Laconia mulls later start to the school year
By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — School officials plan to poll parents and tourism businesses this week to see if the Laconia School District should start its school year later, maybe even after Labor Day.
"Normally it's said in passing, 'I wish we could stay after Labor Day,' so why not check it out?" said Superintendent Brendan Minnihan, explaining the rationale for a possible shift in the schedule.
This school year, staff arrived on Aug. 23, and classes started for students on Aug. 30. Barring delays due to snow days, the school year is scheduled to end Wednesday, June 14, with a teacher workshop scheduled on Thursday, June 15.
Minnihan said he wanted to explore different schedules, based on feedback.
"Most schools in New Hampshire start before Labor Day still. There are some, especially if they have major fairs associated with their towns, that start after Labor Day," Minnihan said.
On Tuesday, Minnihan told the Laconia School Board that feedback to administrators indicated a desire to start later.
If the district resumed its current schedule, dubbed Option A, staff would return on Tuesday, Aug. 22, and students would come back Tuesday, Aug. 29. A second option, dubbed Option B, would stagger the schedule a week later.
"Part of our process is to seek input from others," Minnihan said, "and one of the pieces of input that we received is that the 22nd, 23rd and 24th is pretty early in August for teachers and staff to come back. Could we consider doing the 28th, 29th and 30th, and then have students come back on the 31st and 1st?"
Another option, dubbed Option C, would push the start of school to after the Sept. 4 Labor Day holiday.
"What happens to the calendar if you start after Labor Day, which would end the school year on Monday, June 19?" Minnihan said, posing a rhetorical question to the board.
Board member Mal Murray said, "Before we vote on this, if we're going to change from (Option) A, which is kind of the basic schedule, I think it ought to go to the public." Particularly to push past Labor Day, Murray said, the public should weigh in. "It's a change. To me it's a big change. You're coming back after Labor Day," he said.
School board members Aaron Hayward and Stacie Sirois suggested a hybrid schedule, slightly shifting the dates to late August.
Hayward said the current schedule, if resumed, would bring staff back Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 22-24, and then students would return Tuesday, Aug. 29.
"That four-day weekend of Friday and Monday is a waste of time," Hayward said.
Instead, he said, staff days could be Thursday, Friday and Monday, Aug. 24, 25 and 28, and school could start on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
"If we were to push that and say Thursday, Friday and Monday were your staff days and then school starts on the 29th, you'd then have a three-day week with kids," he said.
Board member Michael Persson said tourism businesses should have a say in the schedule, especially in the case of a later start.
"It just always struck me that we're in a tourist area, and a lot of these kids, sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school, have summer jobs, and sometimes (when school starts) it's still part of the summer season for a lot of these businesses," Persson said. "It would be interesting to hear what the tourism businesses have to say about whether that's had an impact on them and their willingness to hire our high school students as opposed to bringing people from overseas."
In a post-Labor Day start, a few snow days could force school to run through the end of June, but the tradeoff is students could work through the end of the summer season, Persson said.
Sirois said, "You'd have to find out from the businesses, I guess, whether having kids at the tail end of summer is more important than at the beginning of summer."
Minnihan said he would email the proposals to parents and also send a similar survey to the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lakes Region Tourism Association.
Minnihan said one wild card is the Huot Technical Center. Four school districts send students to the center, and the district's calendars need to be close to the schedules of the sending schools, he said.
Minnihan said he hoped for a prompt turnaround on survey responses, ideally within the week so a recommendation can be developed for the next school board meeting on Jan. 17.
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