If you think summer break in Omaha is melting away faster than normal, you're right.
This year's summer break will go down as the shortest in 11 years for students and teachers in the Omaha Public Schools.
“They're taking my summer away,” said Kayla Workman, 15, a sophomore-to-be at Omaha Burke High School, who's already been shopping for back-to-school supplies.
At 81 days, the break is a full 12 days shorter than in 2012.
It's the shortest break since 2002, when kids got 80 days off to play, work, travel, swim and unwind.
Over the past decade, the average duration of OPS summer break was slightly more than 88 days.
But even with its early start date, OPS will not be the first public school district in metropolitan Omaha to open for business. Millard, with an Aug. 12 start, is the first.
Angelo Passarelli, Millard's director of administrative affairs, said the length of Millard's summer break is “pretty normal” this year.
Conspiring to shorten OPS's summer were a later-than normal OPS dismissal — May 24 — this spring, and the earliest start date in at least 15 years, Aug. 14.
Gerry Huber, OPS's executive director for general administration, said the early start accommodates more instruction time.
“We were able to add three additional student instruction days to our calendar,” Huber said. “Those were put on the front end, because they will have the most impact on students if you're providing them those extra days at the beginning instead of toward the end of the calendar.”
The extra days came about through changes to the teacher contract. Starting with the 2013-14 school year, teachers will work all 190 days specified in their contract instead of the 186 in prior years, a practice that recognized the extra hours teachers spent in after-school capacities.
In exchange, district officials agreed to a cap on the number of evening activities a staff member can be asked to do without being paid extra duty pay, she said.
District officials have also converted a teacher training day to a student day, she said.
The 2013-14 OPS calendar is based on a new calendar template developed by a committee of administrators, union representatives, parents and community members, she said.
The pattern will be used for three years, she said. That means start dates for the remaining two years will be on the early side as well.
Parents and staff who worked on the calendar did not want to tamper with spring or winter breaks, and they did not want to add time at the end of the year, she said.
Kayla, her grandmother Yvonne Swearingen and cousin Nicole Loeffler shopped for back-to-school bargains at SuperTarget, 126th and L Streets, recently.
Nicole, 10, starts classes at St. James/Seton Catholic School on Aug. 19.
Swearingen, who grew up in Tekamah, said kids are entitled to a good break.
“They need that time off,” she said. “The kids need to have time to explore other activities, camps, vacations. All kids need to get away from home. Adults, parents and everybody needs that just to get refreshed again.”
Outside the Miller Park Family Aquatic Center last week, students had mixed reactions to learning that their days of summer fun were numbered.
Timothy Donaldson, 8, said he's “sad” to hear it and “not excited” about heading back so early.
His mother, Kelly Bedminster, however, said she's OK with it.
That way, Bedminster said, the schools can pack away instructional hours before winter.
When snowstorms make bus travel unsafe, district officials can declare a snow day and call off school without worrying about falling short of state requirements for instructional time.
Bedminster said she would be OK with year-round school, with reasonable breaks spread throughout the year, which she experienced living in England.
Nine-year-old Orentheian Everett, meanwhile, said he's not bothered by the early start.
He's “excited” to get back to class at Wilson Elementary School.
“Because when you go back to school, you learn more things than you used to,” Orentheian said.
For more than a decade, the trend in OPS has been toward earlier start dates.
In 2003, school started on Aug. 27. Every year since then, the start date has gotten earlier, except for 2012.
End-of-school dates, meanwhile, have also generally trended earlier in OPS.
Omaha's earlier starts contrast with an effort underway in Iowa.
Iowa State Fair Manager and CEO Gary Slater is leading a petition drive by the Iowa tourism industry to encourage school districts to have later start dates.
Iowa law requires districts to start classes no earlier than the week of Sept. 1. But a district can seek a waiver to start school earlier, and most do. Nebraska does not have a mandatory start date.
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