By Paul T. Choate
July 31, 2012. Watauga County Board of Education Vice Chair Dr. Lee Warren was very vocal in his concerns over the 2013 – 2014 school calendar options at the Monday, July 30 work session. He was not alone, however, as many at the meeting were worried about the “bad scenarios and worse scenarios” presented to them by Dr. Wayne Eberle, executive director of learning development.
As per a new state statute passed 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 Dr. Warren. “That just makes me furious.”
Three calendar options were presented to the board by Dr. Eberle and one was eliminated at the meeting. The other two remain on the table for now. Calendar “A” is a 180-day/1,157.5-hour design. School would begin On Aug. 19, 2013 and the first semester would not end until well after the Christmas break on Jan. 15, 2014. Barring any inclement weather, the last day for students would be June 2. This option remains a possibility despite the later than desired end of the first semester.
Calendar “B” was in essence nullified. It was also a 180-day/1,157.5-hour design, but had the first day of class set for Aug. 26, 2013. This resulted in an even later first semester finishing date — Jan. 23, 2014 — and a later last day — June 9. Board members all agreed that this calendar would not be in the best interests of the students or the faculty.
The final option is calendar “A – Hours.” It 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 on Dec. 19 and the school year would end May 9, 2014. Dr. Eberle said he created it by taking the bare minimum required hours as per the state statute and dividing it by two. Board members initially showed interest in the 164-day calendar, but concerns grew when Dr. Eberle highlighted the consequences of the design.
“The other thing to keep in mind with that calendar is that it has 199 teacher days,” said Dr. Eberle. “We are required by law to have 215. So there is a gap in there as well. That gap, of course, is made by those 16 days that we are losing.”
Dr. Eberle also said the 164-day calendar could potentially hurt Watauga County Schools’ at-will employees who have become used to the standard 180-day calendar, as well as cause students who rely on a school lunch to miss out on 16 of those opportunities during the year. However, in response to a question from Board Member Delora Hodges, Dr. Eberle said it was the only calendar that would allow the first semester to finish before Christmas.
The reason for such concern over when the first semester ends is mainly focused on high school seniors who early-graduate. Many of these students immediately enroll in college after graduation in December.
“Pushing back an early-grad to the end of January may make those opportunities impossible for a student,” said Dr. Eberle. “I will be very honest with you, [Caldwell Community College and Appalachian State] have been very gracious working with us in the past when we’re looking at the beginning of January, but when we start pushing it back to the end of January — and as you well know, inclement weather could force that back to the beginning of February –“
“Or July,” joked Dr. Warren, drawing laughter from the board and audience alike and breaking off Dr. Eberle’s statement unfinished. He didn’t need to finish it though, everyone got the point: CCC&TI and ASU might not be so gracious in letting early-grads in if they aren’t finishing up high school until late January or early February.
“I’ve already prepared for this to be the worst winter in decades,” Superintendent Dr. David Kafitz added, drawing further laughter.
“I’m thinking even beyond the seniors,” said Hodges. “The students really need to be able to take their exams before Christmas because you have that break in there and it’s really hard to come back.”
In addition to “bad scenarios and worse scenarios” presented to the board, educational waivers provided by the State Board will be eliminated and delay days will no longer count to the weather waiver. Only days when school is cancelled for the entire day will be able to count for the waiver going forward.
“This [statute] was changed at 11:59 p.m. on the very last night and not many [state legislators] were even aware when they voted for this Senate Bill — that contained the technical corrections for the budget — that this language had actually been changed [pertaining to the calendar and elimination of waivers],” said Dr. Kafitz.
“So you’re saying people voted for a bill they didn’t read? What a surprise,” said Board Member John Welch.
The board 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.
“It is widely known that this is a gaffe on the part of the legislature for Western North Carolina and it needs to be fixed,” said Dr. Kafitz.
The WCS Calendar Committee will be working on deciding the best option over the next several months. Upcoming meetings take place Aug. 30, Oct. 1 and Nov. 1. All three meetings are at Watauga High School and will start 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.
For more information about Watauga County Schools visit www.watauga.k12.nc.us or call 828-264-7190.