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Specific effects of calendar questioned

Cabell schools
Jan. 29, 2013 @ 11:59 PM

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County School officials and members of the community sought answers from one another Tuesday evening during the first of a series of informational meetings about a proposed balanced school calendar, also known as year-round school.

Participants in Tuesday's meeting raised concerns about how the new calendar would affect their families' specific schedules, how the calendar could impact non-school related athletic and community-based activities, how the calendar could affect academic performance and several other issues such as how court-ordered custody arrangements based on the current calendar would be treated and even whether the current birthdate-based criteria for when children start school would be changed.

More than 60 people attended the meeting at Huntington Middle School during which school officials presented information about a balanced school calendar. More than 20 faculty and staff members of the school attended a similar meeting earlier in the evening.

During the meetings, Gerry Sawrey, assistant superintendent for school improvement, laid out the basic structure of the proposed calendar before meeting participants broke off into small groups for roundtable discussions.

The goal of the meetings is not necessarily to sway opinion one way or the other; instead officials hope to share accurate information with community members while hearing some of the concerns they have over the balanced calendar, said William Smith, superintendent of schools.

"When we first started talking about this balanced calendar, we thought if we asked people about it, we would get a lot of responses, but we thought people might not be able to answer because they don't have a clear understanding of how the calendar works," said Smith. "What's so great about these meetings is we can present this information to people, and they can come to us with their questions and their concerns. No matter how much we plan ahead, we, as administrators, can't plan for every issue, but we hope these meetings help us be able to limit some of the issues we might run into if the board decides to put the calendar in place."

During roundtable discussions, parents and other community members shared their concerns with school officials.

Sara Blevins is the coordinator for Education Matters, which focuses on lowering dropout rates in Cabell County Schools.

She said while she hasn't taken a definitive stance on the calendar idea, she is worried how it might affect community-based programs that are not affiliated with local schools.

"My concern would be from the development and community program standpoint because, for example, I work with Upward Bound, which is a six-week program that takes place during the summer," said Blevins. "I am very interested in seeing the community and the school system work hand-in-hand to make sure this calendar would work. I would have to see a very specific, detailed plan before I could be behind this calendar."

Jessie Barry of Huntington said she worries about making sure her three children, who are in elementary, middle and high school, respectively, have a good balance of downtime at home and the opportunity for academic advancement.

"They talked about how this calendar will improve grades, but I would like to see some specific statistics that show that grades went up because kids had these breaks," said Barry. "I think it's important that kids have time to be carefree during their formative years. My son asked me to come to the meeting, and I'm here to get information. I'm still leaning toward the traditional calendar, but I am still listening."

The school board will not consider the balanced calendar proposal until all of the meetings at five local schools have been completed. Smith said the earliest the board would consider the calendar will be toward the end of March.

If approved by school board members, the balanced calendar would be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year.

A balanced calendar would still consist of 180 instructional days for students and 200-day contracts for teachers and most service personnel. However, those days would be evenly distributed throughout a one-year period to create four nine-week quarters separated by shorter, multi-week breaks.

An example calendar discussed at a board meeting late last year had the school year starting in late July and ending in June.

Between each quarter is at least a one-week intersession to be used for student enrichment, recovery or remediation -- sandwiched between two off weeks -- which would be options for students to attend. And, teachers and service personnel could bid on the jobs, as they would during summer schools.

There also would be about a five-week summer break.

Khaled El-Shazly, a 10-year-old student at Southside Elementary said he was in favor of the new calendar.

"The more people who support it, the better," he said. "We need all of the education we can get. The more people who are educated and go to college can go to work, and they can help make the economy better. A good education is the key to a good economy."

In addition to the meetings, school officials also plan to discuss the proposed calendar with child care providers, church groups, higher education representatives, high school students, sports teams and the business community. They will speak to individual groups who send a request to Sawrey at gsawrey@access.k12.wv.us.

For more information about the proposed balanced calendar, visit www.cabellcountyschools.com.

Follow Lacie Pierson via Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.

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