New School Year, New Adjustments


By Leigh Minor Nagy

As always, the school supplies hit the shelves of Wal Mart way too soon for anyone’s comfort. We shield our eyes from it all and head straight for the milk. Then suddenly, the week before school is upon us and we begrudgingly begin going through the motions of our own back-to-school rituals.

Our family’s back-to-school prep always involves a shoe shopping trip. Sneakers, long since abandoned for flip flops, have become the quintessential signifier that the reality of school, and hectic after-school schedules is coming at full speed. Truthfully, going shoe shopping with three kids is an event that will test both your physical stamina and your psychological balance. Inevitably, someone’s shoe, coveted for at least a week in advance will be out of stock in the needed size. Which results in a crying, sulking child for the remainder of the shopping trip. Last year, I methodically watched for a good sale and bought all our new uniform needs at once. This year, as predicted, I only had to buy a few things to add to our ‘collection’ – saving a lot of money. However, that savings was quickly redistributed to the aforementioned shoes, plus the new backpacks and lunch boxes they ‘needed’. Aside from supplies, with the elementary schools starting at the near crack of dawn this year, we are starting early bedtimes this week – which has every one but me very cranky. Also, I never thought I would be buying a 5-year-old an alarm clock.

Alas, children are not the only ones who have trouble adjusting with the changes that come with going back to school. As adults, particularly in the last few years, we have been faced with what seems like constant change in our school district’s policies and procedures. School start and end times have been one of the most difficult adjustments to make year to year. It is complicated for parents, particularly those with multiple children, to figure out who is going where, when, how, and at what time? It leaves us all scratching our heads, trying desperately to understand why ‘they’ can’t just leave it like it was – it has worked since the beginning of time, right?

The answer is relatively simple. Budget and Rules.

Without getting into an overcomplicated discussion about spending, let us all remember that budget controls nearly every aspect of our personal lives. We are all forced to make decisions we might rather not, because the budget has the final say. The State Department of Eduction hands down certain standards that school districts must meet. Those standards are measured by the DCAS test scores and are directly tied to our district’s funding.

After lengthy conversations with parents, teachers, who by the way, are parents too, staff and others – the district is doing what it sees as best. The school board is navigating numerous and grossly impactful regulations that come from the State Department of Education and works to incorporate those obligations under the current local budget. The decisions – school start and end times, block scheduling or not, attendance policies, and DCAS testing preparation all lead back to both the budget and the rules. In addition, some of the new decisions, like the middle and high school ending later, is an effort to eliminate after school “downtime” before sports and other activities begin.

As most things go, this issue is far more complicated, and deserves more consideration and patience than most of us have time to give. Going back-to-school means far more than new sneakers and backpacks. It means learning both the schedule and the environment that our children will be in every day. The more time we give and the more we educate ourselves, the more we can help our children to do the same.