But changes on way for 2018-2019
For those Wilson County School system parents who love their usual fall and spring breaks, it's smooth sailing next calendar year. But there are changes afoot with a possible reshuffle of the break schedule come the 2018-2019 school year.
The school calendar was front and center Monday night at the school board meeting with a vote scheduled to approve not one, but two school calendars. After a detailed presentation by Deputy Director of Academics Monty Wilson, the augmented, now seven-member school board voted unanimously to retain the usual one-week spring break (March 12-16), and two successive weeks winter break (Oct. 2-13) next calendar year 2017-2018.
However, there's a change for year 2018-19, with plans to keep the one-week spring break (March 11-15), but split the usual successive two-week fall break into October (8th -12th) and November (19th - 23rd). Essentially, this adds two days to the usually-scheduled three-day Thanksgiving break. The only dissenting vote against was from Zone 1's Wayne McNeese.
But the caveat with the 2018-2019 calendar is a survey the system will send to parents Fall 2017 to take a pulse on their opinion about the break schedule change.
And if posts on social media about the vote portend survey results, the majority of the comments from some the 11,000-plus people reached on The Wilson Post's Facebook page about this issue seem to favor a two-week successive break in October.
Some comments include, "Oh, thank goodness!! I love the 2 week fall break," "Yay for 2017-18 but my vote is same for 2018-19." A minority of the posts were not so thrilled, such as "Just like the school system could care less about those of us who work all year for a living. 1 week in October and 1 week in November absurd. Oh and don't forget there is already almost a full week off in November for Thanksgiving so you will actually only get 1.5 days off in lieu of the 5 days in October."
"(Director of Schools ) Dr. Donna Wright wants a survey of parents," Wilson said. "It will be unbiased and clear."
This 2018-2019 school calendar is a "place holder," Wright said, meaning it could be changed at some point.
"It's not simple, it's complex," Wright said. "We've agonized over this. It's not easy, there's never complete agreement. I think it's a good recommendation. Some people are fearful of change."
18-member committee recommends calendars
Wilson presented a lengthy, in-depth report to school board members, making the case for approval of the two academic year calendars, also supported by Wright.
He explained there was a cross-section of committee members involved in the quest to present two academic year calendars for approval. On the committee were parents, supervisors, school board representation, teachers, and Lebanon Special School District representation.
"There are three steps to getting the calendar approved," Wilson said. "The calendar committee meets, board members approve, and then it's sent to the state to meet certain guidelines. It's like a chess game."
The committee met several times, rescheduling one meeting until after the August election.
"There was quite a bit of discussion," Wilson said. "It's a job with not a lot of praise or pats on the back."
The committee broke the "workshops" down to state requirements, non-negotiable and discussion. The state requires 180 days of classroom instruction, said Wilson. There are five days of in-service, one day for parent teacher conferences and other special days. Eleven days are built in for inclement weather as well.
Days off for both teachers and students are Labor Day, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day and Good Friday. Schools will be closed on Election Day. There will be 10 workdays off for teachers during the winter break. The school year will end prior to Memorial Day. There will also be a balanced number of days each semester.
While the committee took an initial vote earlier this year, that vote was tabled when it was decided to wait until after the August election.
"The initial votes were never unanimous," Wilson noted.
For the discussion aspect of the committee meetings, the elimination of prior intersession time was a topic. Teachers were paid to teach "catch-up" remediation for certain students during a scheduled week break, however, the state cut those funds and the system stopped the official remediation intersession time. However, Wilson said things were changed so students who needed extra help now "have real time remediation during the school day."
Splitting Fall Break into October/November
Wilson presented committee concerns about a successive two-week break.
"It's a lot of time off for students," he said, noting loss of instructional time.
He added there's no need to have a week off for remediation since it happens daily now. Also block scheduling compounds the problem of a two-week break.
"There's an impact on athletes, also," he said. "For the two week fall break, band and sports don't get it off."
He said it's "hard to keep spirit up during off time when games continue," also, he said it hurts gate sales.
Childcare issues and economically disadvantaged
Wilson pressed on and noted parents have a hard time finding childcare during the fall break, and economically disadvantage students don't have "a safe environment those days."
"It's hard on parents to find two weeks of day care in October," he said.
He said as a county school system, Wilson has 5,600 students on the free and reduced lunch program (out of 18,000 students). This equates to 30 percent of the students enrolled.
He said those students may not have a hot meal during the long break. He noted there are 1,000 students on the "backpack" program where they get food sent home for the weekends. And of the 5,600 students on free and reduced lunches, 424 are considered homeless.
For those schools in the system that are Title 1 schools (50 percent on free and reduced lunches), "It's a hard task to prepare two weeks of food to send home."
Protecting instructional time, test schedule change from two parts to one part now, and attendance were also part of the discussion moving toward splitting the fall two-week break into two months.
After all that discussion, and following an initial splintered committee voted, a final committee vote to separate the Fall Break to one week in October and one in November was unanimous, Wilson told school board members.
McNeese asks for deferral
McNeese asked for a deferral of the calendar vote on the 2018-2019 calendar until after the parent survey.
"I don't think we [the community] are split on the calendar," he said. "I think people want two straight weeks, from the emails and calls I've received. I'm not going to shuck my duty as a board member. I want to vote in good conscience."
Zone 4 board member Linda Armistead asked why the survey can't be done earlier because most people may plan a vacation a year in advance and would want to know the set calendar times.
Wright said that would cause a lot of confusion. It was also noted that if there is a 2017 fall survey, those parents with children just starting school would have a say in the matter.
Board member Tom Sottek said at first he wanted the successive two-week Fall Break for 2018-2019.
"But I worried about the economically disadvantaged students," he said. "I want the survey to stress this problem and the food issues."
As of today, he said 90 percent of his emails want the successive two-week break to continue.
McNeese asked why vote on a second calendar now, if its "just a place holder."
Member Bill Robinson said he "personally wants kids in front of teachers as much as possible."
He noted the pressure of students who struggle to be prepared for tests.
New member Johnnie Payton responded from a teacher's perspective and noted prior to vacation breaks it's hard to keep kids calm.
"The survey is important," she said. "And we can still change things."
Board Chair Larry Tomlinson said what "stood out" from the entire presentation was, "31 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged and 454 are considered homeless."
"They won't take a two week family vacation to Aruba or wherever," he said. "They are struggling to stay home and try to exist, without proper childcare or food. Something is wrong with this."
With both of these upcoming calendars, there will be an additional seven-class day Christmas break.
In other business:
The board chair welcomed the two new zones' representatives Zone 6 Johnie Payton, and Zone 7 Larry Inman, as well as Zone 3's Tom Sottek who replaced Don Weathers.
Introduced the new student board members: Emma Kate Hall from Lebanon High School; Macy Harrison from Watertown High School; Stella London from Mt. Juliet High School and Preston George from Wilson Central High School.
Passed a recommendation to approve Chaperone Guidelines and Release and Waiver Liability Agreement for School Support Organizations. This recommendation got some push back from parents on social media sites, citing they were concerned volunteers would be hesitant to take on all responsibility at events.
Voted to allow the City of Mt. Juliet in two years to work on school property during the installation of sidewalks gained from grants.
Accepted four CPR training kits from the American Heart Association
Gave permission to Darien Brown from Watertown High School to add a 17' x 17' storage building to their baseball field.
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.