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Large turnout expected for meeting

BOE
Mar. 09, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- The five members of the Cabell County Board of Education are expecting a large turnout for Tuesday's meeting, where they will hear a summary of the comments from community members, parents and employees about the proposed change from a traditional to a balanced school calendar.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 12, in the boardroom at 2850 5th Ave., Huntington.

Gerry Sawrey, the assistant superintendent for school improvement, hosted five community and five employee meetings in late January and February. After a roughly 60-minute presentation, those in attendance met in roundtable discussions with a facilitator, who took notes on the questions and concerns people had. Some people at those meetings expressed frustration in not being able to make statements or ask questions.

They'll have that opportunity Tuesday, though board members said people have already started the process by sending them dozens and dozens of emails to voice their disdain for the calendar proposal.

All said they have sifted through emails, and said many bring up valid concerns but some they described as self-serving. Garland "Skip" Parsons and Mary Neely both said they also received emails that said their support of a balanced calendar would cost them in the next election. Parsons said he wouldn't be bullied into a decision.

When it comes down to it, they said, it's about doing what's best for students and taking all the feedback into consideration.

"That's our job, to listen to input and feedback and see what kind of response we get," board president Suzanne Oxley said. "For any program to be successful, you have to have the community embrace it."

Bennie Thomas said this may be the toughest issue he's had to deal with since he's been on the board -- and that included a court case to get the land for the new Huntington East Middle School.

"It's a tough one," Thomas said. "I told someone this is probably the toughest issue we might deal with, I think. It's so emotional."

The proposal, which would take effect for the 2014-2015 school year if approved by school board members, would include four, 45-day quarters and a shorter summer break. There would be three multi-week breaks in the fall, winter and spring that would include down time for teachers and students and also intersessions during each. The intersessions would take place both in the schools and in community centers, such as the Huntington Museum of Art, and provide remediation and enrichment opportunities.

"We're in the business of educating kids. That's got to be the first priority, but we have to listen to all the issues," Thomas added.

They are encouraging people to attend the meeting and sign up to speak on the topic. But they said those folks who support a balanced calendar need to have their voices heard as well. Without them, it makes the public sentiment look completely one-sided.

"You need to hear all sides, but you can't make people come forth," Thomas said.

Mary Alice Freeman said there are people out there who are in favor of the calendar, as she and others noted they have received a few emails in support of it. But she said it is typical to get a strong showing of opposition.

"I think any time there is a proposal to change something, you mostly hear from the people that are against it," Freeman said. "Most of the time the people who are for it stand back and are not heard."

But they all said that among those against the calendar are people who have legitimate concerns and questions about inconclusive research and the absence of a true cost analysis.

"This is one of the toughest decisions we'll have to make," said Parsons, who joined Neely and Freeman in expressing their own concerns about the proposed calendar. "I hope they come (Tuesday), and I'll stay as long as they want to speak."

Board members are not voting on the calendar at Tuesday's meeting. The earliest a vote could come is mid April.

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