School calendar discussed

WELLSBURG – At the Brooke County school board’s first meeting to accept public input on the calendar for the 2014-15 school year, the board heard mostly from staff with questions about how it will affect them.

But it received a few suggestions – including ending the first semester before Christmas break and cutting Thanksgiving or spring break if it will mean ending the school year earlier.

Rob Robinson, the school district’s facilities supervisor, led Monday’s meeting after being chosen to represent the school district at a meeting held by the West Virginia Department of Education to inform county school officials of new state policies affecting school calendars throughout the state.

Robinson noted some staff at Brooke High School have asked for the first semester to end before Christmas break. They said it helps students to be better prepared for exams covering what has been taught over the semester and would follow the schedule usually used by colleges.

Toni Shute, the school’s principal, said when a break is followed by a number of weather-related cancelations, as this year’s was, it is even more difficult for students to prepare for the exams.

She acknowledged not all courses end mid-year and students are exempt from exams if they miss three days of school or less, perform 12 hours of community service and have no out-of-school suspensions.

But Shute noted some students, particularly seniors, prefer to take the exams to prepare for college studies.

Robinson said state policy requires a semester to be 85 to 95 days. To accommodate a semester that is 86 days and ending before a Christmas break beginning on Dec. 22, the school year would have to begin on Aug. 11, he noted.

Board Member Chad Haught noted the current school year began Aug. 19 for students, adding, “I think that’s plenty early enough.”

Ralph Smith, a vocational instructor at the high school, said school officials should consider classrooms without air conditioning when planning earlier start dates.

Robinson said vocational classrooms and gymnasiums primarily are without air conditioning but it is a concern.

Board President Jim Piccirillo asked Lisa Myers of Wellsburg, a parent attending the meeting, her opinion. Myers didn’t come to speak but said she would support cutting the Thanksgiving and spring break if it would mean the school year would end earlier.

This year’s calendar included a week-long break around Thanksgiving and before Easter weekend and an end date of May 29, which could be changed to make up for cancelations.

School officials have acknowledged the Thanksgiving break was spurred by low attendance and financial concerns.

Assistant Superintendent Marty Bartz said the school district has spent about $14,000 for substitute staff during the week, which many staff and students take off to go hunting.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said it’s likely days from the spring break will be cut to make up for canceled school days.

Myers asked the board to consider having an early dismissal on Mondays for schools’ Professional Learning Communities meetings.

Since 2011, Brooke County students have arrived two hours later on Mondays while staff gather to discuss ways to improve students’ performance in reading, math and other core subjects.

Myers said it would be easier for her and other working parents to schedule daycare later in the day.

Kidder-Wilkerson said she didn’t think the schools will be able to continue the PLCs while meeting new requirements for classroom instruction.

Robinson said that’s an issue all school districts must address, because the state has ordered they must make up for class time lost because of cancelations, delays or early dismissals to ensure they provide the required 180 instructional days.

Over the years Brooke County school officials have planned staff development days that can be converted to regular school days to make up those canceled because of snow or other factors.

But though schools were required to provide at least 180 days of instruction, they were prohibited from extending the school year beyond June 8.

And they weren’t required to make up for delays or early dismissals, but that has changed.

Robinson said school districts may address delays and early dismissals in various ways.

They may add minutes to the school day in advance to make up for the lost time, should it occur, or add minutes after the delays or cancelations have occurred, he said.

Or they may convert staff development days and days allotted for teachers to prepare for the school year or finalize grades at the end of the year. The latter days previously could not be used.

Robinson presented other possible calendars, including a traditional one with a start date of Aug. 22 for students; and a year-round calendar that would include 15-day breaks in fall, winter and spring and a 30-day break in July.

He said he only included the latter because it is being discussed in other school districts.

Piccirillo said he doesn’t believe the board, which ultimately will approve the calendar, will support a year-round school year. But he added he and other board members are open to various suggestions.

Written comments may be submitted to: School Calendar Comment, Brooke County Board of Education, 1201 Pleasant Ave., Wellsburg, WV 26070.

Plans call for another public meeting to be held in March after a committee of school administrators, teachers and service personnel has reviewed various options.

The board must adopt a calendar for submission to the state Department of Education by May 1.

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