It’s back to the drawing board for the Liberty County School System’s 2017-18 school calendar.
A rough draft of the student calendar was presented at the board’s work session Jan. 24, which brought up questions concerning long weekends in the semester and scheduling high school graduations over Memorial Day weekend. Board members did not discuss the start of classes.
Susan Avant, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, presented the draft, which included the 180 days required for students, ending the first semester at the winter break and graduation in May.
When the student days are approved, Avant said, the days for staff conferences, teacher pre-planning and post-planning are filled in.
She said the draft was reviewed by central office staff, principals and teachers, and the calendar accounted for sports seasons, spring break and testing.
Board member Dr. Yvette Keel asked, "Why all the long weekends? Particularly a long weekend two weeks before a six-day, plus two-weekend spring break and four-day weekend two weeks before we get out for the summer. I just don’t see the need. I don’t see the need for all these breaks throughout the school year."
Avant said the calendar committee tries to incorporate teacher workdays between each nine weeks, for teachers to complete
grades and prepare report cards, and normally attaches an extra day if possible.
Keel said she has been told for years that graduation is held on Memorial Day weekend because representatives on Fort Stewart requested that time.
"They said they’ve never asked for that request. I’ve also been told that we do the four-day weekends because the military asked for us to have the same weekends that they have for training holidays, the military said they’ve never asked for that," Keel said. "But what they have said that they asked for is us to start later in the school year because they have people moving from all over the world, and some of these school systems are getting out as late as the third and fourth week of June. So they have basically four weeks to make a move, try to have a vacation, get their children registered and try to get their children to school Aug. 1."
The Chickamauga City School System in Georgia started school Aug. 24 and will be getting out May 26, Keel said, and wondered why our schools could not do the same to give more time to families who move.
Members also discussed if the high schools having different class schedules is the reason the first semester ends at the winter break.
Bradwell Institute has a traditional schedule of seven classes per day and Liberty County High School is on block scheduling with four classes a day. LCSS Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said traditionally schools and colleges end their semester at the Christmas break.
Lee pointed out that every two years, Fort Stewart gets a new garrison commander, who may have different ideas about school systems.
"Like you (Dr. Keel) I asked why we were having the graduation over Memorial Day break. Personally I would rather not, but it was shared with me by (a Fort Stewart colonel) that it does in fact work for the military. Now we have a new garrison commander and general so the thought processes might be different. I think it would be good to get someone from Fort Stewart to let us know through writing or through (garrison commander) Col. (Townley) Hedrick," Lee said.
Lee said she and Dr. Samantha Ingram, former superintendent for the Fort Stewart district, have in the past reviewed the school calendar together, but that she has not done that yet with the new superintendent, Kathleen Reiss.
Avant said the calendar committee, which includes 15 teachers, representing each school, worked with the understanding that the school year had to end the Friday before Memorial Day, which is why there are long weekends.
Board member Carol Guyett said the rough draft shows teachers working into June and going back to work in July.
"When I look at the fact that if we didn’t have to build in all these days to make us graduate (over Memorial Day weekend) teachers could be out of school, finished training and enjoy most to two months of vacation," Guyett said. "Having said that, that was a major complaint from people, ‘We’re having to go back in July.’ If Fort Stewart doesn’t care about Memorial Day, I would like to poll our teachers."
Lee said she wants to talk with someone from Fort Stewart about the calendar and agreed with Guyett about not liking teachers coming back in July.
"So we’ll just go back to the drawing pages, keep the same committee and get someone from Fort Stewart and cast a wider net to include discussion of graduation and moving," Lee said.
They then discussed at length the best way to get teacher input, whether through a survey, committee members getting a consensus of teachers at a faculty meetings, open-ended questions or closed-ended questions.
The board seemed to favor having committee members talk with teachers and staff at their schools.