LAS CRUCES – It’s mid-July and school is starting. Not summer school, but the regular school year.
Las Cruces Public Schools is moving this year to what it calls a balanced schedule, which means shorter summer vacation but longer fall and spring vacation.
Not everyone is a fan. Those opposed to the change cite poor communication from the district, having only a few months to prepare for an early start date rather than an entire year, and not being able to participate in a duty-free weekend before school starts.
Still, some are taking the changes in stride.
Parents and children at a Back 2 School Backpack Giveaway held Saturday at Doña Ana Community College’s East Mesa campus were eagerly awaiting the start of classes.
Kelsey Misquez, who has two children attending Camino Real Middle School and three at Sonoma Elementary School, said she’s generally supportive of the change, but it’s stressing the family this year as they have less time during the summer to save money.
“We weren’t prepared when the change happened, but I really like it,” Misquez said. “I think it’s going to help them (the kids) deal with their burnout and we can have more family time with the breaks,”
Parent Nicole Saenz said she thinks extended breaks throughout the year will be less stressful for children.
“I love it,” she said.
The balanced calendar
In previous years, the first day of school was in August. This is the first time the LCPS will have traditional training in July.
This year, the first day of in-person instruction for kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades is Wednesday, July 20, and the first day of in-person instruction for all other grades is Thursday, July 21. Students in these other classes have remote activities scheduled for July 20.
The district builds 10 extra days into the school year for enriched learning, which would have happened whether the school board voted for the balanced schedule or a more traditional schedule.
Enriched learning days are specific days designated for different types of learning. This could be a field trip, a guest speaker, a hands-on project, a college visit, or some other type of non-traditional teaching. The 10 enriched learning days are August 17, September 14, October 11, November 16, December 7, January 18, February 8, March 8, April 18 and May 3.
A two-week fall break is from September 26 to October 7. Thanksgiving holiday week is November 21-25. Students have a winter break of almost three weeks from December 19 to January 5. A two-week spring break is March 13-24.
The last day of the school year for all classes is June 2.
Pupils will benefit from 184 days of teaching this school year compared to 174 days in previous years. For teachers, they will have to be in school 190 days this year compared to 183 days in previous years. The more days worked, the more teachers will receive a raise, in addition to a state-mandated 7% raise, which raised the minimum levels to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000 for public school teachers.
Why the balanced year?
Enriched learning, sometimes called extended learning, will provide the district with approximately $13 million in additional state funding next year, or $550 per student enrolled.
Kelly Jameson, director of communications for LCPS, said the balanced schedule was the school board’s “response to the problem of student and staff burnout” in light of the addition of 10 extra learning days.
In early March, SPC held information sessions for employees and community members about potential schedule changes. On March 15, the board voted unanimously to adopt the balanced schedule over the more traditional schedule
Board member Pamela Cort spoke about burnout when she spoke at the mid-March board meeting.
“The other thing is – with the traditional schedule, adding 10 days – I’m concerned about burnout,” she said. “I’m concerned about these extended periods, where we stretch our teachers and our students. If we’re looking at shortening the summer and then giving it back with two weeks of fall break and two weeks of spring break, I’m d okay. I just see it as more rejuvenating for everyone involved.”
Because the school board adopted a 2022-23 calendar just months before the end of the 2021-22 school year, many complained that the shortened summer would affect vacations already scheduled.
According to the LCPS, there will be flexibility for teachers and students who cannot attend during the first two weeks.
In April, the district conducted a survey and found that 80 to 85 teachers will be unavailable at the start of the 2022-23 school year. However, the district also reported that 100 to 175 teaching staff missed each of the first four days of the 2021-22 school year.
Last year, the district struggled with a shortage of substitute teachers. This year, the district reports that more than 600 substitute teachers are expected to be available at the start of the school year.
Isabel Hernandez has four children at LCPS and felt the district wasn’t as forthcoming as it needed to be about schedule changes.
“A lot of parents were caught off guard because they didn’t even know it was voted on,” Isabel said.
Isabel argued that the district was more focused on receiving funding than raising children saying, “they viewed our children as dollar signs”.
Mercedes Hernandez, Isabel’s senior and future senior at Centennial High School, said the changes will affect her ability to take dual-credit courses at Doña Ana Community College. While Mercedes’ dual credit program may be affected, Jameson said that’s not true for all students.
Mercedes is also a member of the school softball team and said that between summer practices and the new schedule, she hasn’t really had a break and feels even more exhausted.
“I feel really taken aback and it’s really frustrating,” Mercedes said. “I don’t feel like they took the students’ opinions and how it would affect us.”
Melissa White, a counselor at Fairacres Elementary, said she feels the district isn’t giving staff enough time to prepare for the start of a new school year. She also wonders how the students will be able to manage the change with only a few months of preparation.
“As a staff member and a parent, I’m super disappointed with the new schedule,” she said.
Tax free weekend
Las Cruces students will not be able to participate in this year’s New Mexico Duty Free Weekend, August 5-7, until the school year begins.
Isabel Hernandez said the duty-free weekend – during which school supplies and most clothes are not taxed – is essential for her family. She said weekends are when her children get items for the new school year because it saves money.
White said she doesn’t plan to wait until the tax-free weekend because she doesn’t want her daughter to miss out on the right materials come back to school.
“It’s going to be helpful for parents across the state, but not here,” White said.
What about Gadsden and Hatch?
Neither the Gadsden Independent School District nor the Hatch Valley Public Schools—the other public school districts in Doña Ana County—institute enriched learning.
Both districts have a traditional calendar. GISD students begin the school year on August 1 and the last day of school is May 25. At Hatch, students begin July 29 and end May 25.
Annya Loya is a generalist journalist and can be reached at [email protected] or @annyaloya on Twitter.