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Chula Vista, Sweetwater Back to School

New calendar unifies districts, calls for early start

Parents drop-off their children at Cook Elementary in Chula Vista on the first day of the new school year.
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Above: Parents drop-off their children at Cook Elementary in Chula Vista on the first day of the new school year.

— The official school year in San Diego County typically starts in early-September. But that's not the case for roughly 70,000 students in the Chula Vista Elementary and Sweetwater Union High School districts.

Danielle Montejo is one of many parents who cut summer vacations short, bought school supplies early and did the traditional back-to-school walk with their little ones yesterday.

“At think at this level, the kids, to them, they're excited for any first day of school. Whether it be now or the first day of September,” Montejo said.

Chula Vista along with the Sweetwater Union High School District, for the first time in South Bay history, have cut the summer break to just six weeks. Now the two districts are unified under one, standardized school calendar.

Sweetwater School Superintendent Jesus Gandara says the reform effort is designed to improve student attendance and performance in both districts.

“We know that in the South Bay, our children are mobile. Families are mobile,” Gandara said. “They might start in San Ysidro and end-up in Chula Vista or end-up in National City. So it’s important that these children, as they are moving from one school system to another, they are on the same page academically.”

Gandara says the different calendars pushed attendance down because parents had trouble matching-up school, daycare, and vacation schedules.

For example, many families would pull their teenagers out of class to take care of their younger kids who were on break. Other parents would pull their younger kids out of school to go on vacation with the rest of the family. School officials hope the new calendar will get more students to attend school, and that translates into more money from the state.

The hybrid calendar now calls for a much shorter summer break but more time-off built into the school year. Cook Elementary School Principal Pamela Page says it was difficult to get her school ready in just six weeks, but so far parents are okay with change.

“There were a few parents who said, ‘I don't know if that's going to be enough summer vacation for my kids,” Page said. “But then when they got six weeks, not one parent has said, ‘That wasn't long enough.’ Now they're like, ‘This is great! Six weeks is great!’”

The calendar switch comes after decades of resistance from community members who backed a traditional school year.

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