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Long Winter Hiatus Disruptive for Students : Education: School officials bemoan the loss of momentum as classrooms get back into action. Sharp drops in enrollment force a midyear reshuffle. The bright side? Teachers and pupils are refreshed, and discipline problems are at a minimum.


After a two-month winter break many parents termed a child-care disaster, most Los Angeles public school students are back in the classroom. Now some educators are crying "disaster" too as they strive to get kids back on track, review already forgotten lessons and revive such now-alien concepts as homework.

"It's a problem--the loss of momentum and need for review," Palisades High School Principal Gerald Dodd said last week. "Adults (teachers) liked that break, it gave them a chance to catch their breath and reassess where they are going. And the kids liked it too. But I'm not sure . . . it hasn't been costly to their educational development, especially in languages and sequential math."

Worse, scores of junior and senior high school students did not return--because they either moved or dropped out, and dozens of children expected on buses from overcrowded inner-city elementary schools never materialized. The result? Teachers and students are again being reshuffled, midyear.

These are the consequences of a school calendar in which all students on the Westside get a winter break and an abbreviated summer vacation.

A Times survey of about half a dozen Westside school principals found that enrollments are significantly down and that the long hiatus has been disruptive for many returning students, who are having to review subjects they supposedly had already mastered. However, the principals added that both teachers and students appear refreshed by the leisurely break and that the discipline problems some thought would be inevitable when eight weeks of freedom abruptly ended and the kids had to settle down again are minimal so far.

Westside school board member Mark Slavkin said feedback he has received about the controversial break is "significantly mixed."

"Some parents were frustrated, said it was a disaster, that their kids had nothing to do, while others, who used it for family vacations or enrichment programs, say it was the best thing since sliced bread," Slavkin said.

"Teachers and principals are split too. Some say they are frustrated at having to start all over, while others report that they're right on track (with their lesson plans.)"

Slavkin had said before the intercession that his greatest fear was that marginal students faced with failing grades, long bus rides to school, and time on their hands would either find jobs or become passive dropouts just by not coming back.

At Venice High, Assistant Principal Bud Jacobs said that 30 students did not return, which will probably mean the loss of one teacher come Friday, the day the district has set for finalizing enrollments and adjusting classes accordingly. Disruptive midyear adjustments were eliminated in 1989 but were reinstituted this year because of the school budget crisis.

Even so, Jacobs said, Venice had been especially concerned about the impact of the break on its English-as-a-second-language students and was pleased to find that that population has remained relatively stable. "We were worried that many of them would go to Mexico during the break and not come back, but that did not materialize," he said.

Palisades High lost 45 students, which will make it necessary to cut auxiliary periods and rearrange student schedules, although no teachers are expected to be transferred, Principal Dodd says. That might not sound serious, he said, but cutting periods out of a program can cause big problems:

"Say you have five chemistry classes, with 30 students in each," Dodd explained. "If you have to cut one, that means 30 will have to go into one of those other four. But a kid may not be able to switch, because of a sport, advanced placement English, honors French (or other classes offered at only one time.) Where that is the case, probably we would have to say he can't take the second part (of chemistry), or may have to go to summer school."

About 20 students dropped out of University High, according to Principal Jack Moscowitz, most of whom moved out the district.

Even middle schools and junior highs are affected. At Paul Revere Middle School, for example, Principal J. D. Gaydowski said that 19 youngsters have "disappeared" since late December, whereas normally no students are lost over the brief Christmas vacation. He said that the total number lost is no higher than usual at the midyear point, but that they usually disappear in small numbers at a fairly consistent rate throughout the first months of school.

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