‘Year-round’ calendar up on school site

By Jeff Linville - jlinville@mtairynews.com

DOBSON — The new school year has just started, but Surry County Schools is already thinking ahead to next year.

Back in March the county Board of Education heard a lengthy presentation on how the school system could become a modified “year-round” school.

The district has 18 campuses, but also operates the Surry Early College at Surry Community College. This creates challenges when the public school calendar doesn’t line up with the college’s plans.

Also, the late start date of the past few years has created headaches in handling snow days and required staff-development days. For example, the past three start dates required by state statutes have been Aug. 29, Aug. 28 and Aug. 27.

This hasn’t left enough time before the Christmas break to squeeze in first semester exams — which means kids are coming back from a long layoff then getting tested on things they may have forgotten.

It also has been an issue to get in the necessary days of instruction before the school year must end “the Friday closest to June 11,” according to N.C. Session Law 2012-145.

Two years ago, winter snow storms left the central office scrambling to make adjustments to fit in with state mandates.

In March, Dr. Jeff Tunstall, assistant superintendent, explained details of a calendar that would build in more snow days and match up better with what the community college does.

The county school system already has posted a tentative calendar on its website for parents to peruse at www.surry.k12.nc.us.

In this plan, school would start on Aug. 7 with the first semester ending on Dec. 20 so kids can have exams behind them before starting the holiday break.

There would be a full two weeks over Christmas and New Years, then a teacher-development day on Jan. 6 before getting back to work. The spring semester would wrap up on May 27, with graduation for the three traditional high schools spread over May 28, 29 and 30.

Regardless of start/stop dates, state law will still require the district:

• Have a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction.

• Have at least nine teacher workdays.

• Designate two workdays on which teachers may take accumulated vacation leave.

As for the “year-round calendar,” Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent, explained in March, “Schools really are in use 12 months out of the year.”

Typically once regular classes let out, Reeves explained, June is a busy month with summer school classes, summer reading camps, STEM camps, art camp, agriculture camp and others. School buses are running to pick up kids for camps.

Then in July, the high schools stay busy hosting youth sports camps such as football, basketball and volleyball.

At the start of August, fall sports teams begin practice, even though school isn’t back in session yet.

Last summer, the school year ran long, nearly to the middle of June, which put a squeeze on summer camps, Reeves noted.

The school advisory committee, which includes parents and teachers, had discussed this scheduling beforehand. Some members of the committee appeared before the board in March to give their opinions.

Surry Central High School alone had 186 students take at least one class through the college last year, according to Stephanie Miller, Surry Central teacher of the year, representing high school teachers. That’s a big number to be impacted.

Reeves added that last year 38 percent of juniors and seniors were taking at least one college course.

Are parents going to leave someone behind to go on vacation if they have a kid in middle school and another at Early College, asked Philip Riekehof, the school system’s current district-wide teacher of the year, representing elementary teachers for the committee.

Parent Brenda Robertson believed that kids should have first-semester exams taken and over before the Christmas break so that they can enjoy that family time without tests hanging over their heads.

“Most of the teachers were in general consensus that there must be a correlation between testing before break and higher scores,” agreed Miller.

When talking about the plan in the committee, Robertson said, for every negative someone raised, there were five positives.

Some say it’s too hot in August, she stated. Well, it’s hot in June, too, and these days there is air conditioning everywhere so that should not be a major issue.

State law mandates starting on the Monday closest to Aug. 25, but Miller said high school teachers favor easing into the school year with a half-week, such as Thursday and Friday.

The new plan with Aug. 7 would have school starting on a Wednesday for a partial week.

A year ago, East Surry athletic director Randy Marion lamented that the Cardinals had two home football games before school even started, which hurt attendance and gate revenue that helps athletic programs. Then when classes began, the team spent five of the next seven games on the road.

The public is encouraged to view the calendar on the website at www.surry.k12.nc.us.

By Jeff Linville

jlinville@mtairynews.com

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.