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FLORENCE — Florence Unified School District’s new school-year calendar has been changed to make fall and winter breaks begin one week later, and to close the district for the week before Christmas. The school board approved the changes at its March 9 meeting.

Thad Gates, FUSD director of school improvement, told the board the reasons for the changes are:

  • To provide a well-deserved break for all FUSD employees at the end of first semester.
  • Most 12-month employees already take off the days around Christmas, and most other school districts are closed this week.
  • Additional leadership meetings can be held the first week in January to review first semester goals, initiatives, data and progress.
  • There will be additional professional development opportunities and anticipated teacher participation in the first week of January.

The two-week fall break will begin Sept. 27 and the three-week winter break will begin Dec. 20 in the new calendar. All of FUSD will be closed the week beginning Dec. 20. Year-round employees will be required to use accrued vacation days Dec. 20-22.

Several things do not change in the new calendar. The first day of school (July 21) remains the same, along with the last day of school (May 26, 2022), which is also the day for all high school graduation ceremonies. The two-week spring intersession will begin as before on March 14, 2022. Total teacher days (186) and total student days (180) also remain the same, as will total intersession days, early-release days and holidays.

FUSD will have proms, graduation ceremonies

Superintendent Chris Knutsen said a lot of schools are canceling prom, but FUSD will have prom outdoors. Florence High School’s prom will be on Main Street. San Tan Foothills’ prom will be at the Windmill Winery and Poston Butte’s prom will also be at an outside venue.

“We’ve done the best we can to make it normal for our kids.” Two FUSD schools had homecoming dances outside last year, Knutsen said.

FUSD is also planning in-person graduation ceremonies at this time. “Hopefully we stay below a 5% positivity rate, everyone gets their vaccinations, and our goal is to have graduation as normal as possible.” The district may have to limit the number of attendees per graduate, “depending on what happens in the next couple of months,” Knutsen said.

Teacher retention improves

Gates reported that seven years ago, FUSD had a 75% retention rate of teachers, instructional coaches and guidance counselors opting to stay with district. The district’s ability to retain its professional staff has mostly steadily improved since then, with 85% staying with FUSD last year, and 92% staying this year.

“That is something for us to celebrate … and something for us to be really proud of,” Gates said. At individual schools, the retention rate varies from 88% to 100%. “Given the culture, the pandemic and all the other things we’ve dealt with, we’re very excited about this.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.