ROCKINGHAM — State Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, filed a bill last week to give local boards of education the authority to control the start and finish of the school year.
If passed, the bill will go into effect for the 2017-2018 school year in school districts of Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly counties.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, traditional public schools must have a “start date no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11 (unless a weather-related calendar waiver has been approved, year-round school, charter school or cooperative innovative high school.) If waiver is approved the start date can be no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 19.”
“This bill is common sense, because our kids start to school too late in the year, which causes them not to be able to take their exams until after the Christmas holidays,” McInnis said. “So they go to school learning all they need to make a good test score, go home for the Christmas holiday break, and come back and take their test, with grades reduced by as much as 3 to 5 percent.”
McInnis, a former member of the Richmond County Board of Education, said the law unnecessarily burdens local school districts with distinct needs.
“It’s a law that was put up to appease the folks in the hospitality industry in Nags Head, the Outer Banks and the mountains,” he explained. “I appreciate those places and what they do and what they have to offer — but I think the children are more important.”
He added that giving local districts more flexibility in planning the yearly calendar would allow them to bring testing preparation closer to test dates, resulting in increased performance.
“Especially for students who are going on to institutions of higher learning where GPA is an important factor,” McInnis said.
Current calendar law mandates all traditional public school calendars must: cover at least nine calendar months, have a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction, and have at least nine teacher workdays. “Local boards shall designate two workdays on which teachers may take accumulated vacation leave. Local boards may designate the remaining workdays as days teachers may take accumulated vacation leave.”
Additionally, calendars must have a minimum of ten annual vacation leave days, have the same or an equivalent number of legal holidays occurring within the school calendar as those designated by the state personnel commission for state employees.
Also, “school shall not be held on Sunday and Veterans Day shall be a holiday for all public school personnel and for all students enrolled in the public schools.”
“There’s an hour adjustment that can be used,” McInnis said regarding the 1,025-hour model as an alternative to the 185 days. “But when you get into the hours, you’re dealing with parents trying to get their children into daycare and you’re messing with peoples’ lives. This bill would give them the flexibility to make a school calendar that best works for Richmond County. Since we have the early-college high school now, it would be an advantage to mirror the community college schedule. It exacerbates the problem further because they are not aligned.”
Anson County Superintendent Michael Freeman supports the bill.
“I definitely think that would be a good idea,” he said. “I’d very much like to have that calendar flexibility. It would be very helpful since we’re trying to get into position, especially at the high school level, to align calendars close to the college and community college level.”
Freeman said that many high school students are dual enrolled and that their schedules don’t always line up with their high school courses, or that students who graduate early in December may have to wait until the following summer or fall to start college if they have to take their high school exams in Christmas.
“I think that in the future, with more opportunities with digital learning, we will have more and more students ready to start college courses sooner,” Freeman said.
“Senator McInnis is very much right,” he added. “We would like to do everything we could to complete the semester before Christmas so that when students go home, they would hopefully have completed all of the end-of-semester exams and not have the challenge of worrying about exams after Christmas break. They could rest up and be ready to begin in January following Christmas, well-rested and excited about learning and ready for the second semester in the year.”
He agreed with McInnis’ concerns about student retention.
“It doesn’t take many days at all for a child’s mind to get focused on another topic, so I do agree that the sooner we do the assessment, the better, as far as assessing information that has been recently taught,” he said. “It would be beneficial to complete it and go straight into exams before having a length break like we typically have in December. After all, that’s the way colleges have been doing it for years, and to me, it would make sense to align ourselves in that way because, for our high school kids, we’re preparing them in many instances for college, certification programs, training and so forth. It would be good to have them in that mode of pacing themselves in a semester the way it really works at levels beyond high school.”
Freeman doesn’t just support McInnis’ bill, but would like to see it taken a step further.
“Even with that, it would be tight trying to get the number of hours and days in,” Freeman said. “It would be very helpful if we could get it passed. Ideally, for me, if we could have flexibility for two weeks back instead of one, it would make it really, really comfortable to do the calendar, in case we have inclement weather that causes us to miss or anything of that nature. It would be fine with me, and with our calendar, would make it even more ideal for us.”
Freeman said he did not anticipate parents or children being upset at the possibility of beginning school earlier, though he said there may be a “mix of reactions.” He felt that high school students who are taking college courses would appreciate the change.
“They could reap the benefits quickly,” Freeman said. “The biggest drawback, perhaps, would be for those who have part-time jobs and employment. They would have to make adjustments, but the top priority for us as the state is to provide an education. I think employers would help with that. Like with anything else in life, we’d adjust. I think the parents would support it and be pleased with anything of that nature.”
Freeman hopes to see the bill passed quickly.
“I hope that the General Assembly will act on it in a timely fashion because we’re working to develop the calendars now for year year,” he said. “And it would be really good to have time to get the calendars set for the 2017-18 school term.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673. Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.