NCCS parents push for family time

Candy Hess and Leah Martin, both of Conover, say their families enjoy trips and activities while their children are on summer break from school.

Those families and thousands of others in Catawba County school systems can expect less time for those activities this summer.

The Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) Board of Education set a calendar this week that will send teachers to the classroom Aug. 2 and students Aug. 7 for the 2012-13 school year. The last day of school for students will be May 23. Earlier this month, Catawba County Schools (CCS) set a calendar with the same start and end dates.

The 2011-12 school year ends June 8 for students in both systems, meaning families will have about eight weeks of summer vacation.

"We believe a strong family means a strong student," Hess said, "and how can we have a strong family without quality time?"

Martin said a calendar that sends children back to school in late August has been positive for her family.

"If you went back to an earlier calendar to get in exams before the holiday, maybe get rid of fall break and go back the second week of August," Martin said.

Hess and Martin both spoke to the NCCS school board Monday night before it approved 180- and 185-day calendars for the 2012-13 school year.

Neither woman stayed to hear the board's 5-1 vote in favor of the early-August start to the school year.

Board member Kim Cline cast the dissenting vote.

"I have heard the pros and cons, and I agree with the pros," Cline said. "But my biggest concerns are two things. I think people need a year notice. They need to be told now for next year. ...And with the new middle school, we're going to need every minute we've got to move in and be ready."

Cline said many families have voiced concerns to her that they have summer plans that will be difficult to change.

"If we do this right now, there's time to make adjustments, and we've all got to make adjustments," said board member Jim Stockner, who made a motion to approve the calendar. Board member Kyle Drum seconded the motion.

Like Cline, board member Jeanne Jarrett said she was concerned about a shorter summer providing enough time to move into the new middle school.

Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said he doesn't think time will be an issue for the new school, which is on schedule to be completed in April.

"The law says you have to have 42 days between the last day of one school year and the first day of the next school year," said Sylvia White, NCCS director of personnel. "And we come well within that."

Hickory Public Schools (HPS) Board of Education also approved a calendar Monday night that will return teachers to the classroom Aug. 2 and students Aug. 7, according to information from Beverly Snowden, the system's public information officer. All three systems in Catawba County expect to start and end school on the same days.

Like CCS, NCCS leaders approved 180- and 185-day calendars as systems await final approval from the state school board.

In June 2011, the N.C. General Assembly approved the addition of five days to the school year. For the 2011-12 school year, the state Department of Public Instruction granted waivers to all 115 school systems to use the extra days for teacher training.

CCS, NCCS and HPS are now seeking a weather waiver that will allow the systems to start school in early August, have exams before the holiday semester break and end school in late May. Waiver qualifications are based on how many days school systems have been closed or delayed due to weather in recent school years.

"Arguments for the waiver don't hold water, in my opinion," said Hess. "Are we teaching our kids if you are smart enough and clever enough, the law will not apply to you?"

In her comments to the school board, Hess said a law state legislators approved in 2004 to require a later start to the school year has allowed more summer vacation time for families.

During discussion before a vote on the calendar, board Chairman Scott Loudermelt said he disagrees.

"This was not a law to protect family time," Loudermelt said. "This was a law pushed by the tourism industry to conserve more time in summer to be able to hire high school students."