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Avery County Board of Education Approves New School Calendar with Earlier Start and End Dates

By Tim Gardner

The Avery County Board of Education held a special meeting last week and affirmed that a previously adopted school calendar with a start date of Wednesday, August 7, will still be used.

By a 4-1 vote, Board members approved the new calendar, which circumvents a limitation on how early the system can begin classes. Voting in favor were John Greene, Pat Edwards, Jane Bumgarner, and Kathey Aldridge. Steve Smith voted against.

The Board’s action came after a bill anticipated to be signed by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper would require local boards of education with school calendars that have starting dates earlier than the Monday closest to August 26, while noting the exemption that allows the earlier start date to the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Generally, students who attend a year-round school attend class the same number of days as students on a traditional school schedule. The primary difference is that a year-round school calendar is spread out more evenly over the year. Students get more frequent breaks, but their breaks are shorter and they don’t get a traditional 10-to-12-week summer break.

Avery’s year-round calendar, which was created by a committee, does not mean the schools will be holding traditional classes all year. It’s not actually a year-round school calendar—only one of sorts. Instead, the required intercessions for a year-round calendar will occur during the summer, mixed in with the variety of summer programming the schools offer. The change does not technically affect students beyond adjusting the start and end dates.

According to state data, Avery is the only school system in the immediate region that will be using the kind of year-round calendar it adopted.

The Avery School System’s start date, if it were to use a traditional calendar, is restricted by the state legislature, though the system received a waiver to start sooner.

“I don’t think the State of North Carolina has a set definition of a year-round school calendar,” said Interim Avery Schools Superintendent Bill Miller. “And Avery County’s location in the mountains can sometimes have a dramatic effect on our school calendar and force changes to it. So we need to have the authority to change it as needed. We often get more inclement winter weather than any school system across the state mainly from snow, which can even start in late fall and even happen into the spring months. In fact, it’s very important that we have the option to adjust a school calendar.”

Miller also noted that the newly adopted changes to the school calendar by the Avery Board of Education should have no negative effect on sports programs offered in the county’s schools.

State Representative Josh Dobson (R-Nebo), a former Avery resident, said he has filed bills which sought to give full control of the calendar to local school boards. He added that there has been difficulty in changing the law to give the local school systems such authority due to resistance from the tourism industry because it depends greatly on seasonal labor.

“I continue to support giving the local Boards of Education and School Superintendent’s authority for flexibility to do what they feel is best with establishing school calendars,” Dobson stated.

State Senator Warren Daniel (R-Morganton), who represents Avery, Burke, and Caldwell counties, could not be reached when contacted by the High Country Press for comment about North Carolina school calendars.

Last February, the Avery Board of Education adopted a modified year-round calendar that effectively functions as a normal school calendar with earlier start and end dates. That move was made because of interference of inclement weather with the system’s testing schedule, which often requires testing from the first semester to be pushed back past the holiday break, the disproportionate effect of summer learning loss on low-income children and scheduling conflicts with high school students enrolled in community college courses.

According to Miller, Avery County Schools usually miss approximately 14 to 20 days of school per year due to inclement weather, which is mostly a result of snow and icy roads.

The Board of Education also passed a resolution last February to send to the state legislature about why the system wanted legislative change to set the calendar as it deems is needed.