Schools to Seek Waiver on Adding Extra Days
The Moore County Board of Education hopes to obtain a waiver exempting the school system from additional school days mandated by the state this year.
During its meeting Monday, the board voted 5-2 to direct Superintendent Susan Purser to request a waiver on adding five additional instructional days to the school year.
Board Chairwoman Laura Lang and board member Ed Dennison cast the dissenting votes. Board member Kathy Farren was not present at the meeting.
Last June, the N.C. General Assembly added five additional instructional days to the school year with approval of its budget, using five teacher work days previously set aside throughout the year instead of adding days on at the beginning or end of the year.
By that time, the school board had approved a calendar for 2011-2012, but it went back and revised the calendar to include the five additional days after the measure passed.
In August, the State Board of Education requested a waiver of those extra days for the 2011-2012 year to ensure that school systems could provide enough teacher workdays for professional development that will help educators fully prepare to implement the state's new curriculum next year.
At the time, the Moore County board chose not to seek the waiver because it would only put off the inevitable five days the system would have to implement in the 2012-2013 year.
Next year, all school systems will have to incorporate 185 student days and 1,025 instructional hours into the school year between Aug. 25 and June 10.
State Superintendent June Atkinson has the authority to grant waivers provided that school systems submit a plan outlining how those days would be used to offer professional development, not unencumbered workdays.
According to the N.C. Department of Instruction’s website, more than 100 school systems in the state had applied and received waivers as of Aug. 26. Almost all of them cited preparation for implementing the N.C. Essential Standards and the national common core curriculum as the reason for applying.
“We had already identified that the work around the [new] curriculum was the focal point of all the professional development we had to make sure we had in place this year,” Purser said as she told the board about a previous discussion with Atkinson about the waiver. “That was already in our plan for this year.”
Monday and Tuesday marked the first two of the five days added to the calendar. Monday, which was originally a workday, was a full student day, and Tuesday, a day set aside for parent-teacher conferences, was an early release day.
Board member Lorna Clack supported pursuing a waiver, calling the current situation almost a “crisis crunch” that the board needs to deal with.
“I honestly think at the time that we did what we felt was right,” she said. “Since then, I really have heard from many people who just need some time in their classroom. I don’t know what we’ll do if the waiver is done, but with a lot of careful thought and input from Dr. Purser and others, I believe we can create a better second semester than we have now for our teachers and faculty.”
“My real problem is that a few months ago, we asked the superintendent to do this,” Dennison said during board discussion. “And now, we’re changing that and asking her to do something else without her recommendation.”
Lang said she opposed the measure because the board was acting without taking time to talk to families who will be directly impacted by the change in the school calendar.
“I know the teachers have a rough year, and I know it’s been a bad one, but we have 12,500 students with all their parents,” she said. “If we go changing their calendar at this stage in the game with absolutely no parent input in that process, it worries me to the extent that we get all the time, ‘You didn’t communicate this, then you changed it again.’”
Both said after the vote that they will support the waiver, but they disagreed with the procedure used to pursue it.
During the public comment period, four speakers, including three students from Pinecrest High School, asked the board to consider the waiver.
Debbie Kelly, the local president of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), asked that the board make sure that teachers can take the time to adequately prepare for classroom instruction.
She said that though early-release days help the system address the five-day mandate and help the system set aside time for professional development, the days are often unproductive because teachers are rushing to get both done.
“It’s a half effort of teaching, and it’s a half effort of trying to provide professional development,” she said. “If it were only that we had early release days added to our teachers, it wouldn’t be that bad, but it’s one of many things that has been added over the past four years since we’ve had this immense budget crisis. It’s causing our teachers angst and frustration.”
Kelly argued that though a permanent calendar is nice, changes would not be so drastic, since the school system already faces changes each year with inclement weather and makeup days.
Pinecrest senior Doug Harrison said the General Assembly’s logic that five additional instructional days would improve test scores and make better use of teacher time is faulty, and the resulting measures only burden teachers.
“Class time is neither correlated to, nor causes better test scores,” he said. “Hoping that some students might miraculously have a change of heart and pay attention in class because they have five additional days of school is wishful thinking to say the least.”
Harrison added that the early release days created as a result are not useful.
“The students just laugh them off,” he said. “And for the students that do attend, classes are often cut in half, reducing learning time.”
Alex Snyder, a sophomore at Pinecrest, told the board that he, like so many of his classmates, is a “busy guy,” who often finds stress from the pressure to perform well academically and to be well-rounded students.
Snyder said these extra days could be better used to give students a break, but more importantly to give teachers a chance to recharge.
“We students, we’re tired, but it’s nothing compared to how tired teachers can get,” he said. “They work seven hours a day during the week, as well as on weekends and after school. Some of them even help us in after-school activities, so it’s needless to say that they’re all very stressed.”
Snyder told the board that his AP environmental science teacher was about to embark on her first “all-nighter” Monday evening to grade tests for his class.
“Perhaps if she had an extra day, she could grade these tests, and she wouldn’t have to stay up all night,” he said.
After the board’s vote, Purser said she would expedite the process to apply for the waiver.
The board plans to vote on a revised calendar during a work session this morning.
Contact Hannah Sharpe at email@example.com.
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