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New school calendar shortens summer

Schools
Jun. 15, 2010 @ 11:22 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Most West Virginia students will have shorter summer vacations this year as counties employ relaxed school calendar rules passed by West Virginia lawmakers in January.

But the changes made probably won't go as far as hoped by Gov. Joe Manchin when he called for a school calendar bill during his State of the State Address in January.

If this past winter were to repeat itself, only a handful of counties would have a chance at reaching the state-required 180 days of instruction. They would include Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Mason and Kanawha, all of which finished with between 175 and 178 days.

Most counties would still end up falling short, despite starting a few days early and having all the makeup days moved past March 1, per a directive from the West Virginia Board of Education.

What the school calendar bill did was free county systems from the hard start and end dates of Aug. 26 and June 9 for the school year. The intent was to help them reach the 180-day requirement.

"If it was designed to help us get past snow days, it didn't really do that," said Cabell Superintendent William Smith.

Smith, like many others, said the legislation was a step in the right direction. But it didn't do enough to help counties.

The problem that still faces counties, said Pocahontas County Superintendent J. Patrick Law, is the 43-week contract with service personnel that must be contained between the start and end dates. According to West Virginia code, the beginning and closing dates of the 10-month employment term cannot exceed 43 weeks.

"There were several changes in legislation, but it did not provide the relief that perhaps some might think we need," Law said. "In a county like ours, where our snowiest times are in January and February, that might be the time where you had a break."

In a late-January news story, Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said he supported the bill but thought the 43-week rule would impede progress toward ensuring counties could get 180 days of school.

Cabell County's calendar committee approved moving the start date up a week, with teachers reporting Monday, Aug. 16, and students returning Thursday, Aug. 19. If there were no snow days in the coming school year, Cabell County would finish Friday, May 24.

Most counties are going the same route, bringing teachers back Monday, Aug. 16, or Wednesday, Aug. 18. Students start three days later. Students in Pocahontas County return Monday, Aug. 23, as does Wayne and Putnam counties.

Only one county, Wirt, made major changes in an attempt to reach 180 days. Wirt County, which missed 12 days last year and made up four, is bringing teachers back during the second week of August. Teachers will report Wednesday, Aug. 11, with students starting Monday, Aug. 16.

But Wirt County, located southeast of Parkersburg, wasn't even among the worst in the state in number of instructional days provided. They reached 172, which was among the top 17 counties in the state.

Two counties -- Braxton and Greenbrier -- made no changes to their calendars, despite neither getting 170 days of school this year. Braxton finished with 169, while Greenbrier finished with 164. Greenbrier County, though, is home to the West Virginia State Fair, scheduled Aug. 13 to 21.

That's one of the reasons Pocahontas County didn't start earlier. Law said he wouldn't speak for Greenbier County officials, but he knows that many of his students and school employees take part in the state fair, within an hour's drive for most. However, Law said he wouldn't rule out starting school during or before the state fair if legislative action gave greater flexibility.

Four of the five counties that finished with fewer days than Greenbrier are only starting a few days earlier. Mercer County, which lost 23 instructional days and made up four, will get students back into the classroom two days earlier, on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

According to a release on the Mercer County Schools website, employees overwhelmingly voted to remain with the traditional calendar.

"In early April, employees cast their votes for one of three calendar drafts prepared by a committee of teachers, administrators, and service employees," the release states. "One of the choices, an early start calendar, would have required employees to start back to work on Aug. 9, and students to begin three days later. One advantage of the plan was that secondary students would complete first semester prior to Christmas break."

The release goes on to say that opponents to coming back so early pointed to summer camps, graduate courses for teachers and vacations as reasons not to adopt it. It also states that there are at least six days after March 1 that can be converted to instructional days to compensate for inclement weather.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, who is part of the education task force that is currently hashing out Manchin-sponsored bills in between special sessions, said he wants to do more for counties.

"I'm still a believer in year-round schools to close the gap in learning in the summer," Plymale said. "It's something important we need to look at."

Cabell school calendar

Here are the key dates in the 2010-2011 Cabell County Schools calendar

Monday, Aug. 16: Teachers and staff report

Wednesday, Aug. 18: Professional Development

Thursday, Aug. 19: Students return

Friday, Oct. 22: Professional Development

Wednesday, Nov. 24, through Friday, Nov. 26: No school, Thanksgiving break

Thursday, Dec. 23: Instructional Support day

Friday, Dec. 24: Holiday

Monday, Dec. 27, through Friday, Dec. 31: No School, Christmas break

Monday, April 11, through Friday, April 15: Spring break

Wednesday, May 25, through Friday, May 27, and Tuesday, May 31, through Thursday, June 2: Makeup days (Outside School Environment days)

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