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School board set to adopt calendars for next two years
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The Effingham County Board of Education expects at its December meeting to approve the calendars for the next two school years.

School officials recently posted the proposed 2015-16 and 2016-17 calendars online and accepted public comment. They received a range of suggestions regarding the start of the school year, fall break, spring break, Veterans Day and other calendar dates.

The board of education reviewed the calendars and comments at its Nov. 20 meeting. After previously adopting the calendar one year at a time, the board anticipates approving the next two years’ calendars at its meeting Dec. 10 at 2 p.m.

“We have not done that before, but (the two calendars) are very similar,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “The comments pretty much reflected that.”

Both calendars include a two-week break for Christmas and one week off for Thanksgiving and spring break. Also scheduled are a five-day weekend for fall break and four-day weekend for winter break.

In several years, including the current one, Veterans Day has been a school day for Effingham County students. However, Nov. 11 will be a school holiday the next two years, including the start of a three-day weekend in 2016.

Several comments from the public were about the school year “starting so early in August,” board member Beth Helmly pointed out. The first day of class will be Aug. 6 in 2015-16 and Aug. 4 in 2016-17.

The main reason for that, Shearouse explained, is the schedule for giving standardized tests. Starting school in August enables teachers to cover as much material as possible before taking the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, while also providing enough time before the end of the year for students to re-take the test if necessary.

“That’s what Chatham County ran into — they tried to have a later start and they couldn’t get their testing in,” Shearouse said.

“The only thing that you could do,” Helmly said, “and then you’re going to have people gripe about this, is you could say, ‘OK, we’ll start six or eight days later, but then we’re going to do away with fall break, Veterans Day and the two or three days that we put in before Thanksgiving.’”

Shearouse agreed that would be an unpopular move because “teachers really feel like they need breaks, and the kids need breaks throughout the year.” Shearouse added that he has talked with “a lot of people” who like having a week off for Thanksgiving so they can go out of town.

“I think a lot of people travel for Thanksgiving and then they stay at home for Christmas,” he said.

Another holiday was the topic of several comments about the 2016-17 calendar. While spring break coincides with Easter in 2016, it does not in 2017 because Easter is later in the year — April 16.

Again, a factor is the window of time the state allows for testing. Also, Shearouse voiced concern about students returning from spring break with just a month remaining in the school year.

“We knew that would be a concern because people like that Easter week off,” Shearouse said to the board. “We could certainly go back to doing that if that’s what y’all would like, before we approve the calendar.”

New Year’s came up as well, since the 2016-17 calendar calls for students to return Jan. 2 from their holiday break. Shearouse and the board members looked at moving that back one day.

“Teachers would come back the 2nd, but it would be a planning day, and students wouldn’t come back until the 3rd,” he offered. “Then students would end (the school year) on a Thursday instead of ending on a Wednesday.”

The school board also discussed no longer scheduling middle school and high school open houses on the same night. Helmly floated the idea of having elementary and high school open houses on the same date, since parents might not be as likely to have children in those age ranges as they would to have them in middle and high school.

“That actually might be a good idea,” said board member Vickie Decker, herself a parent of elementary and high school students.

After weighing the public comments and discussing the calendars, the board of education expects to vote on them at next week’s meeting.

“Obviously we’re not going to satisfy everybody,” said BoE Vice Chair Troy Alford, “but I’m very thankful that we put enough thought in getting a lot of feedback that we can try to satisfy a majority of the people.”