Princeton school board will keep start of academic year in September


By Philip Sean Curran
Staff Writer

Students who attend the Princeton Public Schools will continue to start school after Labor Day, after district administrators declined for a second year in a row to have students return in August.

Opening day for the 2019-20 school year will be Sept. 4, according to a proposed calendar Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane unveiled this week.

“There is no perfect calendar that makes everyone happy, but I think this one actually works fairly well,” Cochrane said at the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 18.

District administrators considered an August starting date for pedagogical reasons. In 2017, Cochrane said that “learning is actually … more valuable and kids are more engaged at the beginning of the year than they are at the very end of June.”

At that time, he proposed starting school on Aug. 29, 2018. Administrators backed off the idea and Cochrane said the change would wait until 2019, but that, too, has been put off.

Cochrane said after the meeting that the primary reason school will not open in August 2019 is because a $26.9 million facilities referendum passed in November and “we may need the time, in the summer, to complete pivotal construction projects.”

“Personally, I never liked the August start date,” Board of Education President Patrick Sullivan said on Dec.19. “It has some advantages, but I think people make plans for the Labor Day weekend and they don’t want to lose them. I think change is difficult and there has to be a broad consensus around it. I’m not sure there was a broad consensus around that one.”

Cranbury Board of Education President Karen Callahan had no comment on the Princeton Public Schools starting the school year in September and not August. Students of high school age who reside in Cranbury may attend Princeton High School.

Among other highlights of the 2019-20 calendar, students in the Princeton schools will not have school on two election days, the general election on Nov. 5, 2019 and the primary election on June 2, 2020.

Cochrane said an office in the state Department of Education has advised the district to take that step.

“The push to close on Election Day, it really came from a variety of sources, including the Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning,” Cochrane said. “Their advice to us was that we close on Election Day. It was a struggle for me because I really do value the idea of our students seeing democracy in action, but at the same time, I need for our students to be safe.”

In Princeton, the Community Park, Johnson Park, Riverside and Littlebrook elementary schools serve as polling locations. While students will not be in school, those two days will be used for staff development, Cochrane said.

The last day of school is scheduled for June 16, 2020. The board still needs to approve the calendar, with action expected at the end of January, Cochrane said.