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Grissom column: School calendar has little flexibility

Why was the workday in January changed to make up a day for inclement weather? Why do students take their exams after the winter holidays? Why are there so few days in the calendar that can be used to make up days for inclement weather?
These are just a few of the numerous questions that have been asked recently about our school calendar.
The school calendar is an area of education where everyone has an opinion and believes there is a better way. Unfortunately, most people have 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 school calendar evolves. Some of these requirements 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.
– 5 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.
– 10 additional workdays. The use of these days can be determined by the principals, 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.
– 10 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 Veteran’s Day fell on a Tuesday in 2008, it was celebrated on that date.
– Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday shall be a holiday for students and staff.
– When Christmas falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, three days are designated for the holiday instead of two. The extra holiday would reduce the additional workdays to nine.
– Must include a plan to make up all days due to inclement weather. None are forgiven
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 90 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. This is the third year that 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. 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 are desirable for either the trainers or the participants. The elimination of the workdays also resulted in fewer workdays to use as make-up days. The calendar now has a very limited number of days that can be used for inclement weather. With just two days of snow and ice, we have used all the designated make-up days in the calendar, except spring break or Saturdays. Should we miss any more days, we will then need to decide whether to use spring break or attend school on Saturday.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System has a Calendar Committee that meets annually to create the calendar for the following year. The school system is always looking for 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 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 like to have community input and involvement.
– – –
Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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