By Ethan Woodhouse
Wautaga Schools are expecting to to host 4,500 students this year, Watauga County Board of Education Chair Deborah Miller said. Avery schools are expecting about 2,100 students, according to greatschools.org.
The early-August start date in unusual when compared to to most other N.C. school systems. The High Country’s penchant for inclement winter weather requires school to start earlier.
“We get a weather waiver because of the number of days we miss in the winter due to snow and ice,” said Miller. “It enables us to ge in a semester by the Christmas break most of the time.”
But this could be the last school year that Avery and Watauga counties enjoy the advantage of an early start.
As per a new state statute published this summer, 115C-84.2, school calendars must total either 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction. Additionally, the law states that schools cannot start earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26. In the case of schools in areas that receive inclement winter weather such as in Watauga and Avery – the earliest start date is set at the Monday closest to Aug. 19. This mandated later starting date is causing a logistics nightmare in terms of being able to finish the first semester prior to the Christmas break.
“This is so unfair to those of us in the western part of the state,” said Watauga County Board of Education Vice Chair Dr. Lee Warren on July 30. “That just makes me furious.”
Dr. Wayne Eberle, executive director of learning development, has presented three calendar options to the Watauga Board of Education, two of which are still options. One was nullified at a July 30 work session. Calendar “A” is a 180 day/1,157.5-hour design, with school beginning on Aug. 19, 2013 and first semester coming to an end well after Christmas break, on Jan. 15, 2014. The last day of school, barring inclement weather, would be June 2, 2014.
Calendar “A – Hours” is a 164-day, 1,053.5-hour design with Aug. 19, 2013 set as the first day of classes. The first semester would end Dec. 19, and the school year would end May 9, 2014.
Concerns over teacher work days and early-graduating high-school seniors also play important roles in the final decision on next year’s first day of school.
The Board has agreed that parents of WCS students need to be contacted regarding how State Statute 115C-84.2 will impact the school system. Board Chair Deborah Miller said it might be a good idea to have parents contact area legislators and try to get this law changed in the short session of the North Carolina General Assembly in January.
The WCS Calendar committee will be working on deciding the best option over the next several months. Upcoming meetings take place Aug. 30, Cct. 1 and Nov. 1. All three meetings are at Watauga High School and will begin at 3:45 p.m. Presentation of the finalized calendar to the Board of Education will take place Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Margaret E. Gragg Education Center on Pioneer Trail in Boone.