Wake Ed

Wake County schools defend Saturday makeup days

Instructional benefit and protecting spring break were the driving forces, Wake County school administrators said Tuesday, for having students make up last week’s three snow days with classes on Good Friday, a Saturday in April and a Saturday in May.

School administrators were effusive in their praise of the benefits of having makeup days on two Saturdays and on Good Friday. In contrast, administrators poked holes into the other options of extending the school year, adding time to the school day and cutting into spring break.

“We’ve lost a ton of instructional hours,” Superintendent Jim Merrill told school board members. “When can we get them back for the greatest return?”

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said that having the makeup days in April and May would “provide focused time” for students before the end of school year tests, including state exams and Advanced Placement exams. She also said that holding the makeup days to April and May would give families more time to prepare for them. The specific Saturdays that will be used could be announced as soon as Wednesday.

Merrill said people who’ve taught on Saturdays can attest to their educational benefit. Unlike the half days that year-round schools have used, these two Saturdays will be full days with all students following the normal weekday bell schedule.

“You can get a real good focus for a full day on a Saturday,” Merrill said. “There’s a mental commitment. ‘I’m going to school today.’”

Adding 20 minutes to the school day would make up the missing time. In that option, Moore said schools would begin 10 minutes earlier and dismiss 10 minutes later. But she said that would have limited educational benefit.

“It’s not the same as having a full day of instruction to replace a full day of instruction,” Moore said.

Some parents have questioned why Wake isn’t tapping into already scheduled teacher workdays on March 23, June 9-11 as makeup days.

But Moore said that extending the school year to June 11 would mean adding time after all the state testing has completed and many high schools have held graduations.

“It’s problematic to try to continue instruction after you’ve done your year-end assessments,” Moore said.

Moore said the district is also sensitive to how teachers said it was a hardship to lose the workdays set aside for closing out the year because the district converted them to makeup days.

As for the March 23 workday, that would mean cutting into the first day of spring break for traditional-calendar schools.

“We’re sort of backing into a norm here of protecting spring break,” Merrill said. “And maybe in the future we just add that as a Wake County practice. And if it is, then we’re boxing ourselves in.”

While school board members weren’t thrilled with the options, they agreed to back staff’s recommendation.

“Whatever days we choose, we run the risk of high absenteeism,” school board vice chairman Tom Benton said. “But at least if students and parents understand up front that a Saturday is designed to be a test prep day, they can make realistic decisions about the value of that day.”