New rules will limit school calendar options

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By Ryan Quinn 
The Charleston Gazette

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The Putnam County Board of Education is asking for public input on the 2014-15 school calendar, but Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said Monday the board's options are greatly constrained by state regulations, including new ones going into effect.

The new rules, instituted by Senate Bill 359, didn't affect this school year. The county schools are now mandated to have all 180 instructional days, said Cindy Daniel, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

"While that's always been the goal, there really haven't been sanctions or anything," she said. Putnam County may not meet the 180-day requirement this year — it missed 19 days so far, 15 from the abnormally bad winter and four because of the water crisis.

But Daniel said the calendar rule changes extended from 43 to 48 weeks the maximum length of time officials could build the calendar into. The rules also do away with the calendar committee, replacing it with two mandated public hearings. The first was Monday and the second will be April 7 at 7 p.m., and Daniel said the board will vote on a calendar at a meeting after that date.

Both calendars are designed to protect days in holiday weeks from being used as make-up, Daniel said. The first stacks make-up days at the end of the calendar; she said those 16 make-up days would be used to compensate for missed days first, with the holiday off-days only being used as a last resort.

The other option places three of those possible make-up days on Fridays in spring. Students could possibly have them all off in a mild winter.

Hatfield said the biggest flexibility the board has within the state regulations is in setting start and end dates.

That was the issue for Randy Short, a parent at the sparsely attended public hearing Monday. He said the two current proposals, both setting students' start date on Aug. 20 with an end either on June 4 or 9, would harm students taking Advanced Placement courses because they plan to make-up days after the AP testing. He said his daughter, a sophomore at Hurricane High School, is taking five AP classes next year.

He said AP testing is held nationally at a set time, and the later school starts the fewer instruction days students have before the difficult exams. He said that because AP courses are 90 minutes for block schedule students, students would effectively lose out on the equivalent of two 45-minute instructional periods for every day they start later. Plus, weather can cause even more lost days.

"It's really hard to cover all that material," he said, even "if everything goes ideally."

He said his wish to start school early "falls a little on deaf ears" in Putnam because the community is committed to extracurriculars and doesn't want to interfere with football practice and other events.

"AP is a national measuring stick," he added. "... So we're really shortchanging our students"

Daniel said she understood his concern. She said after-school advising could mitigate the problem, but Short said his daughter attended every tutoring session last year.

Hatfield said the board has to book high school graduation times a year in advance, and suggested that might be an obstacle to starting the year earlier.