• How Do You Measure a Year: The Annual District Calendar

    At first glance, the annual Portland Public Schools district calendar might seem to fulfill one crucial function: to alert students, staff, and families to the days when school is in session and when it is not. 

    If that were the case, crafting the calendar would be the work of days, if not hours. In fact, the calendar is a multipurpose living document that involves meticulous planning and careful forethought to ensure the best possible outcomes for students and staff. It also reflects the needs and observances of the many diverse communities the district serves. 

    Scheduling For Student and Family Needs

    Staff charged with drawing up the calendar begin with a set of givens. Our school year is divided into quarters. Ideally, the quarters should be of roughly equal length, leaving room for winter and spring break. Midway through the first and third quarters, schools host parent-teacher conferences to allow educators and families to come together to discuss student progress. Four inclement weather make-up days are baked into the schedule, and start dates are staggered by grade band, with Kindergarteners reporting a week later – and PreK students two weeks later – than their older peers to give them time to adjust to the demands of the school day.

    These factors shape the first draft of the calendar. The next big considerations are state-mandated minimum numbers of instructional hours. These requirements are all spelled out in what’s typically referred to as Division 22, and differ by grade level:

    • Grades K-8, 900 hours
    • Grades 9-11, 990 hours
    • Grade 12, 966 hours

    Meeting these requirements next year becomes somewhat easier as we extend the school day by 15 minutes for elementary and middle grades. This extension means every month, elementary and middle school will get roughly five hours more instruction time than this year.

    A year that begins before Labor Day and ends sometime in mid-June is almost always sufficient to meet these mandates, but district staff working on the calendar have to juggle a complicated set of variables, including end-of-term requirements, standardized testing schedules, and any instructional time lost to inclement weather. (Careful readers will note the district calendar always sets aside possible make-up days in June.)

    Assistant Superintendent Margaret Calvert notes that these elements mean the district can never plan for the minimum. “We always need to have a buffer,” she said.

    Staff are also mindful of the 17 religious and cultural holidays commonly observed by the members of the PPS community, including Yom Kippur, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Diwali, Christmas, Lunar New Year, Ramadan, and Kwanzaa. The district makes every effort to avoid scheduling major school events on those holidays so as not to create burdens or conflicts for families.

    Scheduling For Employees’ Needs

    Any calendar must also ensure that every employee group in the district – and that means staff represented by Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), Portland Federation of School Professionals (PFSP), District Council of Trade Unions (DCU), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) – works the exact number of days stipulated in their contract. 

    The contracts call for anywhere between 182 and 260 working days per year. Each contract is different and affects the others. For instance, educators covered by this year’s PAT contract will have a grading day and a planning day at the end of each quarter. That means a total of eight days when teachers will not be providing direct instruction , which, in turn, impacts other employee groups, such as school office staff, custodians, paraeducators, and transportation and nutrition service workers. And K-8 schools will dismiss early on several occasions throughout the year to allow teachers to engage in professional development sessions. 

    It’s crucial that the district calendar respects the time of all employee groups, and that it provides educators with the regular opportunities to grade, plan, and learn from each other, Calvert said. 

    “We’re trying to be explicit about building rhythm for staff into the calendar, as well as for students. When teachers are given ample time to plan their lessons, do their grading, and give meaningful feedback to families – as well as collaborate with their colleagues – everybody benefits. It honors our teachers and creates coherence for our kids. We obviously need both of those things. And it’s really important that we keep in mind how all of these decisions affect other hard-working staff as well.” 

    Balancing Other Variables

    According to Assistant Superintendent Calvert, one key consideration driving the district calendar is helping all students create and build academic momentum, and that requires consistency. 

    But the reality is that academic needs fluctuate throughout the school year and often by grade level. For example, high schoolers enrolled in advanced placement classes need a concentrated amount of instructional time in the first half of the school year in order to prepare for Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests in the spring. On the other hand, eighth graders often benefit from intense study and preparation in the last quarter of the year to help them transition to high school. 

    “When we’re working on the calendar, we try to be very intentional in prioritizing sustained, uninterrupted learning blocks,” Calvert said. “We’re trying to establish rhythms and maintain or even accelerate learning throughout the year, and that means giving students as many full weeks of learning as we can.”

    The Formal Adoption

    District staff present a draft of the calendar to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education for ratification in the late winter or early spring each year. The Board has the final say on the calendar, but every effort is made prior to that vote to gather input and feedback from the public and community partners and stakeholders, including groups that provide childcare for the students throughout the district.

    A calendar obviously cannot address every challenge a school district faces, but it can act as a road map of sorts, guiding staff and students on a journey from the first exciting days of a new year to that final week of the spring term when everyone is ready to decompress and prepare for what’s next.

    “Our goal is to create a calendar that helps everyone get in sync with each other,” Calvert said. “One thing we learned during COVID was that routines and rhythms are really crucial for learning and for helping students make transitions from one stage of their lives to the next. A calendar is one tool we have to keep students on-track.”

    See the 2024-2025 District Calendars (Approved Feb. 20, 2024)

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