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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS will move to one school calendar with September start

Student arrive at MacDowell Montessori on the first day of school for MPS early-start schools in 2021.
Emily Files
Student arrive at MacDowell Montessori on the first day of school for MPS early-start schools in 2021.

Milwaukee Public Schools will move to one calendar next school year, with a Sept. 3 start date.

The move will help MPS avoid school cancellations due to excessive heat, and it will save the district about $2 million in busing costs. But, some high school teachers and students are worried about the change.

Since 2017, MPS has operated with two calendars: an early start August-May calendar for middle and high schools and a traditional start September-June calendar for elementary schools.

The early start calendar was implemented by former superintendent Darienne Driver. The goal was to boost academic achievement by giving high schoolers an optional “J-term” in June for credit recovery.

But the two calendars caused stress for some MPS families. For example, a high school teacher with children in elementary school might struggle to find childcare for the three weeks between the high school and elementary school start dates.

And, MPS has increasingly had to cancel school in August due to extreme heat. Most MPS schools do not have air conditioning.

Tuesday was the first day of school for most Milwaukee Public Schools students. But, the day was cut short due to extreme heat.

As part of MPS’s new strategic plan, district leaders decided to unify all schools on one calendar. The district surveyed more than 10,000 parents, employees, and students on their preferred calendar option. Based on those results, administrators proposed a September start date.

“Air conditioning was the largest concern raised by respondents of the survey,” MPS Chief Human Resources Officer Adria Maddaleni told a school board committee this week. “A move to the traditional calendar start would put the district in the best position to avoid excessive heat days.”

But students and teachers at MPS schools with a high number of International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes pushed back. The early start calendar gives IB and AP students more learning time before taking exams in the spring.

“Some of our kids come to us ill-prepared for the challenges and rigors of high school,” said Golda Meir AP English teacher Melissa Rickey. “My students need the extra three weeks of preparation to take the AP exam.”

MPS leaders said they plan to offer more learning time for AP and IB students during “Saturday academies” and summer school.

A group of Reagan High School students spoke against the calendar change, saying it would put them at a disadvantage when taking IB exams.

“We need 150 hours of instructional time for [standard level IB] exams and 240 hours for higher-level exams,” said Reagan student Genine Fares. “IB exams begin in May and a later start date will not be beneficial to the preparation for these exams.”

The MPS Board considered a compromise start date of Aug. 26, but were told it wouldn’t be possible.

State law requires school districts to start after Sept. 1. The Department of Public Instruction can grant waivers for schools with special programs, but MPS HR Chief Maddaleni said getting a districtwide start date waiver isn’t possible, unless there’s a change in state law.

School board members acknowledged that any calendar decision they made would upset some people, but they ultimately approved the change.

“There is a very serious need to get on one calendar, both operationally, and for our families to be on one calendar,” said board member Missy Zombor. “I think we’re gonna keep coming back to this if we don’t find a way to get on one calendar.”

The change to one school calendar starting in September goes into effect in the 2024-2025 school year.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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