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Warren County school board weighs in on next year's calendar

By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL -- After looking over results of a survey on changes to the 2013-2014 school year calendar, members of the Warren County school board discussed ways to try and make the most people happy during a Thursday night work session.

The surveys were given to both parents and staff members in the district, and asked about different parts of the school calendar, like starting and ending dates, lengths of breaks and professional development days.

Superintendent Pamela McInnis reminded board members that their original reasoning behind the survey was to gather input from those affected by the calendar, but also in hopes of creating a standard template that could be used from year to year.

"Of course, we need to make any changes in the best interest of the students and their academic progress," she said.

Board member Joanne Cherefko quickly pointed out that since they took a survey, it meant as a board they needed to take all the results into consideration.

Starting with the beginning of the school year, it was clear from both parent and teacher responses that the earliest anyone wants school to start is one week before Labor Day. Additionally, comments suggested that the first week of school only be a three day week.

Board members Kimberly Athey suggested starting after Labor Day, but Cherefko said the problem with a later start date was that parents want the school year to end sooner, and teachers want more time with their students before SOL testing.

Hoping to honor the majority of survey results, the board decided that starting the Wednesday before Labor Day would be the best compromise.

Teachers commented that they'd like the first semester of the school year to end before winter break, but board members deemed that "impossible."

"They did that over in Rappahannock County, but they also had to start school the second week of August," said board member James Wells.

A large discussion started over professional development days and how many were necessary through the course of a year. During the 2012-2013 school year, 14 professional development days were scheduled, with roughly half of them being district-run days, and the other half being school-run days.

Athey suggested creating a calendar with 10 professional development days -- the minimum requirement.

"I will always argue for more," said assistant superintendent for instruction Gregory Drescher. "I know what the survey says, but professional development is a big deal. It needs to happen, it just does."

Drescher added that it's important to hold the days during the school year, as different needs and issues come up, and teachers are more affected by the things they learn.

Twice in the current school year, back to back professional development days were scheduled -- something that some teachers didn't find necessary. McInnis said that is when some give and take comes in, because secondary teachers might not need it, but maybe elementary teachers do, or visa-versa.

Wells suggested making the Wednesday before Thanksgiving a full day off. Athey also said that she wanted to do her best to honor the repeated request for a full week off for spring break. Cherefko said she wanted to keep the number of professional days at 14, at least.

Drescher did some quick math, and estimated that the next school year wouldn't end until June 24 if they had a week off for spring break, and made a few other changes.

In the end, the school board asked Drescher to create several calendars with a variety of scenarios -- changing spring break, mixing up the professional development days and not building five inclement weather days into the calendar, among others.

"We have to be creative, that's for sure," Drescher said.

Board members should receive the draft calendars sometime next week, and will try to come up with a proposal at their 7 p.m. Jan. 10 meeting.


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