Wake Ed

Wake County considers 2018 Thanksgiving week school schedule

Nine year old Xavier Thompson sports a holiday hat as he waits in line for a traditional Thanksgiving meal at Mt. Vernon Middle School on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Wake County school leaders are considering whether to dismiss students early on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving or on a Friday in September as part of the 2018-19 school calendar.
Nine year old Xavier Thompson sports a holiday hat as he waits in line for a traditional Thanksgiving meal at Mt. Vernon Middle School on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. Wake County school leaders are considering whether to dismiss students early on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving or on a Friday in September as part of the 2018-19 school calendar. rwillett@newsobserver.com

The 2018-19 Wake County school year could see a super-short Thanksgiving school week, an unconventional interpretation of the calendar law to end classes later and the end of using early release days as weather makeup days.

The Wake County school system is working on 2018-19 calendars for traditional, year-round and modified-calendar schools. Among the issues to be resolved is whether to end school on Thanksgiving week with a half day on Tuesday, have traditional-calendar schools run to June 11 and still use early release days as makeup days.

On Tuesday, the school board reviewed the latest draft 2018-19 school calendars that were developed by the calendar committee, a group of school employees, parents and community members. Thanksgiving week, the school calendar law’s definition of the end of the school year and the role of early release days took up much of the conversation.

Thanksgiving week classes

Wake County school leaders are weighing whether to have a districtwide early release day on Sept. 7, 2018 or Nov. 20, 2018 – the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Students are sent home 2.5 hours early on early release days so that teachers can use the time for training.

The draft 2018-19 calendars have all schools closed for students and staff on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week.

An early release on Tuesday would mean all Wake schools have 1.5 days of classes on Thanksgiving week. The possibility of a very short week of classes right before Thanksgiving has both its supporters and opponents.

“That looks to me like a recipe to just take the whole week of Thanksgiving off,” said school board member Jim Martin.

Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said that the suggestion of having Nov. 20 as an early release day came from the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council.

Moore said that the recommendation was made because Thanksgiving week is already a short week and some people would welcome an early release on Tuesday. But she said some people say the Tuesday early release disincentives attending school at all.

But Moore also said that there’s negative feedback on having two early release days in September, including one on Sept. 7 within the first 10 days of classes for traditional schools. The calendar committee is recommending an early release day on Sept. 28, 2018 regardless of whether another is scheduled for Sept. 7 or Nov. 20.

New school board member Kathy Hartenstine said teachers would really support having the early release day on Nov. 20 instead of Sept. 7. Hartentstine, a retired Wake principal, said teachers can do a lot of planning ahead of that Thanksgiving Tuesday half day.

Martin remained skeptical, saying “nobody is going to be there on Monday” with only 1.5 days of classes scheduled for Thanksgiving week.

Hartenstine countered that there will be a lot of kids in school because working parents usually don’t take all of Thanksgiving week off.

Hartenstine added that teachers won’t be burned out taking the professional development that Tuesday afternoon knowing they’ll have the rest of the week off.

School calendar law interpretation

The first four drafts of the 2018-19 calendar for traditional schools has the last day of class on Friday, June 7, 2019. That’s due to the state’s school calendar law saying that traditional-calendar schools must end no later than the Friday closest to June 11.

Wake County school leaders have complained that the calendar law, which also sets when the first day of school can be, limits their flexibility in creating calendars. School officials complained earlier this month that the calendar law is limiting how many teacher workdays can be included between the first and last day of classes.

Workdays are used so that teachers can get caught up on their paperwork, such as entering student grades at the end of each quarter. Workdays can also be used as weather makeup days.

But on Tuesday, Moore said school administrators took another look at the wording in the school calendar law. She said that if you count the weekend days of June 8-9 then the Friday closest to June 11 would be June 14.

As a result, staff produced two additional draft 2018-19 calendars that extend the end of the school year for traditional schools to June 11. The extension of the school year past June 7 allowed staff to add two more teacher workdays between the first and last day of classes.

Martin, the board member, said he could see people complain if staff had recommended running the school year to June 14. But he said it’s going to be hard to argue with going to June 11.

Jonathan Blunberg, the school board’s attorney, added “he’s comfortable” with staff’s interpretation to go to June 11.

“If it doesn’t say you can’t count the weekends, I don’t see it says where you can’t count the weekends,” Blumberg said of the calendar law.

Board members embraced the idea of adding more workdays during the instructional year. Martin suggested moving one of the newly inserted February workdays to March in case more weather makeup days are needed due to late snow storms.

Early release as makeup days

For the past several years, Wake has paired specific early release days to use as weather makeup days. It takes converting two early release days to full days to replace one snow day.

Moore told school board members on Tuesday that the use of early release days as makeup days can cause problems.

If an early release day is turned into a makeup day, it has to be a full day of classes for everyone due to Wake’s multi-tier transportation system where buses serve multiple schools. This means some students have a full day of classes when they don’t need to replace the lost time, such as year-round students who were tracked out or who would make it up on a Saturday.

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner said it was a great idea pairing up early release days for use as makeup days, but it may not be as functional as the district thought. With teachers already potentially losing workdays as makeup days, Kushner said losing early release days too takes away predictability in planning for teachers.

Martin asked about the idea of combining one early release day with some of the banked instructional time that Wake has to replace each snow day. Every Wake school has enough school hours above the state minimum of 1,025 hours of instruction each year to be able to skip making up as many as three school days.

Wake puts the banked instructional hours near the bottom of the makeup options. Moore said this gives Wake maximum flexibility for dealing with inclement weather.

Moore said that if they continue to use early release days as makeup days she’d suggest changing the wording to say that it would be the next two on the schedule.

Board members were split though on whether to continue using the early release days as makeup days.

“The object of early release is supporting teachers,” said school board member Bill Fletcher, who suggested putting them lower on the list of makeup options.

But Superintendent Jim Merrill said you’ve got teachers who say they’d rather see early release days used instead of workdays to make up for snow days.

Hartenstine echoed Merrill, saying teachers can get more than double the amount of work done on a workday than an early release day.

Tuesday’s discussion ended with the board telling the calendar committee to come up with more draft 2018-19 traditional calendars that extend the school year to June 11. The committee will also come up with recommendations on whether to have an early release day on Thanksgiving Tuesday and whether to continue using early release days as makeup days.

After public feedback, the school board will eventually adopt 2018-19 calendars.

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