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Schools support calendar flexibility

Schools support calendar flexibility

School boards across Western North Carolina are signing resolutions in support of flexibility and local control when it comes to school calendars. While this has been an issue for North Carolina public schools for many years, it is gaining traction again with new legislation introduced in the state senate.

“Local school boards are better equipped to understand the balancing act of meeting the community’s needs and maximizing student success,” reads one such resolution from Jackson County Schools. “Restoring local control of school calendars will allow the Jackson County Board of Education to meet the calendar preferences of Jackson County’s families, educators and businesses in our community while allowing for innovative experimental approaches to improve student achievement.”

North Carolina General Statute requires public K-12 schools to abide by a strict academic calendar laid out in legislation from 2004 and 2012. Schools must be in session for a minimum of 185 days, or 1,205 hours of instruction. They may start the year no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and finish the year no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Neither charter schools nor private schools are required to follow the school calendar law. While school districts can obtain calendar waivers depending on how many days have been missed due to inclement weather over the past 10 years, these waivers are getting harder to obtain due to milder winters. 

In December of last year, the North Carolina House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future issued its finding that the current school calendar law is not best suited to the needs of students and educators and that local boards of education should be given greater calendar flexibility. The committee recommended the General Assembly take action and change the school calendar law. 

Haywood, Jackson and Swain school boards have signed resolutions in support of school calendar flexibility. Other LEAs in the state have ignored the state-mandated calendar altogether and implemented start and end dates that suited their needs for the 2023-2024 school year. 

“This is a common conversation that comes up to our general assembly every single year, that we struggle when the folks in Raleigh make mandates for us when all districts are very unique,” said Jackson County Schools Superintendent Dana Ayers. “Once the resolution is signed, if you all choose to sign it, is we share it with our community, our county commissioners and our legislators. Hopefully it will prompt them to give us a little more calendar flexibility than we already have.”

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There are several reasons that public schools might need calendar flexibility. Chief among them is compatibility with local community colleges. Even with a weather waiver to begin school a few days early, k-12 public schools can rarely start the year as early as community colleges. 

“Our calendar here in Jackson County Public Schools, even with the weather waiver, that allows us to start school five days earlier, our calendar has traditionally because of law made us start school after Southwestern Community College begins classes,” said Ayers. “So all of our students who participate in CCP classes or all of our early college students, they are either missing school at SCC the entire first week because we don’t provide transportation, or they’re finding their own way to get there.”

Swain County Superintendent Mark Sale also cited compatibility with community college calendars as a primary reason for the need for calendar flexibility. Whenever Swain County Schools are forced to start late in August, he said, which pushes the end of the first semester to the middle of January, that throws the schools system out of sync with community colleges. 

“We have an extreme number of students right now at the high school who are taking dual enrollment classes like that,” said Sale. We really need some relief from that. If we could just have a week before the 21t or something along those lines, we could move our exams back before Christmas and have solid semesters on both ends.”

Finishing the fall semester prior to Christmas break is another priority for public schools looking for calendar flexibility. As it stands now, most schools must schedule exams for fall semester classes in January, after a prolonged break from school. Evidence suggests this has a negative effect on academic success. If school systems had the flexibility to start the school year earlier, they would be able to administer end of course tests prior to Christmas break.  

“It is well-documented through multiple studies that children will experience a phenomenon known as learning loss during breaks, which has a disproportionate impact on low-income children,” the resolution signed by the Jackson County School Board reads.  

Another issue particular to public high schools is that of Advanced Placement course testing. Advanced placement classes are given on the same day nationwide and the current calendar law restricts the amount of time students have to learn the material and prepare before the exam. 

Scheduling within the mandated calendar presents several challenges. Fall sports and band program schedules have not changed to coincide with the restricted academic calendar and often have events that occur before school begins. 

According to Jackson County Schools administration, with little flexibility built into the calendar, scheduling workdays and professional development during the school year for faculty and staff is almost impossible during fall semester and remains challenging in the spring semester despite the significant increase in areas which faculty and staff are required by law to receive training.  

Several of these resolutions note that allowing the school system to start earlier in August will not impact the overall length of the summer break as the school year will also end earlier. 

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1 comment

  • Board of Education to meet the calendar preferences of Jackson County’s families, educators and businesses in our community while allowing for innovative experimental approaches to improve student achievement.”

    I would like to know more about this last sentence above: what do experimental approaches cover? Is the school considering four-day weeks or year-round class schedules? More information, please.

    posted by Shirley Parker

    Monday, 03/13/2023

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