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Grissom column – School calendar

Why do students have fewer days for their winter holidays then they had in the past? Why do students take exams after the winter holidays? Why do students graduate so late in the school year? Why do students have so many days off during the school year?
These are just a few of the numerous questions that are asked about the school calendar. The school calendar is another area of education where everyone has an opinion and believes that there is a better way. Unfortunately, the majority of the public has limited understanding of how little flexibility and choices there are when developing a school calendar.
Several years ago, the legislature became involved in setting policies for school calendars and removed much of the local control. As part of the legislation, schools cannot begin before Aug. 25 and students must finish before June 10. Within these parameters, there are other elements that are required that limit how the calendar evolves. Some of these requirements for the 2008-2009 calendar are:
– 10 vacation/annual leave days scheduled in the calendar- these are days when students are not in school.
– 180 instructional days.
– 1,000 hours of instruction.
– Five protected workdays as designated by legislation ó one before school starts and one at the end of each quarterly grading period. These are days for teachers to work in their classrooms with no additional tasks or meetings scheduled by the local board of education or principal. These days cannot be designated as snow make-up days.
– Nine additional workdays. The use of these days can be determined by the principal in consultation with the school improvement team and the local board of education. These days can be designated as snow make-up days and can be optional or required.
– 11 holidays scheduled in the calendar (excludes July 4).
– 42 consecutive calendar days in summer when teachers do not work.
– No school on Sundays. Saturdays can be used for inclement weather make-up days
– Veterans Day shall be a holiday for students and staff. Since Veterans Day is on a Tuesday in 2008, the holiday must be scheduled on that date.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday shall be a holiday for students and staff. Since the end of first semester falls on Thursday and Friday for the 2008-2009 year, students will be out of school that week on Monday, Thursday and Friday.
– When Christmas falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, three days are designated for the holiday instead of two days. Since Christmas Day is on a Thursday in 2008, three days will constitute the Christmas Holiday.
– Must include a plan to make up all days due to inclement weather.
Once the committee has addressed each of these requirements, there are few options left to complete the calendar.
Grading periods for students need to be four 45-day periods. In order to complete 45 days of instruction after the school year begins, students must take exams and End-of-Course tests after the winter break, usually the second week or third week of January. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when we normally face inclement weather. For the last two years, exams have been interrupted by bad weather.
One of the additional problems with the school calendar as a result of the 2004 legislation was the reduction of teacher workdays by five days. The elimination of non-instructional days from the calendar that can be used for professional development has resulted in teachers having to participate in training after school, on Saturdays and during the summer. None of these training times is desirable for either the trainers or the participants. The elimination of the workdays also resulted in fewer workdays to use as inclement weather make-up days. The calendar now has a very limited number of days that can be used for inclement weather. Should we have a “rough” winter, we would have to use days during the spring break or Saturdays to make up lost days.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System has a Calendar Committee that meets on an annual basis to create the calendar for the following school year. The school system is always looking for community and school people who would be willing to serve on the committee and offer their input into preparing a calendar. Most participants in the process gain a better understanding of the difficulty in addressing both parents’ and educators’ concerns and wishes when faced with the lack of flexibility in establishing a school calendar.
Anyone interested in serving on the committee should contact the school system’s Central Office. We would like to have community input and involvement.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

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