Residents implore board to keep date

WOODSTOCK — At its meeting Thursday night, the Shenandoah County School Board considered starting the next school year a week earlier, and the community showed up in force to oppose the idea.

Most opponents voiced concerns over beginning the school year before the Shenandoah County Fair ends. Traditionally held during the final week of August, the fair runs through the weekend of Labor Day.

Kicking off a public comment session was ninth grade Strasburg High School student Tiffany Heishman, who pointed out that agriculture programs help keep county students in educational activities like the National FFA Organization, and off the streets.

Brooke and John Whetzel stood behind 9-year-old Kennedy Whetzel, who spoke about her plans to show pigs, calves and lambs this August during her second year as a member of 4-H.

“I do not want school to start during the fair,” Kennedy said.

Not only would it mean choosing between the first day of school and a day of showing animals she’s raised herself, it also would mean possibly foregoing the practice she started last year during the fair of discussing 4-H plans with area business owners.

It’s a “grave mistake,” her father told the board. For students in the National FFA Organization or 4-H, who each year spend many months raising animals or preparing other projects, “the fair is their Super Bowl.”

But the fair isn’t only for agriculture students, said Tim French, who planned on listening to others’ comments but later felt compelled to voice his own thoughts. It’s a team effort that’s equally important to those who come to be entertained.

“It would be like having a [high school] football game without a band,” he said.

He said exempting some students from the first few days of school while expecting the rest to show up would result in a fair without patrons — a hit to the county’s tourism as well.

“This is our community, and it’s a very important part of our community,” said French.

Ultimately, Superintendent Jeremy Raley proposed a calendar that would have schools open the Wednesday before Labor Day, which this year is the first Wednesday of September. New teacher training will begin on Aug. 18.

“Right now we have about six hours with our teachers before we put them in the classroom,” he said.

His proposal would give them four days of training instead.

The calendar marks a final day of school on June 10, allowing for brief vacation days during the school year, but only two days off at Easter instead of a full week for spring break.

The board, which earlier in the evening elected Richard Koontz Jr. to another term as chair and Karen Whetzel to continue as vice chair, agreed to consider the calendar but asked that Raley devise a second option that would allow classes to begin after Labor Day.

A later fall start date will mean a later spring end date, Raley said. But as Koontz pointed out, when talking about a required 180 academic days, “What is the difference between starting three days earlier or going three days later?”

The board will consider the two calendar options at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 19, following a 5:30 p.m. presentation of a funding request for the school’s budget.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com