PITTSFIELD -- City school students, parents and teachers need to plan for a shorter-than-expected summer vacation this year.
The Pittsfield School Committee has approved opening the 2014-15 academic year with half-day classes on Wednesday, Aug. 27 -- before Labor Day weekend.
The early start required - and received - teacher union approval, according to United Educators of Pittsfield President Brendan Sheran. The rank-and-file vote was necessary as the UEP contract stipulates classes can't begin prior to Sept. 1, the date for Labor Day 2014.
School officials concede shifting the 180-school calendar will catch some parents off-guard, but a number of factors precipitated the move to avoid the last day of classes occurring in late June 2015, even with the built-in so-called "snow days."
"The move is educationally sound by getting out sooner in June as students tend to lose interest toward the end of the year," said School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Yon.
"When you picking the most valuable teaching time, pretty much sooner in the year is better," added Sheran.
While Pittsfield Public Schools have traditionally opened a new school year after Labor Day, there's precedent for a pre-holiday start. Some years, classes began after Sept. 1 but before the three-day weekend, because Labor Day fell on Sept. 6 or 7. Starting a full week into the month would ensure a late June dismissal for summer vacation.
Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless told the committee Wednesday night that Christmas break was another factor in the school calendar shift.
With Dec. 25 on a Thursday this year, McCandless said the option of having classes on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 before the vacation began Christmas Eve likely result in lower-than-usual attendance for a Monday and a Tuesday.
District and union officials say other issues have contributed in recent years to the complexity of a school calendar and should be addressed before the 2015-16 schedule is finalized next year.
A significant scheduling headache is finding time for mandated teacher development and training days within the 180-day period.
"With 10 half-days next year, they are tough to schedule," Yon said. "We used to have them on Fridays, but went to Wednesdays for better [student] attendance."
Sheran hopes the school calendar will be thoroughly discussed when new contract talks commence later this year, as the union enters the final year of its three-year deal with the committee.
"As long as we keep talking, that's good," he said. "Those half-days are an important issue."
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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