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Moon Area schools starting back early to allow time for renovations

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Cheerleader Brianna Geyer (second from right), 15, of Moon studies a class schedule as she guides a group of incoming freshmen and their families through the halls of Moon Area High School during new student orientation in Moon on Monday morning, Aug. 11, 2014. Along for the tour are Leticia Eduardo (far left), 15, Marcella Sodre (second from left), 14, and Debora Eduardo (far right), 12, all of Moon.

Moon Area School District students will start the 2014-15 school a week earlier than they did last year, and earlier than any other public school students in Allegheny County.

Moon Area, whose students will begin school on Monday, changed its calendar this year for several reasons, including allowing school to end May 29 so more time would be available to complete renovations at Allard and Brooks elementary schools by the start of the 2015-16 school year, Superintendent Curt Baker said.

But the biggest reason for the changes was to add instruction days before standardized testing, he said.

“We're trying to maximize attendance and maximize the amount of instruction we can have before we move into high-stakes testing,” Baker said.

Pennsylvania only mandates that school districts provide 180 days of instruction by the end of June, said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The association's 2011 survey found that 84 percent of school districts in Pennsylvania start school before Labor Day. Allegheny Intermediate Unit records show Moon Area is starting classes earlier than other districts across the county.

Moon Area's changes establish clearer spring and winter breaks — two weeks for spring and one week for winter — instead of splitting breaks between partial weeks, Baker said.

In the past, depending on when spring break took place, elementary school students might have returned from breaks to go right into Pennsylvania System of School Assessment testing, he said. Now, they will have a full week of instruction before the PSSA tests.

Under the new calendar, midterm exams will be held the week before the winter holiday, instead of afterward.

The district has noted high absenteeism around school breaks that take place over partial weeks, as well as on Dec. 1, the start of hunting season, Baker said. School will not be in session this year on Dec. 1, he said.

Moon resident Nikki Stewart, 37, whose son, 6, and daughter, 9, will attend McCormick Elementary School next week, said she believes students perform better when they have a longer summer break. However, Stewart said she was more concerned about why the calendar was changed — to allow time for school renovations — than the actual changes.

In June, the Moon Area board approved a controversial capital improvement plan that called for closing Hyde Elementary School and renovating Allard and Brooks elementary schools in time for the 2015-16 school year.

“I don't understand why any changes would continue to be made to the district, and the kinds of changes they're making are concerning,” said Stewart, who said Moon Area's high test scores are proof that no changes should be made.

Moon resident Rick Neff, whose son, 5, and daughter, 8, will attend McCormick next week, said he didn't object to the calendar change.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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