San Ramon Valley schools will end their first semester before winter break starting next school year after the school board Tuesday unanimously approved the 2016-17 instructional calendar that implements the schedule shift for the first time in the district.
Board members, like many calendar-change supporters, said they thought finishing the first semester and final exams before winter break would create a true break for students around the winter holidays, free from stresses associated with studying and projects.
"I think (the new calendar) will help to alleviate some of the stress that our kids feel," board president Greg Marvel said just before the vote Tuesday night at the district boardrooms in Danville.
"I am part of a group that I truly feel is giving my daughter, and sooner or later my son when he gets to high school, a gift that I did not have (when attending San Ramon Valley High School)," board vice president Mark Jewett said. "I firmly believe I've given ... our kids a gift."
The adopted 2016-17 instructional calendar, which was also endorsed by all district employee unions, starts school on Aug. 15 and end the first semester on Dec. 21, 2016. The second semester begins Jan. 9, 2017, and finishes June 1, 2017.
That schedule differs from the district's traditional calendar like this year's, which had all schools start on the final full week of August and finish up on the second Thursday of June. The first semester ends on the fourth Friday in January.
In addition to stress reduction, some board members and other supporters cited other positives such as creating more instructional time before May's Advanced Placement (AP) exams and better aligning high schoolers' schedule with college calendars.
The calendar-change debate also drew vocal detractors who expressed concerns about factors such as starting the year earlier in the summer, rushing to finish the first semester amid December holidays, a lack of data showing the adjustments would actually reduce student stress and the transparency of the district's calendar-review process.
The board heard from seven citizen speakers -- five supporters of the proposed calendar and two opponents -- during a 50-minute public hearing Tuesday night, about half as long as the roughly two-hour board discussion in October during which board members indicated initial support for the calendar change concept and directed district staff to negotiate the topic with employee unions.
The San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and California School Employees Association (CSEA) bargaining units each endorsed the 2016-17 calendar with the first-semester shift.
The district's middle schools and high schools are on a semester system while elementary schools are on a trimester system. The calendar ends the first trimester on Nov. 10 and ends the second trimester on March 2, 2017.
All district schools, regardless of semester or trimester systems, start and end the school year on the same day and have the same vacation and holiday breaks.
Nearly 100 people packed the boardrooms Tuesday night, and the vast majority were local teachers donning red clothing in support of their union.
SRVEA president Ann Katzburg addressed the school board at the beginning of the meeting advocating for salary increases for teachers.
"When times were lean, we did not ask for an increase in salary. We are partners," Katzburg told the board during public comment on non-agenda items. "I'm seeing a loss in spirit, and I'm fearful that without recognition, our members will begin to burn out. We need to fill our spirits. We do need restoration."
Marvel said the board could not dialogue about the salary issue because the item was not listed on the meeting agenda.
But he added, "We hear you. We understand, and we're hoping that a settlement can be reached fairly quickly that honors the great work that you all do -- teachers, classified and administrators -- that make this, frankly, the best school district in California."
Editor's note: Additional coverage of the school board meeting will follow in the coming days.