By Paul T. Choate
Aug. 31, 2012. The Watauga County Schools Calendar Committee held the first of four scheduled meetings yesterday, Aug. 30, at in the media center of Watauga High School. Dr. Wayne Eberle, executive director of learning development, outlined the preferred 2013 – 2014 calendar scenario and tasked school and community members to come up with other calendar suggestions.
Dr. David Kafitz, Watauga County Schools superintendent, presided over the meeting along with Dr. Eberle. Representatives from the central office and all schools in Watauga County were in attendance, along with a few parents of students in the school system.
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 — 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.
At a July 30 work session, Board of Education Vice Chair Dr. Lee Warren was very vocal in his concerns over the 2013 – 2014 school calendar options, calling the new law “so unfair to those of us in the western part of the state.”
At the same work session, Dr. Kafitz said, “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].” He again reminded attendees of the Calendar Committee meeting of this yesterday.
The reason for such concern over when the first semester ends is mainly focused on Watauga High School seniors who early-graduate. Many of these students immediately enroll in college in January after graduation in December.
As of now, the best scenario, as Dr. Eberle outlined yesterday, is a calendar that starts for students on Aug. 19, 2013 with the first semester ending shortly after the Christmas break on Jan. 9, 2014. The last day for students, pending no inclement weather, would be May 23, 2014. The school year would have 180 student days and 1,155 instructional hours.
Despite early-graduates at WHS finishing after the Christmas break, WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson said he spoke with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute representatives recently, and said they would be willing to work with early-graduates. Dr. Eberle said he was not sure if Appalachian State University has agreed to work with early-graduates if they finish high school after the Christmas break.
Angela Hampton, administrative assistant for curriculum and ESL with the WCS central office, voiced concern over students having to take exams after the Christmas break with the proposed calendar. Dr. Eberle said, however, that although it was “rotten” for that to be the case, this calendar scenario was the only way he was able to get the first semester to end early enough for early-graduate seniors to enroll in college in January while also having enough days so as to not hurt at-will employees of the school system.
Dr. Eberle presented an “if the law is amended” calendar scenario as well, which would have 185 student days and 1,190 instructional hours. Students would start class on Aug. 7, 2013. The first semester would end prior to the Christmas break on Dec. 19, 2013 and the school year would end May 22, 2014. It is the hope of everyone involved in the Calendar Committee that the law is amended to allow for this option.
Lastly, Dr. Eberle presented attendees of the meeting with two blank template calendars with only holidays built in — one with 180 days and one with 185 days — and asked the school representatives and parents present to play around with some ideas and attempt to come up with a better scenario. He also said that Watauga County Schools would be taking a survey of parents on calendar-related issues and asked for survey question suggestions. The two most prominent survey question suggestions related to when spring break would take place and the importance of first semester exams taking place prior to the Christmas break.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Eberle sat down with High Country Press to discuss the challenges that have come with trying to develop a calendar that works for everyone.
“It’s never been an easy process,” said Dr. Eberle. “It is very important. There is so much that comes from this between not only getting the students in school and getting them instructional hours, but also our employee’s payroll — keeping within the guidelines of the law … What makes it challenging is that you start with a blank slate and then you start to put in different rules and different constraints that start to box you in and to limit you and limit your flexibilities and your possibilities.”
He also expressed optimism regarding the Calendar Committee and what they will be able to accomplish.
“We have good people on [the committee] and they’re committed, and they are a representation of everyone in the district. So, every school is represented, every parent group, every teacher group, every administrative group; we feel like we’ve got a good representation so we have many voices coming together to help us in this endeavor … It’s a challenge but they are always up for the challenge and we always wind up having a calendar.”
The next Calendar Committee meeting is on Monday, Oct. 1, at 3:45 p.m. at Watauga High School.
For more information, visit watauga.k12.nc.us.