By Jenni Vincent
MARTINSBURG - State changes now mean that county boards of education have more flexibility in setting school calendars, so policymakers - who know their own district's needs best - could choose options that work well locally.
The new regulations have been discussed at area board of education meetings, especially as officials searched for ways for making up lost instructional time this winter while also looking ahead to creating a calendar for the next academic year.
Two public hearings on the proposed calendar are scheduled, including March 17 at Musselman High School and April 7 at Martinsburg High School. Both sessions begin at 6 p.m.
But one option that's not even being considered locally is year-round schools, according to Berkeley County superintendent Manny Arvon.
"Several years ago we looked at various calendars nationally and actually had a committee of about 30 people including citizens, educators and business people who helped with this. It was important because we were in the beginning of a huge growth spurt, so we wanted to know what would work best for us," he said.
"We decided back then, and it is still my belief today, that a balanced calendar - or year-round schedule - is not something I support nor would I recommend for our district. Any rumors out there that we were considering doing this are just wrong - this is not even in the cards," Arvon said.
This calendar option still isn't in the district's best interest, especially as it continues to grow, he said.
"Last year we hired about 200 teachers and we've had great success in the last few years attracting quality teachers. And it's important to continue that, but having school in the recruiting season and in the summers - that is opposite to the districts around us - could have a negative impact on our ability to recruit," Arvon said.
A balanced calendar also wouldn't help avoid snow days because students are still in school during January and February, he said.
It's usually not a problem meeting the state-required 180 instructional days, even with snow days, although this winter has been more of a challenge, Arvon said.
"For example, this year we had eight days at the end of the calendar, plus we've turned three other days when students were not going to attend school into instructional days, so we have 11 make-up days this year. We're going to end up with 176 instructional days for our students," he said.
Next year, due to the changes, counties will have until June 30 to make up snow days, Arvon said.
Instead of being required to have two 90-day semesters, counties can now opt for 85 instructional days in the first semester, followed by 95 in the second, he said.
"We're going to do this and as a result, we expect our schools to start very close to when they did this year - Aug. 14 was the first day for teachers. It's important to me that we keep it in that range, because there is a lot that goes on in the summer," Arvon said.
Deputy superintendent Don Dellinger, who helped head up the district's calendar committee, agreed that year-round classes weren't part of the discussion.
Instead, a primary goal was to "stay as close as possible to the traditional calendar, because what we have here is working and fits our instructional needs," he said.
Committee members also supported continuing to "build in as many days as possible after March 1 that can be used for make-up instructional days due to inclement weather," Dellinger said, adding that taking only three days off at Thanksgiving gives the calendar more flexibility.
"There is less chance for having an inclement weather day in November. So we are able to get two days toward the 180 instructional day requirement," he said.
"The alternative is to add these two days on the end of the calendar, but that pushed the end of school later into June, especially if we have a bad winter," Dellinger said.