The legislation proposed by the Pilot Mountain Republican would eliminate a stipulation in the state’s existing school calendar law requiring an academic year to begin no earlier than Aug. 25 and end no later than June 10.
If it is approved by the N.C. General Assembly, local boards of education would have more scheduling authority over either starting sessions earlier in August or continuing them later in June.
East’s proposal was applauded Thursday by spokesmen for both Mount Airy and Surry County schools.
“The current legislation pretty much writes the calendar for us,” said Assistant Superintendent Bryan Taylor of the city schools. “I will tell you that the more flexibility we have in the school system, the better that is for us.”
The Surry County schools’ superintendent, Dr. Ashley Hinson, also favors the bill sponsored by East because of the flexibility it would provide.
“I believe that the decision regarding the school calendar should be left up to the board,” Hinson stated. “We are in a much better position to design a calendar to fit the needs of our community and its students, better than legislators.”
Taylor pointed out earlier opening dates once were permitted for North Carolina school districts, which must be in session for at least 180 days and supply a minimum 1,000 hours of instruction. That allowed Mount Airy schools to start classes around the second week of August, complete the first semester by Christmas and start the second one when students returned from their holiday break.
But with the change several years ago to the Aug. 25-June 10 limitation, students now finish the first semester after Christmas, which undermines continuity and possibly their grades.
Mount Airy schools Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness said he has not assembled data tying the calendar issue to better student achievement, “but that would just be a natural assumption.”
Taylor said the earlier starting time further was beneficial for high school students who take college courses since the calendars of each institution were more closely aligned.
“It also gave us flexibility with the weather,” the assistant superintendent said.
In commenting further on the legislation proposed by East and the scheduling leeway it includes, Taylor said, “We as a school system would love to have that ability and the flexibility once again.
“We lost a lot of flexibility when the current legislation came into being.”
Hinson also referred to the need to have similar high school and college schedules, especially with the existence of the Surry Early College High School of Design, whose students must meet college requirements.
“A beginning date no earlier than Aug. 25 prohibits effective programming between our local community college and high schools regarding dual enrollment and dual credit, especially with the Early College,” Hinson stated.
“So we enthusiastically support and appreciate the legislation introduced by our senator, Don East.”
Hartness, the city superintendent, said that people shouldn’t fear their summers being shortened if the new law is approved. While beginning and ending times would vary, students still would attend classes for the same number of days and the length of the summer break would not change.
“I just think that the current law is problematic,” Hartness added, explaining that it doesn’t take into account changes in the calendar each year to conform to the Aug. 25-June 10 framework. For example, if June 10 fell on a Sunday, that requires classes to end on June 8. A similar adjustment must be made when Aug. 25 falls on a weekend day, he said.
“Just from a logistical perspective, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Hartness said.
The present law also fails to consider unique issues in communities, such as school schedules being interrupted in Mount Airy due to traffic concerns during the Autumn Leaves Festival each fall, he said.
Hartness suggested that the state’s existing calendar law caters to the eastern North Carolina tourism industry, and to theme parks such as Carowinds that need workers for longer periods in the summer.
Contact Tom Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1924.