Schools grappling with calendar changes

By Jeff Linville -

Weather forecasts have Mount Airy reaching the end of the month without another snow day, but local school officials are hoping the bad weather stays away longer than that.

Mount Airy City Schools closed its doors for three days earlier this month for snow and refreezing slush. That leaves little wiggle room in the academic calendar in case of another bad storm.

School officials for both the city schools and Surry County Schools warned parents last spring that the 2016-17 school year would be cramped. Any time missed for weather would make things worse.

State law requires that public schools start no sooner than the Monday closest to Aug. 25 and go no longer than June 10.

County assistant superintendent Chuck Graham noted in March that 2016 would be the worst-case scenario with Monday, Aug. 29 being the latest start date in a seven-year cycle.

By comparison, school will start on Aug. 21 this fall, a difference of eight days from the current year.

At its most recent meeting, the city Board of Education approved an adjusted calendar to account for the three missed days.

Jan. 17 and March 24 were scheduled teacher work days, but now will be regular school days. Feb. 24 will have school, but it will be an early dismissal.

That leaves three other potential make-up dates: a staff development day on March 10, an annual leave day on March 27 and an option leave day on April 14 (the Friday before spring break).

That leaves the spring break intact and the last day of school for June 9 with high school graduation on June 10, a Saturday.

Dr. Kim Morrison, in her first year as superintendent, said she was glad that her first winter storm hit on a Friday night so that the worst of the conditions were over the weekend, minimizing the number of days missed.

Jason Dorsett, chief operations officer, praised the work of school personnel and contract workers in cleaning up the campuses so that the Tuesday and Wednesday closings could be used as teacher workdays.

“I am very pleased with the snow-removal process for this winter event,” said Dorsett. “Jon Doss led the clearing of sidewalks at each campus.” He named several men who worked at cleaning parking lots.

“Although roads would not allow, our parking lots and sidewalks were cleared and able to allow our staff members to return on Monday.”

The snowfall hit after the county Board of Education had met for the month. The Surry County School Board will discuss calendar changes at the February meeting.

In other action:

• Dorsett said the high school gym needs to be examined for potential repairs.

Water is leaking in on the wall at the far side of the gym where the flag is mounted. The paint is peeling off the block, and the flag has been discolored by the leaking, Dorsett said.

He said he would be working with maintenance for a permanent solution, after which the wall will need to be repainted and the flag replaced.

A couple of other projects in the works are repainting the meeting room at the central office and replacing the ceiling at the old junior high building where wrestling and other sporting activities take place.

• The city district welcomed a new official this month.

At the end of November, city school officials announced the hiring of Dr. Phillip Brown as executive director for teaching and learning, which has been vacant since Dr. Morrison was promoted over the summer.

Brown is a Montgomery County native who earned his BA in liberal arts from St. Andrew Presbyterian College, his Master of School Administration from University of North Carolina Pembroke, and his doctoral degree from Wingate University.

“We are extremely excited to have someone of Dr. Phillip Brown’s caliber,” Morrison said at the time of the announcement. “His K-12 experience from the schoolhouse to the central office, as well as agencies outside of his district, have prepared him well.”

• It’s a busy week for city schools. The high school is hosting some Chinese students and holding events so that they can share their experiences with the locals.

Meanwhile the other three schools are administering benchmark assessments to see how children in grades kindergarten to eight are doing so far this year, according to Jesse Hiatt, director of accountability and student services.

Hiatt told the school board he is adjusting to his new role with accountability.

Hiatt added the additional duties when Jamie Martin left over the summer to become the assistant principal at Flat Rock Elementary.

He said that he and Kimberly Heck, testing specialist, were adjusting to their new jobs and are focused on the testing aspect of their duties.

“This is the first time we have been through the end-of-course and North Carolina final exams,” he said.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

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