An earlier start to the school year and a new curriculum await Pickerington Local School District students when they return to classes next week.
Monday, Aug. 19, will mark the first day of the 2013-14 school year for students in grades 1-12, and kindergarten students will begin classes on Aug. 22.
The return to classes is slightly earlier than in past years, including last school year when students in grades 1-12 began school Aug. 27 and kindergarten Aug. 30.
The early start was approved by the Pickerington Board of Education last January, as board members attempted to provide long enough breaks at Thanksgiving and Christmas to permit students and families to travel.
This school year, Thanksgiving break will be from Nov. 27-29, and the Christmas, or winter holiday break, will be from Dec. 23-Jan 3, with classes resuming Jan. 6.
Pickerington Superintendent Rob Walker also said by providing the holiday breaks and starting school Aug. 19 and ending the school year May 30, 2014, the district will be able to provide balanced semesters in which classes are in sessions for similar numbers of weeks.
"We're trying to equalize the lengths of semesters," Walker said.
"We're starting a week early to balance the classes to be 18 weeks each semester instead of 15 weeks one semester and 21 weeks another."
Start times for Pickerington students in grades K-4 will change by five minutes this year to provide district bus drivers more time to finish transporting older students before beginning K-4 routes both before and after school.
This year, school for morning, or "A.M.," kindergarten students will begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at noon. Afternoon/ "P.M." kindergarten will be held from 1 to 3:40 p.m.
Elementary school students will attend school from 9:15 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.
Start times for the remainder of the district's students will not change from 2012-13.
This year, middle school classes will be held from 8:40 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
The district's two junior high schools will be in session from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
High school classes will begin at 7:20 a.m. and end at 1:55 p.m.
Possibly the biggest change from last school year to this year will be the implementation of the "Common Core" curriculum.
In 2010, Ohio was among the first states to adopt Common Core, an initiative launched by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers amid concern that American students were falling behind their peers around the world.
Governors and education leaders from 47 states including Ohio helped create the goals for what students should know.
In addition to measuring students' learning growth over the course of the school year, teachers and building principals will be evaluated to ensuring they are meeting growth and other performance standards.
"This is not a (President) Barack Obama movement," Walker said. "He had nothing to do with it.
"This is a movement that started with educators because we had standards that were a mile wide and an inch deep."
Walker said the new curriculum has been in the works in Pickerington for three years.
He said it's designed to ensure each student gains at least a year of academic growth during the school year, and its interactive learning lessons will better prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century job market.
"What Common Core is doing is trying to eliminate the repetitious and duplicative standards and eliminate standards that don't prepare to be college and career ready when they graduate from high school," Walker said.
As the school year progresses, Walker said, district administrators and the board are expected to discuss continued use of technology to facilitate Common Core learning.
He said the district is seeking ways to bring more technology into classrooms to help student learning and make lessons more interactive, and that includes proposals to provide iPads and laptop computers to all or most teachers.
Additionally, he noted, the district is expected to consider the realignment of attendance zones to improve transportation plans and ensure overcrowding doesn't occur in some school buildings.
"We want to realign these attendance zones so the balance is more equitable in the schools and we're not transporting students who could easily walk to their neighborhood schools," he said.
"I do not want one building, all of a sudden, to not be able to serve all the students in their attendance zone and then have to overflow to other buildings."
Additional back-to-school information can be found on the district's website at pickerington.k12.oh.us.