remain the same.

These changes were first proposed by head of school Lee Thomsen during a meeting with administrators in early October. To determine whether or not the school would adopt the change, Thomsen emailed a survey to parents, asking for their votes and comments, on Oct. 22.

According to a report in the Nov. 18 Friday Email, about 50 percent of parents responded to the survey – of those, 70.8 percent supported the change, 19.6 percent were against it and 9.6  percent had no preference.

Thomsen said that he hadn’t come in with the intention to change the calendar, but had brought it up after taking a deeper look.

“I am mostly accustomed to places that have a one-week spring break,” he said. “So I just started asking the question ‘Why is our calendar structured the way it is?’

“We’ve been looking at the calendar for a lot of reasons. One was just ‘What is the general shape of the calendar?’ The other was ‘Are there opportunities for us to do professional development?’

“For example, if we do that, do we set aside days? Do we use afternoons? We’ve explored the idea of an early release sometimes, whether that’s weekly or monthly.”

Thomsen said that the faculty and staff were either supportive or neutral towards the change.

“The feeling among faculty was that a two-week break is just very disruptive to the student experience,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to do anything about winter break – that’s defined by the Christmas holiday and New Year’s. And that usually comes at a fairly logical split.

Jack Christian
During the spring break 2016 trip to Europe, students visited a church in Krakow, Poland.

“But having a late spring break that’s two weeks long is really disruptive.”

The change wasn’t favored by just high-school teachers – the lower-school teachers were overwhelmingly in support, he said.

“The lower-school teachers will tell you that (if) you take a first grader out of class for two weeks, it’s almost like starting over in terms of getting a routine again,” Thomsen said with a chuckle.

Another reason for splitting up the two weeks of spring break, Thomsen said, is that the current stretch between New Year’s and spring break is far too long. By making spring break one week and putting the other week in late February, the monotony of third quarter can be broken up.

As to why he decided to remove Columbus Day in favor of a full week at Thanksgiving, Thomsen once again cited class disruption.

“Often families are traveling on (the Monday or Tuesday of Thanksgiving week) anyway, so that disrupts classes because now not everybody’s there,” he said.

Thomsen mentioned that calendar alignment with local schools was a consideration, but not ultimately a deciding factor.

“We looked at that with the public and Catholic schools, but, quite honestly, they’re not all the same,” he said. “A lot of the Catholic schools tend to take their spring break around Easter, but that wouldn’t make sense to us because two years from now (in the ‘18-19 school year), Easter is April 21. It’d be absurd to wait that long to go on spring break.

“I (also) had some people say, ‘Please align with the public school calendars,’ but they’re not always the same (or) ‘Please align with the legislature and their break,’ but you’re always going to bother somebody. It would be convenient if they were all the same.”

Thomsen said that some parents had concerns about extensive travel. However, it was determined that too few were affected for the school not to adopt the change.

The shortening of spring break will also make future international school trips unlikely. However, Spanish teacher Patricia Portillo, organizer of last year’s spring-break Cuba trip, said that she doesn’t see the change as much of a loss.

“We really have a hard time getting students to go on trips,” Portillo said. “We’ve tried having trips in the past, even in the summer, but people don’t sign up.

“So it’s not like, ‘Oh, no, we do it so often and now we can’t!’ – I can’t say that.”

Math teacher Patricia Jacobsen said that she looks forward to the changes.

“I’m most grateful that we’re changing the two-week spring break to two one-week breaks,” she said. “The spring is difficult enough with spring sports always taking out the last class of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s hard to keep that momentum going – teaching and learning and quizzes and tests and everything – because there’s always an interruptor.

Jacqueline Chao
Teacher Sue Nellis’s advisory enjoys the last Tuesday advisory Thanksgiving lunch, Nov. 22. When asked whether the lunch will be held the week before Thanksgiving next year, head of high school Brooke Wells said, “It is a wonderful time to gather together as a community, and it would be a shame if we didn’t have it. It’s actually kind of nice on a Friday!”

“And then when we have that two-week spring break, it’s really hard to come back from that and finish out the year.”

Jacobsen also approves of the smaller changes.

“It was always nice to have that day (after class trips) off (Columbus Day), but I’d rather have a week at Thanksgiving. I make dinner for my family, and I think a lot of other people do that too, if (they’re) hosting people – like if your family is coming from out of town or out of state.

“It’s just nicer to be able to spend more time with people.”

Jane Bauman, director of college counseling, said that she was indifferent about the change.

“Traveling in February is difficult because of athletics and weather, but students could use (the mid-winter break) to look at schools in California,” she said. “And then they could use spring break to go farther afield.

“It gives two separate opportunities to visit colleges when students are on campus.”

Bauman said that while the two-week spring break never disrupted her instruction, she can see how the change will benefit AP teachers.

AP US History teacher Sue Nellis confirmed this.

“We don’t actually gain any more time, but maybe not having a two-week spring break will be helpful,” Nellis said.

“It will help refocus people on the APs.”

The athletics department was relatively vocal in favor of the change.

(Photo used by permission of Miles Edwards)
Students who went on the Cuban trip in April 2016 during spring break pose with retired baseball player Pedro Medina (center), who played on the Cuban National Team. They later attended a baseball game between Habana/Havana and Matanzas.

“This year, our two-week spring break doesn’t match up with any other schools’ spring breaks,” athletics director Matt Vargo said.

“So not only do we end up with three weeks of non-competition, which puts our teams at a disadvantage during the spring, but also we have to jam together all our games in the rest of the season.”

The jamming of games, Vargo said, causes great disruption to classes because it increases the frequency of early dismissals.

“The new calendar will just make scheduling so much easier. I won’t have to move so many games. I’ll be able to schedule games in the pre-season.

“And I’d like to try to avoid having three games in a week.”

This year, Vargo said, because there are five different weeks of spring break across the league, conflicts are simply unavoidable.

“It’s hard to field teams during breaks – for a small school, if you’re missing one or two of your best players, there’s not much you can do. We can hardly get practices together, much less games.

“It’s been a challenge to reschedule all those games over the years, and that doesn’t include when we have a rainy spring, and then we have to reschedule baseball and softball,” Vargo said.

By Marigot Fackenthal

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