When Lucia Mar school board trustee Colleen Martin thinks about a typical district teacher during winter break, she envisions an elitist with time and money to burn, vacationing at a ski resort while hungry students gaze longingly at closed schoolhouse doors (“A Briefer Break” by Kasey Bubnash, New Times, January 20, 2020). Martin has been on the school board since 2006, so perhaps we can forgive her for not being aware of the origins of the district’s 3-week winter break, which began in 1999-2000 as a precaution against potential Y2K computer malfunctions at the turn of the millennium. The 3-week break that year was informative and served as a test of the pros and cons of a longer winter break. Some important improvements resulting from the new schedule were noted:
1. The longer break has no impact on the number of instructional days for students. Students still attend school for 180 days per year. The schedule change increased the length of winter break by one week while shortening summer break by the same number of days. Parents have to make childcare arrangements for that week whether it occurs during winter or summer break. There are affordable quality programs like Boys and Girls Club which provide childcare during both winter and summer breaks.
2. The change allowed students, whose families typically traveled to Mexico or elsewhere over the holidays, to miss fewer days of school. When attendance improved in January, the district benefited from increased state revenue which is based on average daily attendance.
3. By starting the school year a week earlier, the lengths of fall and winter semesters at the secondary level are more evenly balanced. This allows for a full semester of instruction, culminating in comprehensive final exams, prior to winter break. Elementary schools in the district are on a trimester system, and the 3 week break does not negatively affect elementary curriculum.
4. Teachers noted that the longer break provided much-needed decompression time after the holidays, and students and teachers returned in January more rested and ready to learn and teach.
It is disappointing that a school board member is unaware of the increasing demands on classroom teachers in the modern educational climate. Many teachers already spend a significant portion of their breaks back in their classrooms, setting up and preparing lessons. We could use a champion on the school board who values and promotes mental and emotional health among employees and students. A longer mid-school-year break contributes to better work-school-life balance, which is why stakeholders overwhelmingly vote to retain the current schedule year after year.
It is important to note that the process for determining an instructional calendar is outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between LMUSD and the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association. Article VI.F states: “The scheduling of work days for each school year shall be delegated to a Calendar Scheduling Committee in which stakeholders from each of the represented and unrepresented employee groups as well as parents and community are invited to participate….” In practice, the committee meets to discuss specifics of the calendar, formulates schedule options, then conducts a survey of relevant stakeholders. Historically, the outcome of the survey has been unequivocally in favor of the continuation of the 3-week winter break. The role of school board members is not to select a calendar option but to formalize the recommendation of the committee. If the District or one of the employee Associations wishes to dispute the recommendation of the committee, they may institute formal negotiations, but there is no incentive to do so when the outcome of the committee’s work so clearly results from a transparent and democratic process.
In terms of labor relations, it is inappropriate for Ms. Martin to publicly attempt to sway the outcome or subvert the contractual process. Instead, if she has concrete data to back up her assertions, she should present such data to the Calendar Committee.
The hard-working teachers of Lucia Mar deserve better than to be collectively maligned by a school board member. They work hard to meet their students’ needs, academically and in terms of physical and emotional health. Teachers and staff deserve and expect the trust and respect of the school board members who are elected to serve on behalf of the students and the fine and dedicated employees of Lucia Mar.
Retired Teacher and former LMUTA President (2012-2019)