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Mecklenburg trustees take look at shorter school day / June 20, 2018

The Mecklenburg County School Board is considering shortening the school day for students beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

The recommendation comes from teachers and administrators who question why students in Mecklenburg County attend school for longer periods each day compared to students in surrounding counties.

Currently the school day in Mecklenburg begins at 8:10 a.m. and ends at 3:35 p.m. Superintendent of School Paul Nichols suggested to trustees at their meeting Monday in Boydton that the school day should be shortened by 20 minutes. The school day would still begin at 8:10 a.m. but end at 3:15 p.m.

Nichols noted that the Virginia Department of Education calls on schools that have implemented the four-block system, like Mecklenburg County, to hold classes for a minimum of 90 minutes per block. Mecklenburg County has 100-minute blocks. Nichols said most other schools on the four-block system have 95-minute sessions.

Block scheduling is a type of academic scheduling used in schools in which each pupil has fewer classes per day. Each class is scheduled for a longer period of time than normal (e.g. 90 minutes instead of 50). Block scheduling is believed by educators to offer more concentrated learning experiences in each subject.

During the 2017-18 school year, Nichols said the 100-minute blocks worked to the county’s advantage. Because students’ school day was longer than mandated by the state, they accumulated hours that were used to offset lost time due to weather conditions. If the school day is shortened and Mecklenburg is forced to close school for more than 12 days, students would have to make up the lost time.

The length of the teachers’ work day would remain unchanged. Nichols said this time could be used for professional development.

The School Board is expected to vote on this proposal at its next meeting.

Beginning with the 2018-19 school year, students will no longer be allowed to carry backpacks, string or athletic bags with them during the school day. These items must be stored in students’ lockers upon arrival at school. The policy provides “at the secondary level, bookbags, string bags, and gym bags shall be kept in lockers upon arrival to school.”

Trustees adopted a similar policy prior to the 2017-18 school year but reversed their decision a month into the calendar. Teachers and administrators asked for the policy to be reinstituted because of overcrowded conditions in the school. The teachers and administrators told Brian Matney, director of secondary instruction, the bags posed a safety hazard.

In other business, school trustees approved a request by Personnel Director Nan Alga to pay incentive bonuses to newly hired math, Spanish and special education teachers. Alga said these positions have been designated by the Virginia Department of Education as hard to staff.

The policy, as approved, authorizes the division superintendent from time-to-time “to provide new hires to classroom teaching positions in Mecklenburg County Public Schools with a one-time incentive in an amount of $2,500, with $1,500 paid in the first month of reporting to work in the first year of employment and the remaining $1,000 paid in the first month of reporting to work in the second year of employment.”

At the request of Food Services Director Robin Moore, the price of school lunches will increase $0.05 for the 2018-19 school year.

Moore said under Virginia Department of Education guidelines, school food authorities, such as Mecklenburg County, that charged less than $2.92 for paid lunches in school year 2017-2018 are required to adjust their lunch prices upward. The five-cent increase is necessary to comply with the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

For 2018-2019 the prices will be:

Paid student breakfast = $0.80

Reduced student breakfast=$0.30

Paid student lunch = $2.05

Reduced student lunch =$.40

Adult Breakfast = $2.35

Adult Lunch = $3.50

Parents who bring lunches to school for their children will, beginning with the 2018-19 school year, be constrained to delivering of food to the student’s assigned lunch time. Matney said this will limit classroom disruptions.

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If the school is “banking day” by going hours instead of 180 days why not shorten the length of the school year by however many days you get by shortening the day 20 minutes. Think of the money the county would save! No gas for buses and county cars. No food service. I’m sure there are lots of other things that I’m not aware of. Just a thought!

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