The Times West Virginian

March 11, 2014

School calendar draws ‘pointed questions’

Survey: Shorter holiday breaks to enable students to avoid June classes

By Chelsi Baker
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Parents, teachers, principals and school employees gathered once again, this time at Watson Elementary School, for the board of education’s last open forum held to discuss next year’s school calendar.

Administrative assistant Randy Farley explained what is required by the state next year so parents would understand the board’s parameters when designing the calendar, and then the public was able to make comments or ask questions.

“We had some people that had some very pointed questions, and I thought it was nice that some people actually came with some questions prepared,” said Superintendent Gary Price. “It shows the amount of interest that there really is.”

Parents asked questions about what days could be taken to make up missed time, what constitutes an instructional day and how early releases and two-hour delays will be handled, among other things.

They also requested that copies of the sample calendars that will be voted on be sent out to parents, too.

The calendar committee consists of parents, teachers, transportation department, central office, a principal and even a high school student or two. It will consider input provided in the open forums and by school employees, the online survey sent out to parents and feedback from the committee itself when making two sample calendars.

The samples will then be sent out to all school employees for a vote in April.

Parents completed 3,224 surveys, and the majority wanted school to start the week of Aug. 18 and end in late May. They preferred shorter holiday breaks to keep students from being in school in June.

When asked, those who attended the public forum also preferred shorter holiday breaks and an earlier summer release date, which is similar to the last forum held at North Marion High School in February.

“Those things will definitely all be taken into strong consideration when we start compiling all the possible calendars for the board to review,” Price said.

Some parents expressed disapproval regarding the number of snows days this year, and offered solutions including putting chains on school bus tires.

“We have a lot of things taken into consideration. If all the students rode buses, then that would probably be a safer situation. Unfortunately, we have a lot of parents that drive their kids. We have a lot of teachers driving themselves, and we have to take their safety into consideration, as well,” said Price

One father even requested letting the students who could make it to school come to avoid missing out on instructional time.

“We’re not going to pretend to have school,” Price responded. “I’m not going to have eight kids sitting in each classroom, and then two days from now they have to teach all the same material that they just got done teaching the kids. That is not a very efficient way to run a school system.”

Price and the board also explained that teachers came in for faculty senate meetings during snow days to avoid taking more instructional time, though some of those days designated for teachers cannot be cancelled due to mandated state test preparation.

Parents were upset about missing further days this year, even though they were told such policy was put into place by the state Legislature.

“Legislatures, both federal and state, interfere with education,” said board member Dr. Babette Simms.

“They mandate things to us, just like the WESTEST. You think teachers and the students and the board of education have any choice in that? Not if we want federal money, which is millions of dollars. ... I appreciate you all being here, because we have meetings and no one shows up, but I think you need to see what all your Legislatures are mandating in education and how they’re spending your money. ... We don’t have very many options anymore,”

“We’re limited. When we’re dealing with your babies, you can come to a board of education meeting and you can talk to local members of your county. It’s been discussed seriously of doing away with local boards of education, which you may or may not think we do a good job, but at least you can come and you can talk to your neighbors. If they go to regional boards of education, you’re really not going to have any say...You need to start contacting your state legislators.”

Price understands parents do not want their children in school in June, and he reminded parents of the out-of-the-ordinary winter Marion County saw this year. Students missed 18 instructional days this year, as opposed to the average of seven in a normal winters.

“A lot of people are exceptionally nervous about the prospect of having school late into June simply because we had such a bad winter this year,” he said. “A couple years ago, we only missed two days of school for snow, and I think if we would have been changing to the new calendar rules at that time, people might not have been too concerned. But, fresh off a winter where we missed nearly 20 days of school and had some delays, it really hits home to people that this could happen and we could be in school into June.”

As part of the new legislation, students must be in school for 180 days of instruction. If days are missed because of snow, faculty senate days or anything else, those days must be made up so the 180 days are completed. This means schools can schedule holiday time as new instructional days outside of national holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, or they can add days on at the end of the school year to ensure students are in school for 180 days. Any two-hour delays or early dismissals will also have to be made up.

“Regardless, we will have to make up everything missed,” Price said.

Also in the meeting:

• The board thanked technicians who have put in long hours to set up computers in preparation for online testing in schools.

• The superintendent approved $788,254 to go to City Construction for East Fairmont Middle School furnishings. The school is in its final stages of construction.

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.