Marion school board, public spar over new calendar

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By Chelsi Baker 
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Marion County teachers, principals, school employees and parents gathered in the North Marion High School library Monday to discuss next year’s academic calendar during a public hearing of the Marion County Board of Education.

The calendar is up for discussion and public input until a committee meets in future months to design options, one of which the board will choose as the 2014-15 academic calendar.

The board held the forum to educate the public on new policies that will be implemented next year and also so they better understand parameters the board must follow when designing the calendar.

“You can only put so much information out in a survey or so much information out online to people,” said Superintendent of Schools Gary Price.

“That’s why we tried to have the opportunity to explain the different guidelines we have to follow when deciding a calendar. There still are some state code and West Virginia Department of Education Policy guidelines that we have to follow as far as designing a calendar. We can’t always just do what somebody would like for us to do, but we can do a lot.”

The board of education must ensure students in Marion County are in school for 180 days of instruction between Aug. 1 and Jun. 30. If days are missed because of snow, faculty senate days or anything else, those days must be made up so the 180 days are completed.

Furthermore, schools must schedule a regular school day on any day not already scheduled as an instructional day on the calendar once it is final to make up missed time, or they can use out-of-calendar days to make it up.

This means schools can schedule holiday time as new instructional days, or they can add days on at the end of the school year to ensure students are in school for 180 days. Also as part of new legislation, teachers will take one day prior to the first day of school, and then they will be required to take a two-hour period on four other non-instructional days at least once every 45 days throughout the school year.

Faculty senate days will no longer be taken. Any two-hour delays or early dismissals will have to be made up next year. There are an extra 10-15 minutes at the end of each school day built in already, and if that time accrues to equal the amount of time missed from early releases, late arrivals or any other time taken out of a given day, the board can use that as make-up time instead of creating a new day of instruction.

“I tried to go through the code and make sure I picked up all the points that were changes from previous years so that people would know that the things that make up the calendar aren’t just because of our wishes or whims. They are things required to be put in due to whatever the code says,” said Randy Farley, administrative assistant of Curriculum and Instruction. “I tried to make sure they had the understanding of exactly what those new changes were.”

After the public learned what guidelines the calendar had to follow, they were able to give input on what they would like to see happen regarding when holiday breaks would be and when the year should start and end.

People agreed that students should have a longer summer and shorter holiday breaks, and that days should be taken from breaks rather than added on to the end of the school year if time needs to be made up. Most agreed on taking Friday and Monday off for Easter and two days off for Thanksgiving instead of keeping students out for a week of vacation during those times.

“I personally think the kids even get bored. They can’t wait to get back to school. There’s maybe 15 days there that maybe aren’t necessary,” said North Marion secretary Anita Besedich.

Crystal Reed, a local mother, agreed.

“I would rather be with my children in the summer when we can get out and do things, rather than being cooped up,” she said

There were also questions about how useful two-hour delays are, especially when they will need to be made up in the 2014-15 academic year.

“The two-hour delays, the early dismissals, what’s the point of those? I don’t remember having those,” Reed said. “I remember going on a school bus and having to pull off the side of the road because the roads were so bad the bus driver had to put the chains on. What’s the problem with it now?”

The board, teachers and other guests stressed the importance of safety when taking two-hour delays. Keeping the students safe means preventing possible accidents, one guest said. The extra time allows for the sun to warm things up and maybe even melt some snow.

There was also disagreement surrounding things irrelevant to the calendar. Many parents were concerned about the quality of instruction during the time students are in school, especially surrounding state testing. Parents were worried students are being prepared just for the tests and are not being taught things they learned in school when they were young.

“I don’t mean to offend any teachers here, but I can’t tell you how many times my kids have come home and said ‘This day was a total waste’ because nothing was done in class,” said parent Melanie Polling. “I would like to see, when they’re here, it to be an instruction day, and they’re actually instructed and taught.”

Polling said she was concerned when her daughter reported watching movies all day in school, resting on a pillow and sleeping bag during the school day. Other parents also expressed concerns, and the teachers reminded them test preparation is up to the state, not them.

“I feel like a blanket has been made about teachers about them not working or not working hard. I will tell you what. I work damn hard in my room. I teach every day. I taught the 20 minutes of my first period class that I had today. Don’t be throwing out blanket statements about teachers,” said North Marion High School teacher Deborah Doshier.

Once the discussion was brought back to issues surrounding the calendar, a question was brought up about how the new changes will effect graduating seniors. The new changes in the calendar will not effect next year’s graduation date, Price said.

“Seniors have other plans. They’re going off to summer school. People have invested big time money is all kinds of senior recognition things,” he said. “I think anybody who’s had anything to do with the high school would say it is impossible to move graduation, so the state recognizes that. Once you set it, then it’s set.”

While there was some disagreement surrounding other topics, parents and teachers seemed to agree, for the most part, about how the calendar should be set up.

“There does seem to be some consistency developing,” Price said. “Most of the people here this evening seemed to want more of a traditional calendar as we’ve had in the past with a standard start date and end date, and not such long breaks.

“That seems to be the consensus of this evening. It’ll be interesting to see if we get similar input at Watson on (March 10), but we will certainly give everyone an opportunity to give input.”

Those who do not attend the public forum at Watson Elementary on March 10 can still provide input by completing an online survey about next year’s calendar. As of noon yesterday, 2,652 surveys had been completed.

The board anticipates it will send a calendar proposal to the Department of Education before May this year. First, a committee will create a few options after taking the public’s input into consideration, which will be voted on by all school employees.

Ultimately, the Marion County Board of Education will choose next year’s finalized calendar that will be sent in May.

As for this year, a few changes have been made to make up for lost time from snow days. March 10 and May 2 are now full days of instruction rather than early release days. May 28-June 6 are also days of instruction.

Graduation has been changed to May 23.