A revised 2013-2014 school calendar was brought before the Scotland County Board of Education during its annual retreat on Monday evening.
The calendar was proposed in response to a state statute requiring a school year of 185 days or 1,025 instructional hours. Previously, 180 days or 1,000 hours were required.
By adding 20 minutes to each school day, the new calendar proposed includes 166 school days with 1,064 hours of instructional time. The school year will begin on Sept. 3 and end on May 20, 2014.
“We were able to basically put back a lot of that flexibility that we’d lost with the calendar law that they instituted in 2005 that said you couldn’t start before Aug. 25 and you had to be out by June 10, which really put us in a box,” said school spokesman Andy Cagle. “There was no wiggle room in this calendar for anything.”
Cagle said that the schools’ calendar committee, which included teachers, parents, and principals, was overwhelmingly in favor of the arrangement. The 166-day school year, by eliminating 19 days of student transportation, will save the school system upwards of $140,000. Many schools, including Scotland County’s, were exempt from the 185-day requirement this year, its first year in effect. For next year, several systems have designed a 185-day calendar by eliminating makeup days for inclement weather.
“We do have some inclement weather days built in there,” said Cagle. “I think, from a community standpoint, I don’t think you can cut the calendar down and then not make up days if you lose, even though we have the hours to do it. I think that would probably cause a bit of an uproar in the community if we did that.”
The calendar has been posted on the schools’ website at scotlandcs.schoolfusion.us, and will be up for approval at the school board’s April meeting. School staff have yet to determine how the additional 20 minutes will be added to the school day.
“We’re looking at the feasibility of what we’ll be able to do and we’re trying to get principals’ feedback on this right now,” said Superintendent Rick Stout. “My recommendation is going to be to extend it 20 minutes at the end of the day for everybody. That doesn’t change transportation for anybody at that time, because the routes will stay the same.”
With the proposed calendar, End-of-Grade testing will fall closer to the end of the school year, and spring break will fall the week before Easter, from April 14-21, 2014.
The new calendar led to discussion among the board of the advantages of a year-round school schedule.
“Internationally, they have longer school days than we do, but they go year-round as well, and we don’t - there’s nobody brave enough, except in pockets, to allow that to happen,” said Stout. “When you talk about year-round, you still have a month off in the summertime, which is ideal, and the international community has embraced that and shown its success.”
The local board of education has the authority to change the format of the school year, but Stout said that such a move would require strong support from the community.
“It’s a local decision - in order to do it at all, as a recommendation, I would poll all stakeholders involved in the community and have community meetings,” he said. “If not, it would be just like the high school; you can implement something that would fail before it starts if you don’t get people to buy into it.”
According to Dr. Pamela Baldwin, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, year-round instruction is most effective at the elementary school level and for students at each end of the achievement spectrum.
“The lower-end students are able to not have lag and gaps in learning, and the higher-end students are able to grow in a way that they are not able to traditionally,” said Baldwin.
Due to the expense of operating transportation for 11 months of the year, Stout said that a mixed system, with elementary schools running year-round and traditional calendars for other schools, would not be feasible.
“Why not do them all,” asked board member Jamie Sutherland. “What’s the down side?”
Board members Pat Gates, Jeff Byrd, and Paul Rush echoed the sentiment.
“With low-performance kids, you work so hard to catch up for the whole school year and then have them sit at home for three months,” Byrd said.
Stout said that he and Finance Officer Jay Toland would compose an analysis of the cost of switching to year-round and present it to the board at a later date.
“I think that’s the fairest way to do it,” he said.