Calendar hearing raises concerns, few changes

PARKERSBURG – A draft calendar for the 2014-15 school year will be up for approval at tonight’s Wood County Board of Education meeting.

The calendar is unchanged from Monday’s public hearing where members of the public were asked to weigh in on the presented draft. A couple dozen people, most of them Wood County Schools staff and members of the calendar committee, attended the meeting, with only three speakers addressing the board.

Judy Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for Wood County Schools and head of the district’s calendar committee, presented the draft calendar at Monday’s hearing.

In the proposed calendar, students would begin classes Aug. 18 and teachers would begin four days earlier. The last day of the instructional term would be June 3, 2015, but could go as late as June 30, 2015, due to snow days.

Under the new changes to state law, school systems must complete 180 days of instruction and do not allow for “protected” days.

The proposed calendar includes a week off for Thanksgiving break, though three of those days could be reclaimed due to bad weather. Students will be off Dec. 24 through Jan. 2 for winter break.

However, only a handful of days are set aside for spring break. Students would be off April 3, 2015, which is Good Friday, and April 6-7, 2015, a Monday and Tuesday. Easter is Sunday April 5, 2015.

Board member John Marlow asked Johnson why some of the public input gained through an online survey was not taken into consideration while planning the calendar. For example, Marlow said, members of the public overwhelmingly were in favor of a full-week spring break, which is not included next year.

Johnson said those comments were taken into consideration, but may not have accurately reflected the public’s opinion on the matter.

Johnson said some people openly “bragged about voting 50 times a day” on the public survey because officials could not limit how many times people could vote.

“They looked at it like a vote, like ‘American Idol,’ the more the better,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t a ‘vote,’ it was just to get information. We were collecting information and we found out the date might not be quite as reliable as we had hoped.”

The calendar includes six OS Days, also known as Out-of-School Days. Those days are Feb. 16, March 9, March 16, March 23, April 20 and April 27, all Mondays. Those OS days are paid days that the teachers are not in school, Johnson said. Four have to be scheduled after the 130th day of school, officials said.

Those OS Days would be used first to replace days lost to bad weather, Johnson said.

Jennifer Floyd, the parent of three Greenmont Elementary School students, said by placing each of those days on a Monday the district would potentially disrupt activities that only occur on Mondays, such as the district’s talented and gifted program or music or art classes that are taught only once a week.

“We hope the school system will be able to accommodate and make changes within the schedule,” so those days won’t impact specific instruction or programs, Johnson said.

Floyd also suggested the school system begin calendar discussions for the 2015-16 school year now instead of waiting until four months before the start of that school year. Officials said if they begin the discussion earlier than March, they run the risk of the state Legislature making last minute changes, requiring them to change the calendar after parents have already made plans.

“Once you plan something, going back and taking it back is a pretty painful process for everyone,” said board President Tim Yeater.

Greg Merritt, president of the Wood County American Federation of Teachers, expressed concerns over one scheduled prep day for teachers, Aug. 15, a Friday.

“Teachers have a lot to accomplish before they ever see a student,” he said. “Teachers will be giving up their own time (coming in before the prep day) to prepare for the school year.”

Other officials echoed Merritt’s concern, saying the single prep day which follows a required teacher training day puts pressure on everyone, including service personnel.”

“It’s going to be very difficult to assign 97 buses in one day,” said Mike Fling, assistant superintendent of school services. “That’s an issue I’m going to have to figure out how to handle.”

Johnson said she did not see other school district calendars with more than one teacher prep day. Either the district removes a day from somewhere else in the calendar or pays teachers for an extra day, she said.

Brett Powner, a teacher from Parkersburg High School, objected to the five-day starting week for students, saying transitioning students from summer to school would be better served by a three-day week.

“This calendar is not based on what is best for our students,” he said. “There is no argument I can find that a five-day week is an effective transition. A three-day student week is considered the best option.”

Powner said the board needs to consider allowing semester exams to occur prior to winter break rather than after. District officials said some teachers already give students the option to take those exams prior to the winter break.