Westerville News & Public Opinion

Get used to mid-August start to the school year

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Westerville City School District students return to school Wednesday, Aug. 13 -- the earliest start date the district has seen in recent years, perhaps its earliest start ever.

Parents and students might as well get used to a mid-August return to classes as the new normal. On the bright side, the mid-May start to summer breaks will continue as well.

The change has come about to time the finish of the first semester and exams prior to the winter holiday break. Last year, students returned to school on Aug. 14.

"The calendar change and earlier start happened a couple years ago. One piece is obviously so our semester break is before winter break -- which means exams happen before winter break instead of afterward," Superintendent John Kellogg said.

"It was never really a good model for kids taking exams in that way."

The earlier start date also helps teachers prepare students for statewide tests like the Ohio Graduation Test, Ohio Achievement Assessments or the TerraNova tests, all of which take place in the spring.

"If you start later in the school year, you lose some instruction time," Kellogg said.

First semester breaks including Thanksgiving break and winter break do not change significantly due to the holidays that coincide with those times. The last day of the first semester this year will be Friday Dec. 19 and students will break for two weeks for the holidays.

Then students will kick off the new year and second semester on Jan. 5.

Spring break is scheduled for March 30 through April 3. That falls after the spring administration of the OAA to sophomores.

The last day of the school year will be Thursday, May 21 -- again prior to the Memorial Day weekend.

And parents and students can get used to that as the new normal as well.

"Though we start earlier, we end earlier. That helps with summer planning as well with work and vacation," Kellogg said.

The 2014-2015 school year also will introduce new technology in the classrooms and with statewide testing.

Last year was a pilot year for elementary school students taking the OAA on computers. Though the traditional pencil and paper method will be used for some grade levels, this year more students will use computers to take the OAA.

Kellogg said the district is still deciding which grades will take exams on computers and which will use paper and pencils.

"The state is allowing you to opt to use paper and pencil for some assessments," he said. "We are building a timeline around some grade levels doing test online and some on paper and pencils."

Middle school students also will have an opportunity to use the new mobile Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, for new introductory engineering courses for seventh-graders.

The 40-foot trailer will move from middle school to middle school and houses instruments such as industry-level laser cutters, a 3-D printer, robots and computer programs. These tools will help teach students how to move from idea concepts through to production.

"We have a lot of exciting opportunities for kids and teachers this year," Kellogg said.

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