NHS project pushes back start of school year

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Tuttle-BuildingNAUGATUCK — The borough school calendar will begin after Labor Day for the next two years — the first time in recent memory that school has begun so late.

The Board of Education approved the change last Thursday when members set the calendar for the next two school years.

“The reason we really looked at starting school after Labor Day was to provide ample opportunity during the summer for the high school renovation project,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Brigitte Crispino said.

The school year in the borough has typically begun the last week in August. It was pushed back to the day after Labor Day two years ago, but not by design — Hurricane Irene had just slammed into the state, leaving some borough schools without power.

To ease fears that the late start, added to possible snow days, would push the next two school years to the end of June, the board did away with February vacation for 2014 and 2015. Although the break has been a longtime tradition in borough schools, it has been canceled for the past two years to make up for weather-related cancellations. Students and staff will still have off Monday and Tuesday of that week to observe the birthdays of Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

The board also voted to do away with two professional development days for teachers, who will instead complete training activities on days when students have school. The Naugatuck Teachers’ League, the union representing teachers, was amenable to the idea and will sign a memorandum of agreement, Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said.

“Professional development will occur as each month goes along, in what amounts to a longer day for teachers once a month,” Tindall-Gibson said.

The more condensed year will allow a longer summer construction season for the $81 million renovation of Naugatuck High School, scheduled to break ground next month.

An 11-member committee of school board members, teachers, administrators and a community member developed the calendar, Crispino said.

David Heller, chairman of the school board, said starting the school year after Labor Day made sense even without the renovation project.

“I think parents really appreciate that, and it really allows everyone to enjoy that last weekend of the summer, and the last week or two when a lot of people do have the opportunity to go away,” Heller said.

The renovation project precluded the board from canceling spring break this year, although the blizzard earlier this month has pushed the end of the year back to June 21. Environmental abatement work was scheduled for this spring break at the high school, Tindall-Gibson said.

“That’s a key week that we really need to keep in there, so the plan is not to tinker with the April vacation,” Tindall-Gibson said.

The outdoor athletic fields are included in the renovation’s first phase, and construction equipment will swallow up parking spaces, pushing this year’s graduation to the Palace Theater in Waterbury. The ceremony’s exact date will be determined after the school board’s April meeting.