CCS calendar shortens summer

Catawba County Schools (CCS) will have a new calendar next year that will shorten teacher and student summers by nearly two weeks.

Some of the system's teachers say they don’t mind the change and are praising the “early-start” calendar that’s more similar to schedules used in previous years.

The CCS Board of Education unanimously approved a new 185-day calendar this week that will start teachers Aug. 2 and students Aug. 7 for the 2012-13 school year. The last day of student classes will be May 23, 2013.

The school system will start classes nearly two weeks earlier than many districts across the state that begin classes at the end of August, as required by state law. However, CCS qualifies for a special “winter waiver,” which allows the system to start earlier because of its susceptibility to winter weather delays and cancellations.

With the state’s anticipated approval of the waiver, CCS schools will start about two weeks earlier than usual and cut out a significant portion of summer break.

CCS Superintendent Glenn Barger said the shorter summer is one of many options the board and officials discussed prior to approving the calendar.

“It’s a one-summer deal that will be short,” Barger said. “Any time you make a change, you’re going to make that shortened time.”

Barger said despite other lingering issues, the “early-start” schedule will fix some of the problems the state’s calendar creates.

Since being approved in 2011, the state’s mandated schedule has been criticized by school districts statewide. Superintendents and school officials say it creates planning, financial and “frustrating” issues that could have been avoided.

Some of the problems discussed include the following:

n In the “late-start” schedule, students do not complete enough days prior to winter break to take their exams before the Christmas holidays. Instead, they take finals after a two-week winter break from the classroom — almost a week into the “second semester.”

n By starting Aug. 25, teachers are paid significantly less for the first month of work, putting a financial strain on educators working on 10-month payment plans. Many of those educators go most of the summer without a paycheck.

n Switching to a 185-day calendar, the state turned five days that were previously teacher workdays into student days — taking away planning time and costing thousands more in operating costs.

By approving an “early-start” calendar, CCS can avoid at least two of those issues — something area teachers favor.

The new calendar will allow high schoolers to take exams before winter break.

“Demonstrating to me a mastery of a course, it makes more sense to go ahead and have those exams attached to the end of your instruction opposed to having a break for a week and half, coming back for a week, and then taking the exams,” said Andy Blevins, a geometry and AP statistics instructor at Fred T. Foard High School.

Blevins said he thinks CCS' approved calendar is better than a late-start schedule.

“Particularly from being in high school, I think early start is better.

It gives you more flexibility and more planning time and days throughout the school year,” he said.

The new schedule will also allow teachers to be paid for the full month of August, which sounds good to Elizabeth Farris, a fourth-grade teacher at Startown Elementary.

“It’s especially reassuring because my husband is also a teacher,” she said. “That will definitely help with budgeting.”

Farris said the early start will also allow her elementary students to have more time outside.

“Thinking about it starting earlier, it’s kind of nice. August is so sweltering hot, and it’s hard for students to go out and play. It’s nice for the kids,” Farris said.

More days remain, for now
Though the approved CCS calendar will fix exam scheduling and payment issues, it doesn’t address the problems of a 185-day term.

The state now requires all calendars to include 185 instructional days, but state officials are expected to discuss the issue in May.

CCS has also prepared a 180-day calendar if the state decides to revert to its traditional format, but Barger said the start and finish dates will not change.

Teachers hope the state will change to a shorter term, giving teachers back their work days that provide valuable time for planning.

“We are hoping the state will change its stance on the 185-day calendar,” said Rhonda Pawlik, a sixth-grade teacher at Startown Elementary. “I’m already working until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and when you take out the work days, I don’t have the time I need to take to prepare.”

No matter what, everyone will lose two weeks in the summer, including students. Pawlik said her students will have to adjust.

“By the end of July, they are usually ready to go back to school, bored and don’t have stuff to do,” she said. “They like to be with their friends and their social groups. And in the end, they would grumble even if we start on Aug. 25.”