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Q&A with Assistant Superintendent Tom Oestreich, discussing fall break length

Assistant Superintendent Tom Oestreich

Why has the school board decided to extend fall break to a week long? 

Coming off of COVID, the district engaged with a school calendar committee. Previously, the district and the community had not been interested in pursuing a full week for fall break. However, after COVID occurred, I think people were more apt to considering a full week, so I got together with our Teacher’s Association president, Mr. Mark Wien, and we talked about that possibility. After we talked about that possibility, we sent a survey to all of our teachers, and the survey results came back with over 70% of the teachers interested in having a full week for fall break. Then we sent the survey out to all staff membersadministrators, classified staff, bus drivers, custodians, food serviceand that same survey came back at over 70% of all staff interested in a full week of fall break. So then we said, ‘let’s put it out to our parents and our community’, and that survey came back with over 70% of parents wanting a full week of fall break. Based upon those results, I presented the results to the school board and recommended a full week for fall break.

Why did extending fall break to a week have so much negative response from the community before the pandemic? 

I think it’s possible that the community, since that’s what we’ve always done, were used to it (a shorter fall break) and weren’t interested in changing it at the time. But as you know, many school districts around us have a full week for fall break. I think we may have been one of the last ones in the area just to be on that two to three day fall break. In Noblesville, I believe they have two weeks because they’re on more of a balanced calendar, so they have two weeks for their fall break, but I believe Zionsville, Washington Township, HSE, those districts, and other districts, like Westfield, all have a week for fall break. 

Keira Kress

How did the pandemic change that mindset about extending fall break? 

I think people, after being at home, were ready to get out, and a lot of people wanted to travel coming off of the pandemic, so maybe people were more willing to take a week because they had been at home previously or we were on that everyday blue-gold schedule at the high school and so people were more open to considering that full week. The survey results were pretty conclusive as they came back. 

Has this changed the school calendar at all?

So what it has done is, in order for us to have first semester end at the end of Winter breaktowards the end of December and for us to end school before Memorial Daywe had to start school a few days earlier than we previously had. So when we looked at the calendar, we wanted to make sure that we had a first semester that ended by winter break and a second semester that had ended by Memorial Day. Previously we had a two- to three-day fall break, and then in order to add the additional days, we had to add them at the start of the calendar, so that pushed into the summer a few days. For teachers, it’s even earlier, because our teachers start two days, officially, their official contract starts two days before the students start. 

What benefits does this extension bring?

I think it brings more opportunities for families to travel, and not just by flights, but also driving. You want to visit family and other parts of the United States, and you can fly or drive; you have more time to get that done. Also, if families want to take vacation with flights, sometimes it takes a long time in order to travel somewhere,the travel time, and they’ll have more days to spend at that destination. And at the start of the school year, there’s always a lot happening from academics, to athletics, to performing arts, so we fit a lot into a short amount of time, and people need a break. I think people were looking to enjoy a little longer break during that week, and so we’re going to try it out. So what’s going to happen is, because right now currently we have approved calendars by the school board for 2023-2024 and 2024-2025, and so the feedback the school board provided us was that they wanted to try it at first and then gather further feedback before we move forward with the 2025-2026 calendar. So what our plan is at this time is we’re going to have fall break, we’re going to send out another survey to our teachers, staff, our community and our parents, see how they liked fall break and if it’s something they want us to continue to have as part of the school’s calendar. 

What is the average response you’re anticipating from the staff and the community after this year’s fall break? 

We’re not going to put the survey out the day after fall break, because everyone will probably be pretty happy with having a week off. We’re going to wait probably a few weeks and then put the survey out to our staff and our parents, but I think they’re going to like it.

What was the biggest drawback that the school board had to weigh against the benefits when deciding on the extension?

I think the biggest drawback was starting school earlier. Parentsas well as our staffwant to preserve their summers as much as possible, and I think that’s the only negative drawback to it, but we’ll see. We’ll gather more information from our community. That’s the great thing about Carmel; we include our teachers, our parents, our staff members, as well as gathering feedback before making decisions. This was a clear choice 70% of our stakeholders- 70% is a high percentage- wanted to move forward with this type of calendar, so we’ll see what the next results yield.

How would this change impact student body activities, such as performing arts and sports? 

So similar to the summer and similar to winter break, for example, the basketball teams, the wrestling team, they may not always get to take a winter break because they have competitions or games that are scheduled in there. The football team, the cross-country team, the tennis team, girl’s golf, all of the fall sports- if their season is still going on, they may not have a fall break as well. So, it’s no different than that. It does impact marching band, for example, because they’re leading up to their state and national competitions. So with those students that are involved in those activities, like athletics and performing arts, it’s possible that they don’t travel or don’t stay home, and they’re coming to school at least a couple of those days because they have rehearsals or practices.

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