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Mecklenburg County school year could shrink by 14 days

South Boston News
Members of the Mecklenburg County School Board were recognized by division staff in advance of Virginia School Board Month in February. Members are, from left, Dora Garner, Dale Sturdifen, Thomas C. Bullock, Robert B. Puryear, Joan Wagstaff, Debra Smiley, Sandra Tanner and Glenn Edwards. (Absent: Mary R. Hicks). (Susan Kyte photo) / January 25, 2012
Mecklenburg County Trustees are contemplating two major changes to the Mecklenburg County Public Schools Calendar for the 2012-13 school year: shortening the number of teaching days from 180 to 166 days for most students and starting school on Aug. 20.

The proposed calendar also includes an extended 11-day session for students who need additional instruction, who did not pass all their SOLs or who missed more than 20 days of school during the year.

Mecklenburg joins school divisions around the country in looking at shorter school years as a way to deal with financial pinches. Meanwhile, President Obama has called for longer school terms to boost student performance, although educators disagree on whether more time in the classroom actually helps achievement. For comparison’s sake, the typical school year in the U.S. is 180 days, and some advocate a 200-day school year — joining Thailand, Scotland and the Netherlands. British students attend about 192 days. Japanese students typically are in class 243 days per year — the most worldwide, according to MSN Encarta.

Parents or staff who wanted to offer input into the school calendar had until Jan. 24 to respond to a survey on the Mecklenburg County Public Schools website. The survey asked whether a proposed 166-day student calendar was favored; also whether to begin school on Aug. 20 and end on May 10 or begin school after Labor Day and end on June 7.

A final vote on the calendar is scheduled for the Feb. 20 meeting of the school board.

Superintendent James Thornton said the shortened calendar and the early start to the school calendar were separate issues. “The shortened calendar can happen with an early or a late start,” he said.

Laura Pittard, who spearheaded the school calendar project, explained the rationale for the proposed changes:

In creating the calendar for next year there were three main goals, she said:

• finish the first semester in December so that SOLs and exams can be completed before the holidays

• increase the number of professional-development days for teachers and

• due to a budget shortfall this year, a shortened calendar was considered as a means to help save money and jobs as well as meet other goals.

Pittard shared the calendar committee’s view that completing SOLs and exams in January, after a two-week break, negatively impacts student test scores because students forget or get a little rusty. The calendar committee included teachers and administrators.

The committee also saw the need to incorporate more teacher workdays into the school calendar. This time allows teachers to “Effectively implement the new initiatives [math, reading, and student directed learning], provide better instruction, and increase student achievement, educators need an opportunity to participate in ongoing and continuous professional development,” Pittard said.

Pittard said several other factors were considered before the decision was made to change the current school calendar:

Students involved in fall sports are already required to be available for sports practice by the first week of August

Governor’s school and pre-engineering programs start in the middle of August

Nine out of 12 counties in Region 8 (the school region that includes Mecklenburg County) start school before Labor Day

Since the school will end sooner, at the beginning of May, the county can implement extended sessions for students who need intense remediation, enrichment in math, science, reading, music, art, social studies and cross-curricular project based learning; field trips, or supervised internships at the high school level;

At least one county that uses a shortened calendar shared that the new calendar greatly benefited their on-time graduation rate because of the extended session for students who needed remediation.

All teachers will work during the extended session to either remediate or offer an enrichment program.

One parent, Candy McAvoy, and one trustee, Sandra Tanner, were concerned with the early start date.

McAvoy, who is the mother of two Mecklenburg County School students, shared her predicament: “A little more than a year ago, I decided to do something cool as a family and head to Disney World for a couple of weeks. So in October I started saving, a little here and a little there — park tickets, lodging. Now I find out there’s a real chance we will be back to school before the trip takes place. This is devastating for me and other families I’ve spoken to. It’s now less than six months out and I can’t get refunds, and I don’t want to tell my kids.”

McAvoy asked the trustees to delay enacting the calendar change for one more year. “A change of this magnitude needs a little more warning so everyone can make those accommodations [not schedule vacations for after the start of school].”

Tanner said as a working mother she, too, has a limited window during which she and her family can vacation ¬ usually the last week of August just prior to the start of school and then not again until December. “So do I pull them out in December or the last week of August? Family time is just as important.”

Suggesting that other parents share her scheduling problem, Tanner added, “I’m pretty sure you have less attendance there [in schools that start before Labor Day] until after Labor Day.”

Tanner also said each time that calendar changes were raised in the past the parents were opposed. “The parents are our customers too and we have to look at that.”

A back and forth discussion between Trustees Glenn Edwards and Tanner ensued. Edwards supports the shortened school calendar for financial reasons. “One of the benefits is no summer school. This saves a lot of money and thus saves a lot of jobs. If we can keep 10-20 more people working by changing the calendar that’s something we need to look at.” Tanner replied, “I really want to see how much this will save if we do that because when we closed Buckhorn we were going to save $1.8 million, and where has that showed up? I just want to make sure that if we make this change that it will show up too.”

Thornton interjected, saying “for too long Mecklenburg’s school calendar has been based on the agrarian calendar. It needs to be changed to keep up with the industrial age.” Finally, Thornton highlighted three benefits he said come from of a shortened school calendar: annual savings of $220,000, more time for teacher professional development, and the elimination of “dead time” when little to no learning or teaching occurs, after the students have completed the SOLs.

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I am from Amelia county and understand the disappointment of a missed Disney trip would cause the family. However, have been to disney many time I strongly suggest that they contact the Disney vacation planners. We have changed reservations and never forfieted any money if cancelation or rebook with a certain period.


This is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard of. Cut 14 days? If I am correct it is mandatory that kids spend 180 days in class, so I guess they will have to extend the school day by 30 minutes or so. Thank god that the senate voted to kill the pre-labor day school opening bill.

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