Back to school already? Shorter summer means additional fall break for Amarillo students

“It’s too early for school,” restless 10-year-old Joseph Detten said from the back seat of his mother’s minivan as they left school registration at Travis Middle School.

 

“Honestly,” said his mother, Vanessa Dominguez, “I’m kind of ready for them to go back.”

Summer was cut short this year for Amarillo students, as four of the five Amarillo school districts are bypassing the state-mandated start date of Aug. 28 to get back to school earlier.

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The biggest school districts — Amarillo and Canyon ISDs — are starting Wednesday, which sparked the annual back-to-school frenzy earlier than usual. And, while school still ends on the last Friday of May, officials hope parents and students appreciate trading summertime for time off during the middle of the year.

Amarillo ISD students will get two extended holiday weekends during the year.

The 2017-18 calendar includes a new student holiday on Oct. 6, creating a four-day weekend capped off with Columbus Day on Oct. 9.

There’s also an additional student holiday on Feb. 16, creating a four-day weekend that ends with President’s Day on Feb. 19.

The weekends aren’t quite as long for teachers, who must attend staff development on Oct. 6 and Feb. 19.

Kevin Phillips, AISD’s chief leadership and support officer, said a committee of community members and educators charged with developing the schedule sought to make the changes while also preserving the usual two-week winter break and three-day Thanksgiving holiday.

“We really get all of those things that we like in the normal school year, and on top of that we have two opportunities in October and February to have a little break for kids and some training for teachers,” he said.

The adjustment also helps balance the days in the fall and spring semesters, Phillips said.

Teachers sometimes are crunched for time during the shorter fall semesters.

The school district was able to start the year early by becoming a “District of Innovation” in February. Innovation districts are allowed to sidestep Texas’ law requiring school start no earlier than the fourth Monday in August.

More than half of the students in Texas attend innovation districts that can start early.

Canyon ISD also added time off for students and staff work days to the middle of the year.

The district decided to create a five-day break for students that starts Oct. 5 and ends on Columbus Day. District employees have staff development days during that time.

Another difference between the Canyon ISD and Amarillo ISD schedules is the use of snow days.

Since 2015, school districts have been required to measure the school year in minutes instead of days. The Texas Legislature passed a law requiring schools provide 75,600 minutes of instruction, giving districts more flexibility than the old requirement of 180 days.

Amarillo ISD students attend for 177 days but still exceed the minutes requirement to provide a buffer for cancellations.

The district’s elementary schoolers go to school for 77,800 minutes. The extra minutes allow four cancellations for inclement weather without needing to schedule a make-up day.

High schoolers, who attend school for 81,420 minutes, have more than 12 days of cushion for snow days.

Canyon ISD goes for 174 days for a total of 76,540 minutes. The minutes provide about a two-day buffer. The district also scheduled two traditional snow days in the spring — April 2 and May 4 — which become holidays if not needed as make-up days.

The tourism industry and state lawmakers have advocated for keeping the start date later in the summer to prevent school from cutting into vacation time.

Highland Park ISD — a smaller district serving eastern Potter County — is the only Amarillo district using the traditional start date of Aug. 28, but Highland Park Superintendent Jimmy Hannon said HPISD has obtained an exemption and is going to explore restructuring its schedule next year.

“They want those last-minute vacationers before school starts,” Hannon said. “But I think that should be a local decision, whatever the local school district decides is best for its kids.”

Start and end dates for Amarillo schools

Amarillo, Canyon, River Road ISDs

Start: Aug. 16

End: May 25

Bushland ISD

Start: Aug. 21

End: May 24

Highland Park ISD

Start: Aug. 28

End: May 31

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Sun, 12/10/2017 - 17:57

Services for Monday, Dec. 11, 2017