It’s hard to imagine a more humdrum and, well, academic, topic than the local school calendar, at least until it is your child’s schedule that’s being debated. Then it becomes a hot-button, almost partisan, issue. It seems most parents don’t want the current calendar changed significantly, if at all.

Last month, District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson proposed a new calendar for pupils for the 2007-08 school year. A key goal is to consolidate teacher planning time, thereby reducing the district’s excessive reliance on substitutes to cover teachers’ out-of-class time.

This would surely benefit children, please parents and satisfy taxpayers. Lamberson believes this move-lightening teachers’ administrative loads-would also make District 96 a more competitive employer. He also believes his proposed changes will optimize learning.

Immediately, the calendar became the hot topic of conversation around town for parents of school-aged children. School leaderships galvanized, encouraging parents to voice their concerns to Lamberson directly and via attendance at PTA and school board meetings. Following parental input, he has agreed to postpone a Board vote on the issue until the March 20 meeting at Hollywood School.

One parent even compiled a widely circulated color-coded graphic of next year’s calendar that made it impossible to miss the fact that our children will be getting many days off. Of course, they get many days off now, too, but they’re different days.

Lamberson’s proposed changes focus on several areas. First, he proposes jumping in with four attendance days the first week of school, as opposed to the current 2.5 days. I always liked the gradual ramping up that first week. But Lamberson’s rationale seems sound:

He advocates swapping out the Iowa standardized test given each winter in favor of one called MAPS. This test, which apparently is now widely used, involves an individual computer-based assessment of each pupil. Each student in the district would take a brief test during the first week, so that all teachers would know exactly each student’s knowledge base upon return from the Labor Day weekend. The goal is, of course, to shorten the obligatory review time by tailoring it more precisely to the students’ needs.

The most reviled change concerns the week of Columbus Day. The Monday holiday would be followed by a full day Tuesday, half days Wednesday and Thursday, and another day off on Friday. Imagine being a working parent and trying to accommodate those hours, short of taking the week off.

In fact, Lamberson thinks that may not be a bad idea, since he’s trying to follow “children’s natural learning schedules” and believes that a longer October break could yield increased productivity later. But, in addition to burdening non-traveling families, I dislike sending the message-even tacitly-that school is unimportant enough to be missed on a whim. In fairness, Lamberson acknowledges that he has received the most resistance to this week and says he is willing to revise his recommendation for it.

The entire Thanksgiving week would be off, except for a day of conferences on Monday. Currently, conferences are spread over an evening and the next day, which seems a reasonable accommodation to busy families. Cramming all conferences-mandatory at the elementary level-into a single day during a holiday week seems an excessive burden on families. And, given that this is a peak travel week, requiring families to pass up a Saturday or Sunday departure so they can attend a 15-minute conference on Monday seems nonsensical.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’d like to see kids in school five days a week from September to June except for the traditional Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks, along with the necessary legal holidays. Children seem to thrive on a rigorous, predictable school schedule. But I realize this schedule won’t be happening any time soon.

In my recent chats, I’m struck by an emerging sense among parents that our new superintendent tends to pay lip service to parental input, then does whatever he had planned to do in the first place.

If true, this is an undesirable state of affairs. But I also think we as parents have to give Lamberson latitude to prove himself and make his mark on the district. Will his proposed calendar really benefit our children? I don’t know, but I have a feeling we’re about to find out.