NOTE: This article was updated slightly on 8/3/14.
Our local newspaper ran a letter to the editor on July 30, 2009 that asked why our school year starts so early and why our summer break is so short. Our director of educational services at that time, Wes Brownfield, wrote a response that ran in the paper on August 3. His letter is reprinted below followed by some additional comments.
This letter is in response to a recent letter to the editor regarding school year start dates. The writer made a comment in her letter which I believe must be addressed.
In her letter, the writer claims that the “district” makes these guidelines. This is clearly misinformed. Arizona Statute, ARS 15-341.01 states the following: “School instruction shall be . . . at least 180 days each school year.” This means we must, by law, have our students in the classroom for 180 days. This requirement has been in force since the 2005–2006 fiscal year. The district clearly does not set these guidelines and is required to comply regardless of policy in other states, the majority of which require between 175 and 186 student days according to the Digest of Educational Statistics.
Regarding the actual start date, the writer states that school started on the August 6th last year. Again she seems misinformed; the adopted LHUSD School Calendar for 2008-2009 clearly indicates school began on August 4th last year. Each year will vary slightly to accommodate changing dates for holidays, however, the district had 180 student days last year, just as this year.
The district can either begin in September and end in June or begin in August or end in May. Either way students will continue to experience the Havasu summer. Beginning in August allows teachers the maximum instructional days before AIMS testing—another mandate over which the district has no control, but for which we are held absolutely accountable.
I believe I understand the writer's concerns; however the district is bound by the constraints of state law and testing policy.
Expanding on Mr. Brownfield's comments, there is an additional reason our summer break is shorter than people might be used to, but the explanation calls for a short review of calendar changes over time.
From 2003 to 2006, our district experimented with a year-round school calendar. (See sample.) We called it a modified calendar, and we tried it at our elementary and middle schools. Lake Havasu High School stayed on a more traditional calendar. The modified calendar called for a shortened summer break, but provided a three week break in March and another three week break that ran from September into October. There was also a three-week break for the winter holidays. With the modified calendar's short summer break, school actually started in July. The main reason for trying this calendar was the belief that students coming back from a long summer break needed extensive review to be brought back up to speed, where several shorter breaks, spread throughout the school year, would give them less time to forget what they had learned. Better retention of what was learned and less time spent on review would mean better test scores, it was hoped. It is also worth mentioning that in 2003–04 our students had 178 days of school.
All Lake Havasu Unified schools went back to a more traditional calendar for the 2006–07 school year, but the district decided that giving students and staff short breaks at several points in the year was a good idea. Our 2014–15 calendar offers a 10 week summer break, one week off in October and March, and two weeks off for Christmas and New Year's. As Mr. Brownfield stated, our students are now required to attend school 180 days per year.
With the exception of adding two school days to the calendar (and that decision is made by the state), the number of days off each year for our students has stayed about the same over the years. Only the distribution of those days has changed. We believe our current schedule allows for things we can't control, like the number of required school days and placement of holidays, but still serves our primary goal of student achievement.