Public weighs in on school calendar for Brooke

WELLSBURG – The public was invited to offer input on the calendar for Brooke County’s 2014-15 school year through an online survey, in writing and in person at a special meeting Wednesday.

And a majority said they prefer shorter breaks around Thanksgiving and Easter and a mid-August start date as opposed to earlier dates that month.

The Brooke County Board of Education is expected to consider their input and the preferences of a committee representing various staff members when adopting the calendar at Monday’s regular meeting.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the board’s office at 1201 Pleasant Ave.

It’s the first year county school boards have been required by the state Department of Education to seek input from their communities, and Brooke County school officials arranged for the online survey to ease public response.

Rob Robinson, the school district’s facilities supervisor, said he was pleased with the response, which included 826 online responses as well as several letters.

About 20 turned out for the second of two public meetings devoted to the subject.

Of the online responders, who participated anonymously, 53.8 percent identified themselves as parents, 21.9 percent as professional school personnel, such as teachers and guidance counselors; and 12.7 percent were students.

Other categories of responders were: community members, 4.7 percent; school service personnel, such as secretaries, bus drivers, cooks and custodians, 4.5 percent; school administrators, such as principals, 1.9 percent; and business leaders, 0.24 percent.

Robinson presented three possible calendars based on the public input and preferences stated by the committee of staff members, which included representatives of teachers, service personnel and administrators.

He said because votes for an Aug. 18 or 25 start date for students were very close, calendars were developed for each. Aug. 4 and 11 also were options but received support from just 8.8 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively.

In addition to the Aug. 18 start date, Calendar A includes a three-day break around Thanksgiving (Wednesday through Friday), three-day break around Easter (Thursday, Friday and Monday) and two-we

ek Christmas break. The last day of school for students would be May 29 unless time had to be made up for cancelations, two-hour delays or early dismissals.

Calendar C, with the Aug. 25 start date, would have the same Thanksgiving and Easter breaks, drop two days from the two-week Christmas break and tentatively end June 3 for students.

A third calendar, Calendar B, would start Aug. 18, include full weeks for Thanksgiving and Easter breaks, drop two days from the two-week Christmas break and tentatively end May 29 for students.

Brian Ferguson, the board’s vice president, said starting the school year later in August gives high school athletes in fall sports more time for summer practice, which state regulations prohibit from starting earlier than Aug. 4.

Eliminating a week-long break for Thanksgiving has been a hot topic in some counties because many teachers and older students go hunting then.

But 72.7 percent of online responders supported a Thanksgiving break of one, two or three days.

About 75 percent supported three days for Easter break.

Assistant Superintendent Marty Bartz said there’s also a financial reason for scheduling a week-long Thanksgiving break.

He said when it hasn’t, the school district has expended $14,000 for substitutes for teachers who take days off that week to hunt.

Board member Frank Ujcich added as many as 300 students have been absent on Monday or Tuesday when Thanksgiving break was limited to three days.

Robinson noted each proposed calendar had to include 180 days of instruction required by the state and an option for making up not only days canceled for inclement weather but also time lost to delays and early dismissals.

The latter is a new requirement from the state, and Brooke school officials had discussed extending the school day to make up for the lost time. But Robinson said that wasn’t supported by a majority of responders.

Instead at least a dozen days, including some in the holiday breaks and staff development days, have been designated in the calendars for possible conversion to instructional days.

Robinson added beginning next year, county school districts will be able to extend the school year up to the end of June to make up for cancelations, delays and early dismissals.

He said it’s something he sees as a worst-case scenario, but he also discouraged parents from scheduling vacations that month.

The online survey also asked staff their preferences regarding continuing education hours and faculty senate meetings.

The request for public input also generated other suggestions.

For example, Kristina DeMaria, a parent from Weirton, suggested to save time, eliminating homeroom periods and conducting business now reserved for homeroom during the first classroom period.

Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said some staff and students are involved in activities during the homeroom period, and it qualifies as instructional time because a youth-oriented television news program is viewed then.

Yvonne Donley, a parent from Wellsburg, said she’s pleased that school officials are seeking the public’s input.

“I’m glad they’re giving us the opportunity to share our opinions,” she said.

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