Written by: Katherine Zu
Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the Palo Alto Unified School District school calendar was changed so that finals would be held before, rather than after, winter break.
The recommendation of having a calendar allowing for finals to be held before winter break was made in the fall of 2010 by the calendar committee. After being approved by the Palo Alto Educator’s Association, the district and the Board of Education in May of 2011, the calendar was implemented.
Many factors were considered while changing the calendar. One of them was that the current calendar would allow for a break not affected by impending finals in mid-January. “It allows for a true break,” Principal Katya Villalobos said. “It allows for students to be done with a semester and it allows us to end the year earlier.”
Overall Gunn community has responded positively. “I’ve gotten very good feedback overall,” Villalobos said. “There will be a survey sent out to teachers, students, staff-pretty much everybody.”
One of the effects of the calendar change was the highaccumulation of school work for students at the end of the semester. “Even though they felt the rush in December, they didn’t have to worry about having finals in January,” Villalobos said. “After Christmas and New Year’s, there was about a week until school. They could enjoy it and they really liked that time.”
Like many other classmates, senior Andrea Allen had to balance finals with college applications, which are usually due at the start of the new year. However, she expressed her satisfaction with the current calendar that allowed her to better concentrate on college applications during the holidays after the semester was finished. “Although time-wise it was more crammed, it was more efficient,” Allen said. “It was nice to have college apps as the only thing to do during break.”
Teachers also have a positive outlook on the new calendar. “From what I’ve heard informally, many teachers seem to be happy with the new calendar,” English Instructional Supervisor Ellen Feigenbaum said. “Even though it has been an adjustment, there is something psychologically appealing about starting fresh after the winter break.”
In the past years, the few days of first semester after winter break were spent not covering new material, but rather refreshing old material learned before break. “Before, when we came back from the break, we had to review material to get students up to speed,” Feigenbaum said.
Also for many teachers, one of the benefits of the new calendar is the longer grading period they have after the semester is over. “The administration has made it clear that the staff, as well as the students, should try to have a work-free break,” Feigenbaum said.
The administration has made an effort to smooth out the transition through communicating with the public by keeping an up-to-date calendar on the Gunn website and through Assistant Principal of Guidance Tom Jacoubowsky’s regular email updates through Infinite Campus Portal. In the coming years, Villalobos plans to improve the calendar by implementing a few minor changes. “[There are] a few more tweaks, like moving events around, putting more information on the website, and things like that,” she said. Villalobos has an optimistic outlook on the future school years. “It’s a mindset,” she said, echoing one student’s comment. “This won’t be tough once we readjust, and next year will be smoother.”