United Faculty decided on calendar

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

The introduction of a winter intersession and the possible removal of spring break spearheaded the United Faculty’s discussions on the compressed semester schedule for the 2018-19 academic calendar.

“We are looking at what is beneficial for the students and redesigning the schedule on need rather than assumption,” Contra Costa College Vice President Ken Sherwood said.

Sherwood, along with Diablo Valley College Vice President Rachel Westlake and Los Medanos College Vice President Kevin Horan, met Aug. 25 with the UF and a management group to hammer out the remaining details.

“We are at a point where we are focusing on the fine-tuning and how to set things up,” Sherwood said.

According to the UF Table Talk weekly newsletter issued Aug. 31, the fall 2018 semester would begin Aug. 28 and end Dec. 16.

The winter intersession, although smaller in the first year, would start Jan. 7 and end Feb. 2.

This creates a seven-week winter break before the spring 2019 semester would start on Feb. 11.

“I think most faculty members debate for what’s best for the students. What the best format will be,” UF Vice President for CCC Jeffrey Michels said.

Smaller, “Bootcamp” courses focusing on general education requirements and accelerated program prerequisites will dominate the winter intersession, he said.

“I can’t imagine a three to four week English course. Maybe there’s a market for short term courses.”

Michaels said a more realistic plan would include courses in computer science and technology.

Sherwood, who began his term on June 20, was not a part of the discussion back in February that lead to the approval to compress the semester from 18 weeks into a 16 week semester.

But having been a part of two college districts as both a faculty member and an advocate for the compressed schedule, Sherwood said he understands there is preparation in finding the right structure.

“There are huge benefits for both students and faculty that allow us to be more flexible and create a schedule that works for our student community,” he said. “A majority of the districts have gotten in sync after realizing that 18 weeks is too long.”

Sherwood said that the compressed schedule not only frees up time for those students who are parents, but it creates an appeal to CCC that can result in a bump to enrollment, which means more revenue for the college.

“Students began to shop around at other colleges when they are looking for alternative courses,” he said. “The winter intersession is a great opportunity for students to catch up or take courses they couldn’t fit in their fall and spring schedules.”

Over the last couple of years the District Research Office has collected data from colleges throughout California who have converted to the compressed schedule, Michels said.

“Data suggests that students respond more successfully to a compressed schedule,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is figuring out how to adjust our academic calendar to fit the students we serve.”

On Wednesday UF began reviewing responses from faculty in its online survey regarding the removal of spring break, which would end the spring semester on May 31, rather than June. 7.

Sherwood said taking a week off can sometimes be a problem for students so he is in favor of removing spring break.

“It’s not really a break. It’s just a week where faculty overloads students with work,” Sherwood said. “When I was teaching more than 50 percent of my students were more successful because they had to stay focused and weren’t interrupted by a week long break.”

During the fall semester there is no week off, and aside from Thanksgiving, which gives students two consecutive days off, the semester is only sprinkled with a few holidays that warrant a day off.

“Some students love that week of rest in the spring, but some students never come back.”Michels said, “It’s really a matter of pushing on and completing the semester early or including spring break and extending the semester that extra week.”

Michels said he is hoping the details regarding the winter intersession and removal of spring break will be presented before late October.

“It will be an unusual year of change, but we will adjust and serve our communities.”

District Communications and Community Relations Director Tim Leong said while there are a number of procedures that must be done at the district level, the priority is insuring that faculty can support a compressed schedule.

“There are a lot of moving pieces that need to be set in order for a successful winter intersession,” Leong said. “Once everything is pulled together, the community colleges can focus on the lengths and hours of courses.”

The whole compressed schedule is pushing the 2018-19 academic calendar back because of its later start and end dates, which then begin to cut into holidays.

“When you start to push the beginning of the spring semester back to February, the end of the semester cuts into June,” he said. “There are only so many weeks in a year and if you keep moving things around, something’s gotta give.”