While there never has been overwhelming sentiment to unify Tempe Union High School District with Kyrene and Tempe Elementary, the three public-school districts that serve South Tempe and West Chandler have come together on unification of their school calendars starting with the 2023-24 school year.
Each of the three Governing Boards this month independently and unanimously approved not only identical calendars but also adoption of a modified year-round schedule – known as 2-2-2 – with two weeks off for fall break, two weeks off for winter break and two weeks off for spring break.
This, in turn, shortens summer break, which educators favor because, they say, it helps students retain information from one school year to the next. As a result, school will start earlier. The 2023-24 school year opens July 19.
The 2-2-2 calendar is similar to that used for the past several years by Chandler Unified School District.
2023-24 TUHSD, KYRENE AND TEMPE EL UNIFIED SCHOOL CALENDAR
For the past year, a seven-member panel of representatives from TUHSD, Kyrene and Tempe Elementary looked into the pros and cons of the plan. District stakeholders were surveyed about the potential change. Of more than 8,000 responses, the tally was close: 46 percent favored the change, 42 percent opposed it and 11 percent had no opinion. Those results suggest that not all families are crazy about the new format.
“(The study) captured the multiple ways our families and staff are intermingled,” said Lisa Gibson, Kyrene executive director of talent management.
While identical calendars are expected to be more convenient for planning for families with students in more than one of those districts, a potential downside could be the need for additional childcare during the three longer breaks. Gibson said the three districts are looking into finding low-cost childcare providers before and after school as well as during the breaks.
Many families prefer the traditional 10-week summer break between school years to the new 8-week break.
Speakers at the Tempe Union High School District board meeting who oppose the change cited the majority of TUHSD families that voted against it, greater childcare expenses and the need for more time to unwind during the summer for both students and teachers.
“We are giving our families a whole year in advance with the calendar,” TUHSD Superintendent Kevin J. Mendivil said. “I am happy today that we are working on something as a tri-district partnership since we share many of the families. I’ve been here 11 years and I know from speaking with teachers and employees this is something they’ve been wanting to explore.”
TUHSD board member Andres Barraza acknowledged that those making public comments “raised very good concerns.”
“We should continue to have an avenue for community input — from students, from teachers,” Barraza said.
TUHSD board member Sarah James added that her younger sisters and husband attended schools where the year-round system was used and had “a really positive experience.”
“I sympathize with the hesitancy around it, that’s normal with change,” James said. “But as a district, we do need to listen to our families and students and make some refinements.”
Berdetta Hodge, a TUHSD board member, who recently was elected to Tempe City Council, expressed happiness “to be in line with our feeder schools,” but added her concerns about parents lining up babysitting during the longer in-school-year breaks.
Among the advantages cited by the committee for the 2-2-2 format are year-round learning to better bridge school years and help students retain information, additional opportunities during the school year for targeted student-learning support, increased opportunities for staff professional development and benefit to programs and activities outside of school that follow school calendars.
The Kyrene School District sent a letter to parents stating that the calendar committee worked “to align calendars, to better serve our families and staff with children enrolled in multiple districts. The committee considered survey feedback from all three districts, calendar trends in surrounding districts, and best practices for student learning.
“Kyrene School District will have a full year to prepare for this transition, to address the unique needs of families and staff, from childcare options to work schedules. Additional information will be shared in the coming year.”