The free and easy days of summer ended for students in the Frankfort Independent Schools on Monday, when the 2010-11 school year began.
Superintendent Rich Crowe said his district usually opens on the first weekday of August, and parents and students like it that way. "If we were to go away from it, I think 95 percent of them probably would throw a fit," Crowe said.
Most school districts across Kentucky won't resume classes until next week, but more than a few are starting the new year this week, and at least one started classes last week.
The days when students could count on three months of freedom during the summer — or close to it — are history. As recently as the early 1990s, Fayette County Schools started the new year around Aug. 24. By the mid-1990s, it was about Aug. 15, and the trend has continued.
This year, Fayette County Schools, which closed June 8, will open Aug. 11.
"A mess of them are starting this week, and I think the overwhelming majority will be open by the second or third week of August," said Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association. "After what has happened the past couple of years, I think more districts are looking at the early part of August."
What happened the past two years has included two hard winters that closed many schools for weeks at a time, plus the H1N1 flu scare of 2009-10 that also caused many districts to lose days.
Another factor encouraging schools to start earlier has been the drive to get in as many instructional days as possible before students must take statewide assessment tests in the spring.
Many of the districts that are starting this week, however, are on "alternative calenders." They open early, hold classes for about nine weeks, then take a two- or three-week break, continuing the on-off cycle through the school year with maybe seven weeks off during the summer.
Logan Superintendent Marshall Kemp, whose district began its new year last Wednesday, said the county schools switched to an alternative calendar about 13 years ago.
"This is my 12th year as superintendent," Kemp said, "and I've only talked to about four people in all that time who have had any concerns about the calendar or didn't like it."
Frankfort's Crowe said alternative calenders offer several attractions, particularly the appeal of "four honeymoons a year."
"If you use it correctly, it also gives you some good enrichment time," he said. "When we have those three-week breaks, if we use the first week of each to differentiate the kids that are struggling, it helps us. We also feel like the shortened summer helps retention. The kids don't lose as much as they would if they had a 12- or 13-week summer break."
Lawrence County Public Schools also opened Monday; the earlier start is something the system has been doing the past few years, said Tom Gibson, director of pupil personnel. The primary reason is to offset days lost to winter weather, Gibson said.
"Starting earlier gives us a little more flexibility so that we can cut the back of spring break or something if we have to, in order to avoid going up into the middle of June," Gibson said.
Bell County Schools are opening Wednesday for basically the same reason, Superintendent George Thompson said.
"The weather usually plays havoc with us in January and February," Thompson said. "Last year we ended up missing 22 days. So, we start early in order to get as much instruction in before the core content testing window comes around."
The district also is cutting its usual five-day fall break to just two days this year, he said.
"I hate that we have to start so early, but our public has kind of gotten used to it," he said. "Schools starting around the first week of August really has become the expectation."