The system isn't flawless, of course. My daughters have complained that year-round occupancy means no downtime for maintenance of the school. Classrooms, cafeterias and bathrooms that are never empty don't get cleaned, painted or repaired often enough. Because the tracks are divided by ZIP Code, both girls say, the tracks get Balkanized along ethnic lines. B Track at Marshall, for instance, draws from a heavily Armenian area and becomes heavily Armenian, while C Track draws from a Latino neighborhood and is more heavily Latino. That shouldn't matter, but when students from one track return to find kids from the other track sitting at "their" lunch tables, territorial squabbling and fighting break out.
The girls also complained that some teachers refused to treat the winter break as a real break, assigning homework and research and scheduling tests for the first day back at school. (Katie spent part of last winter reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." I failed to see a problem in this.) Other teachers, however, accompanied their students on intersession trips to Europe.
Of course, not every family can pay for the kid who wants to go abroad, or arrange activities or supervision for the one who wants to stay home. Families with young children, especially, find a paucity of day camps and day-care programs in January and February. As a work-at-home dad for most of my daughters' school years, I have often wondered how single, working parents work around L.A. Unified's scheduling oddities like "professional development days," "pupil-free days," "shortened days," "minimum days" and "reverse minimum days." I don't know how those parents manage having their A track kids out of school for two months in the middle of winter.
But I know what it's meant to me. Because my wife is a teacher and I am self-employed, we've all had our summers free for long family vacations. And this winter, I'll visit the Louvre and Le Deux Magots and hang out in Paris with Frankie, and not miss the traditional school schedule at all.