After two public meetings and several calendar committee meetings, the Pocahontas County Board of Education office has narrowed down next year’s calendar options to three. The three calendars were shared with employees, all of whom cast votes for the final version.
The task of creating a new calendar began in October when Assistant Superintendent/Director of Federal Programs Terrence Beam in- formed the board of education that the legislature had passed a law requiring all schools to have 180 days of instruction, no matter what.
Beam said through public and committee meetings, information was gathered to ensure the calendar fit the needs of all involved – from employees to students to parents.
“We took all the information from all the comments made, from the survey we did and the written comments from the public,” he said. “We took all that, shared it among the committee and tried to find some kind of consensus with it. Then we created three calendars that met as many of those [needs] as we possibly could.”
Once the three options were created, Beam sent them to the state department of education for approval.
“I didn’t see any sense in putting a calendar out that the state would refuse later, so we went ahead and sent those three calendars to the state department and all three of them were approved,” he said. “Whatever the employees select as our calendar will be approved by the state. That takes a little pressure off the board as far as trying to figure out whether or not this is going to work.”
Although the calendar probably won’t please everyone, Beam said he believes the majority of people will accept it.
“I don’t know if there will be a lot of issues,” he said. “There’ll be some. I’ve been real pleased with the number of people who have answered the survey or came out for the public meetings. I’ve talked to other counties who had eight or ten and we had sixty or so at Marlinton and maybe eighty at Green Bank, so we had really good turnouts.”
As news of the calendar spread through the county, a lot of concern was voiced concerning students attending school so late in June. Beam says that the new calendar already has make-up days built into it, so the students won’t be going more than an extra week in June.
“We attached a make-up schedule so we’ve already predetermined that when we have a snow day, we already know which day we will make it up,” he said. “That will be shared with the public. They will get that along with the calendar.
“We put into our calendars somewhere between twenty-five and thirty days to make up,” he continued. “We’ve had twenty-three [snow days] this year. We thought twenty-five was overkill, but it’s not so. We’ve earmarked thirty days on the calendar that can be used for make-up days. We did that so we would have a good idea of what’s the latest students would go. I can’t quote exactly which date but we’re talking about June 15 being the very last possible day and that’s even with twenty-five or thirty snow days, so we’re going to make up a lot of those days during the year.”
The make-up days are spread throughout the calendar and will take away from some holidays if the winter is bad.
“That’s not going to be very popular with people where they make up time at Thanksgiving,” Beam said. “We didn’t use any days during Christmas to make up but we are taking some days from Easter break.”
The calendar also has OS days which may be used to make up snow days. OS days are Outside School Environment days which are required by the state. These days are typically used for employee training sessions.
While it might not be popular to take away vacation time that employees and students have been used to, Beam said it is out of concern for the students’ safety.
“We still have to put the safety of the students first,” he said. “No matter what the repercussions are, we don’t want a bus over the hill someplace. I know the weather can come up in a heartbeat and you don’t even see it coming.”
The board office is looking into alternatives to snow days to keep missed days at a minimum, including snow routes for buses on bad days.
“We are kicking around that idea,” he said. “If you do snow routes, every driver has to have a snow route and in some cases, that’s really difficult to do. We still have the option of doing two-hour delays, too.”
Regardless of the number of snow days missed and possible extension of the school year, graduation will not be affected.
“The law says you have to set your graduation within five instructional days of the end of school,” Beam explained. “Let’s say you set graduation as May 27 and you end up going to June 15. You don’t have to move your graduation date. It stays the same. It won’t be affected in any way.”
The employee votes will be tallied this week and the “winning” calendar will be placed on the agenda for the April 7 board of education meeting for approval.
Once the calendar is approved by the board, Beam said he is willing to have another public meeting to explain the changes made for the 2014-2015 school year.
“I would be more than willing to hold another public meeting with the approved calendar so that I can explain it bit by bit, so everyone knows what the calendar means,” he said. “We’re not required to do that, but I just think that the more communication you do with things like this, the less questions there are later.”
Beam added that the success of the calendar relies on input as well as communication and he hopes parents and employees continue to give input.
“We appreciate the interest that has been out there – the questions and even the complaints – I’d rather get that than apathy,” he said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org