• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.



Schools and colleges should align their schedules.



October 12, 2015

In my perfect world, K-12 districts and community and state colleges would agree on which holidays to observe. When they disagree, both students and employees with children are put in a tough spot.

The sectors already agree on a few greatest hits. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day are pretty much inviolate. The Fourth of July is easy, since it’s off-peak for both. They even both observe New Year’s Day, which has always struck me as a bit contrived, but it sticks. The beauty of the greatest hits is that everyone knows they’re coming, so everyone makes other plans. They reduce stress.

Some places have distinctly regional holidays. Massachusetts has one called “Evacuation Day” that I don’t think anyone else observes, and another called “Patriot’s Day” that’s similar. When I moved there I asked folks the origin stories for each, but nobody knew.  

Patriot’s Day caused issues at the college, since most K-12 districts planned their Spring Break around it. (There, the standard for K-12 was a week in February and a week in April. The standard for higher ed was a week in March. Yes, it created family issues.) When a significant chunk of the student body has childcare responsibilities, and the days don’t align, you get increased absenteeism. It made for some difficult scheduling, especially around lab sciences, where setup and takedown take time and resources. Mismatches add stress.

Here, the mismatches are many and striking. Many of the local K-12 schools close for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; the college doesn’t. They close for Columbus Day; the college doesn’t.  And they have an astonishing number of “professional development” half-days at random intervals. TB and TG are in their sixth week of school; five of the six have been short, and that’s without a single weather event. (This week is short due to Columbus Day.) The district has a good reputation, and it seems great, when it’s open. But it’s closed for a surprising amount of time. When parents count on school for de facto childcare -- which they do -- each new mismatch is a fresh crisis. When the mismatches come on a weekly basis, it’s hard not to ascribe motive. They’re assuming the existence of stay-at-home Moms, and making life difficult for families without a stay-at-home parent. Absent that, such staccato rhythms are hard to plan around.

You’d think that making decisions about holidays would be easy, but it isn’t. When holidays cluster on Mondays, you get into issues of assuring equal time for Monday classes. (Labor Day and Columbus Day are always on Mondays, for instance, as is Martin Luther King day.) If you observe Christian holidays but nobody else’s, you send a message that people who observe other holidays will notice. If you try to widen the net, you get into “if x, why not y?” discussions for which there’s no great answer. “Floating holidays” or personal days are more elegant on the employer side, but they don’t do anything for students who have kids. They also don’t bring the same level of peace as fully-observed holidays do, since even if you take a day, the college is still running. Work is still building up for your return. The great gift of shared holidays is that everyone stops at the same time.

That’s why I’d like to see more widespread agreement on which days to take. We don’t run into these conflicts on the days that everyone takes. Nobody expects schools or colleges to be open on Labor Day, so people make other plans for that day.  

In calling for agreement, I’m trying to separate the issue of which days to take. For example, I’d have no issue with saying “let’s observe days for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but then stop observing Columbus Day to help make up for it.” That would strike me as reasonable. But that’s really a second-order discussion. The first issue is just acknowledging that there’s something to be gained by seeking agreement. Right now, with different sectors going in drastically different directions, the burden of filling in the gaps falls on parents, whether as employees or as students. I don’t recall ever voting on that, or even having that conversation.  

As I keep waiting for the kids to have their second full week of school, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to have that conversation.



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