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Squeezing Summer: Students wonder where the time has gone

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By Nathan L. McBroom

Eighth-grader Joseph Ruloph said cramming in the usual family vacations and other summer activities into a nine-and-a-half week break from school wasn't easy.

With classes letting out last school year in early June and starting again in just two weeks, Ruloph is just one of the local students who are wondering where this summer has gone.

Ruloph said in the future such short summers might keep him from being able to go visit his father in Louisiana.

"That's the only time I get to go see him," he said. "And they don't give us a whole lot of time."

James Neihof, superintendent of Shelby County Public Schools, said while the summer vacation may be shorter than in previous years, the number of days that students are in class has actually remained the same.

Shelby County, like all school districts in the state, is required to have 177 days of instruction. But Neihof said because of the district's alternative calendar, with its week-long fall break and lengthened winter break, the summer vacation is necessarily shorter than other systems.

Under the current calendar, instead of having 12 weeks of vacation in the summer, local students will have nine or 10 weeks in the summer, a week in October and two extra weeks in December.

Neihof said along with giving students extra time off during the holidays, the current calendar also breaks up the school year and is conducive to long-term learning.

"We want kids to be the best prepared they can be," he said. "I think we have a good, solid calendar."

Lisa Gross, communications director for the Kentucky Department of Education, said most states actually require more instructional days than Kentucky.

During the 2006 legislative session, the state mandated that schools increase the required number of days from 175 to 177.

The average number of days required for students is 180. Gross said there is a push in Frankfort for the state to again increase the number of days required.

While the idea for adding days to the calendar may have significant support, Gross said that it is a decision legislators will probably not make in the near future. It takes close to $8,000 a year to educate one child and the addition of two days to the school year would cost the state millions of dollars more.

Gross said what is important "is not just the quantity, but the quality."

While some local students may lament the idea of a longer school year and shorter summer, other students said they enjoy school and are ready for classes to start.

Matt Armstrong, a senior at Shelby County High School, said having a three-month long summer break would be too long.

"You'd go insane," he said. "Having a long summer is nice, but it is always good to come back to school."

How the school calendar is created

The district's school calendar is created by a committee of teachers, administrators and parents. After the committee comes up with two possible calendars, they are sent to each school and voted upon.

The winning calendar is then submitted to the Shelby County School Board for approval. Neihof encouraged parents to support the democratic process and bring their concerns to representatives at their school.