02/03/04 — Too soon to school

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Too soon to school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 3, 2004 2:03 PM

Saying that the school calendar is "beginning to get out of whack," school board Vice Chairman Lehman Smith set off similar comments from fellow board members on Monday night.

The board approved the proposed 2003-2004 school calendar submitted by Gerald Whitley, assistant superintendent, but not before weighing in on why they thought it should be changed.

Smith argued that students start the school year during the hottest months of the year, which likely costs the school system between 10 and 20 percent more to operate because of necessary air conditioning.

"The state mandates this, though," said board member Thelma Smith. "I don't know where you can put those 200 days and satisfy everybody."

Smith said his criticism was with the system, not the proposed calendar. He said part of the problem has been the inability to start school after Labor Day.

Board member George Moye agreed it would be nice to return to the days when school started after Labor Day and got out at the end of May.

"But state law precludes us from doing that," he said.

Board member John Grantham blamed some of the problem on block scheduling used in the high schools. Instead of taking the same classes for an entire year, the year is divided into two semesters under block scheduling, similar to a college schedule. Students have fewer classes during the day, but they are longer in length.

"I think it's making a mess of our whole situation," he said. He said that having 90 minutes of class does not necessarily offer enough "contact time" with teachers as students' attention span is not always long enough. As a result, teachers often incorporate a study hall into the period, making for even less contact time.

Whitley said the state mandate limits flexibility in planning a school calendar.

"One of the biggest problems is when you have two semesters, 90 days each, you have got to keep them equal," he said. He said the state requires a 45-day grading period and the 180 school days are divided into two semesters. Plus, he said, the first semester must be finished by Christmas.

Board Chairman Pete Gurley said the state's guidelines "have made it an impossible task."