School year gets longer — for teachers

The N.C, General Assembly added five more instructional days to the 2011-12 school calendar, but that doesn't mean Catawba County's students will face any extra time in the classroom.

Instead, the county's teachers will.

After the state's legislature approved additional instructional days during this year's session, Catawba County's three school systems asked the state's department of public instruction for permission to omit those days from students' class calendar. Instead, Newton-Conover, Catawba and Hickory Public school systems — like most throughout the state sought to use the time as instruction workdays for teachers.

Last month, those requests were approved.

"We want to utilize that time as five additional training days," Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Redmond said, adding the change does not extend teachers' employment term of 215 days. "In the past there were protected work days, and principals could not direct work on those days."

Since those protected work days came at the end of a nine-week period, teachers often used the time for grading coursework, he said.

"They could use that time however they needed," said Catawba County Schools Assisted Superintendent Pat Hensley. "Now those days are not protected anymore. These are five mandated work days ... for us to provide training for Core Curriculum and Essential Standards."

Redmond said the training is related to new national standards that dictate curriculum for math, reading and other subject matter, such as social studies and language arts.

"All subject teachers will be expected to go through staff development," Redmond said. "We are taking this as an opportunity to do additional training which is very much needed as we are moving into a whole new set of standards for curriculum."

In both NCCS and CCS systems, teams of administrators, principals and teachers are working to create training sessions for this new mandated instructional time both Redmond and Hensley said.

While these five days will be required instructional time for teachers, the school systems calendars didn't change otherwise.

"We have to start school on or after Aug. 25 and finish on or before June 10," Redmond said. "While the calendar changed in terms of 185 days (rather than 180) they did not relax the standards of stopping and starting. We still have to get it all done within the window of Aug. 25-June 10."

That didn't leave a lot of time for career development for teachers, he said, especially since the state mandates 42 days between the end of one school year and the start of another.

The school systems calendars still include some protected work days, including two mandated days teachers are allowed to use as annual leave, Hensley said.

"The difference is, teachers will have five less work days at their discretion," Redmond said.

An added wrinkle in the calendar equation could come during the winter months, when school cancellations can't be predicted by school administrators or the General Assembly.

"The thing that scares me about the calendar is the weather," Hensley said, adding there were initial indications that the legislature may give a little relief to school systems in terms of inclement weather days. "There was no movement on that at all, and now (the calendar) is even tighter. The school year is still divided into semesters and on top of that, with this requirement, if we have one of those winters, I'm not sure how we will do it. I guess we could be in school every Saturday."