Several Berkshire County public school calendars are experimenting with significant changes this year for a range of reasons.
Pittsfield Public Schools are starting a week earlier than last year. Central Berkshire Regional School District will have an abbreviated break in February versus a full week. Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, typically the first school in session in August for the county, has pushed back its start until September.
Each district has its own reasons and strategy for configuring its calendar, factoring in elements like inclement weather, teachers contracts and training programs, and state and federal education reform mandates.
Add that to a mix of other unexpected issues like last year's Northern Berkshire power outages, repeated water main breaks at Drury High School or the "humidity days" that caused slick floors and canceled classes at Mount Greylock Regional High School, and the task of planning a future academic year becomes all the more a gamble.
"We take all of these things into consideration," said Pittsfield Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.
"We're starting a week earlier than we did last year because we were concerned with the number of snow days we had," he said.
Pittsfield students were in school until June 24 this year due to inclement weather closing school multiple times during the 2013-14 academic year.
"Historically our district used to start after Labor Day," said Superintendent Peter Dillon of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. "We're now in a habit of starting before Labor Day in response to the snowy winters we've been having."
Adams-Cheshire Regional School District Superintendent Kristen Gordon said for this year, teachers and the school committee adopted a flexible schedule to accommodate for snow days. Scheduled full in-service days for professional development and the Good Friday holiday can be changed to half days if the number of accrued snow days becomes excessive.
Though days of instruction lost due to snow days or other reasons are made up in June, they aren't always effective.
"If the calendar runs to the last day of June, we don't think of them as prime learning days," said Central Berkshire Superintendent Robert Putnam. "At that point in the year, kids minds are everywhere else but school and everyone's distracted by the heat."
"What we wanted to do in our district was to figure out how to get quality instruction days," Putnam said in regards to planning the current school year calendar.
At its April 24 meeting, the Central Berkshire Regional School Committee approved a 2014-15 calendar that included a reconfigured February break. Instead of having a break between Monday, Feb. 16 (Presidents' Day) and Friday, Feb. 20, students will have no school Friday, Feb. 13 (a staff professional development day) nor Monday or Tuesday. The remaining three days, Feb. 18 through 20, however will be regular school days.
Putnam said this year's configuration takes into account the fact that the 2012-15 teachers contract did not allow the current school year to start before Sept. 1, but that due to new state supervision and evaluation processes for teachers and administrators, the district is adding two additional professional development days to prepare and process.
Dillon said the Berkshire Hills district went through a similar contract language revision to include an earlier start of the school year and to include more professional development around curriculum and assessment, reflective of state and federal reform mandates.
Putnam said that as Central Berkshire negotiates a new contract with teachers and staff, starting the school year earlier will be taken into consideration. He said this year's February break schedule will likely not be repeated next year.
"Our school year also typically starts much earlier than it will this year," said Julia Bowen, executive director of BART Charter Public School in Adams. This year, classes at the school don't start until Tuesday, Sept. 2.
"We pushed back the start date to extend the summer construction season," she said.
The school's currently in the midst of a $3.8 million renovation and expansion project. Bowen told The Eagle that the renovations are on target to be complete for the start of the school year and that the expansion portion of the project is expected to be completed in November.
The BART calendar historically includes an extra five days of instruction.
Under the Massachusetts Student Learning Time regulations, school committees are required to schedule a school year that includes at least 185 days at each school (typically to account for snow days), and are required to operate the schools for at least 180 school days in a school year.
In addition, schools must ensure that elementary students receive a minimum of 900 hours of structured learning time per school year, and that secondary school students receive a minimum of 990 hours of instruction. Kindergarten students must receive a minimum of 425 hours structured learning time.
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School days ...
First days of Berkshire County schools by public school district
Adams-Cheshire: Tuesday, Sept. 2
BART Charter Public: Tuesday, Sept. 2
Berkshire Hills: Wednesday (pre-K through Grade 9); all students in on Thursday
Clarksburg: Wednesday, Sept. 3
Central Berkshire: Tuesday, Sept. 2
Farmington River: Wednesday
Florida (Gabriel Abbott Memorial): Wednesday
Hancock Elementary School: Wednesdsay
Lanesborough Elementary: Thursday (half-day)
Lee: Wednesday (half-day)
Mount Greylock: Wednesday, Sept. 3
North Adams: Wednesday. Sept. 3 (early dismissal all week)
Northern Berkshire Vocational (McCann Tech): Thursday, Sept. 4
Pittsfield: Wednesday (half-day for grades 1-6 and Grade 9); full day for all students is Thursday
Richmond Consolidated: Wednesday
Savoy (Emma L. Miller Memorial): Wednesday
Southern Berkshire: Wednesday (half-day)
Williamstown Elementary: Wednesday, Sept. 3 (early
Back to school by date
Wednesday: Berkshire Hills, Farmington River, Florida (Gabriel Abbott), Hancock, Lee, Pittsfield, Richmond, Savoy, Southern Berkshire
Thursday: Lanesborough Elementary, Lenox
Tuesday, Sept. 2: Adams-Cheshire, BART, Central Berkshire
Wednesday, Sept. 3: Clarksburg Elementary, Mount Greylock, North Adams, Williamstown Elementary
Thursday, Sept. 4: McCann