The Wetzel County Board of Education held their second required calendar meeting March 11 at Magnolia High School, with approximately 30 members of the public in attendance.
Assistant Superintendent Jay Yeager stated that once the public hearing was held, a calendar committee would work together to establish a rough draft of a new calendar, on which the board would be required to vote. The new school calendar is to be turned into the state by May 1.
One woman proposed that students no longer have lockers. She said her children once attended school in Texas, where students carried necessary materials in binders. The woman remarked that no locker time added 20-25 minutes to the school day.
"I disagree," remarked another woman. "My granddaughter is in sixth grade. She carries a book binder and a backpack, and I know sixth grade doesn't have lockers, but if they do that in high school . . . just think of what they use in middle school and grade school. I disagree. I think we need the locker time for books."
President Mike Blair appeared to support the idea of what he deemed, "a 70s calendar." "If you look back, we had Thanksgiving break. We didn't have a spring break. We had a Christmas and New Year's and all of our holidays, but we never had a problem getting 180 days. This winter is a bad winter, but we had some bad winters as well. Once again, I think meshing with the Ritchie, Tyler, Pleasants, and Marion calendars . . . That's going to be one of our big hurdles to clear, so it's going to be interesting to see what other counties come up with. They are going to share their calendars, and we are going to try to come up with something that will work with everybody."
He added, "We have never wanted to start school until after our county fair, because many kids look forward to the fair, and so that's a consideration. Fairs are something kids get, because some kids don't get a summer vacation, and they show their lambs and cattle . . . Somehow we have to get 180 days."
"Economically you have to look at kids who work in the summer, trying to get some money for college or something like that," another woman remarked.
"There will be growing pains," Superintendent Dennis Albright remarked. "Every county will have growing pains, and we will have to tweak the calendar a little bit here and there."
"A calendar can change every year," Board member Carolyn Gatian agreed. "That's one of the luxuries we can have. If it's a poor decision, we can renew the topic next year and look at it again. I think we will get more feedback once we've all experienced it because we all know what it's like."
Bob Miller of Town and Country Days expressed concern that schools would open prior to Town and Country Days. "I'm not for the financial part of it, as much as that it is for the children, that have a place to go, that do not have the opportunity to go to Kennywood and some of those other parks." He added, "I know my children used to love Town and Country Days when they were small, and if we have school starting the week of Town and Country Days, I'm sure they will have homework the second day and have to be home earlier, and those exhibiting 4-H animals Thursday night . . . That will take away from their time to participate in those items."
"What you are saying . . . this board hears that," Blair noted. "We've always been a firm supporter of after fair week, and that's one of the bullet items that has a bearing weight on what we are doing. That's a bearing weight that we are trying to work around."
One parent stated that he wouldn't be opposed to half-a-day on Saturday, "no lunch, no breakfast . . . start at 9 and leave at 12:30." The man stated that "rather going to June 30 and starting Aug. 1, maybe every other Saturday." He added that this might be a good contingency plan.
"One thing we have to be cautious about," Yeager noted, "is employees can only work 200 days . . . If we tried to expand into June or Saturdays, we'd have to pay teachers and service personnel extra."
Gatian stated that at Hundred it was discussed to do away with two-hour delays. "Say, are we going to risk getting them there or risk getting worse later on? If it's school or no school it clears the water up a little bit, calculations get a little bit easier but length of time in school might extend."
Valley High School TSA Advisor Josh Weekley brought up the idea of possibly adding three minutes to each day of the year. "That would give us the potential for nine two-hour delays throughout the year. That'd give us a bit of leeway, but adding that two hours at the end of the day would be detriment to any extracurricular."
He added: "I want to mention at least from my perspective . . . going into June, we have national TSA competition. Going into June is great, for me . . . it's a great idea. I can't get the students to come back for meetings and things."
Weekley's last suggestion dealt with the issue of matching Wetzel's school calendar to other counties that attend the Mid Ohio Valley Technical Institute (MOVTI) or Marion County Technical Center. Weekley suggested that Wetzel County open their own Center for Employment Training. "If the Marcellus Shale boom keeps coming, that's a good use of money," Weekley stated.
Albright remarked that it would be difficult because of population.
Blair added that the current board of education was not in the seat at the time, "but there were 11 students when it shut down . . . the board had no choice in the matter," he stated.
"MOVTI is a great concept," Board Vice President Bob Patterson stated. "I'm a member of their board. They have trained kids for excellent jobs coming out of MOVTI." Patterson added that the school loses time to get kids to MOVTI.
In another discussion matter, another woman in attendance stated that when teaching in Ohio, "we started school at 7:30 in the morning, and it was an adjustment but I always found out I got more out of the kids in the morning. Past three, I never got anything out of the kids. School was 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but even if you ran it 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the second semester, kids would adjust to that. I don't know why everybody has to have a whole week for Easter break. What happened to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday . . . the end?"
In regards to snow days, one gentleman asked, "What happened to putting your chains on the bus and going?"
"We've already started looking at that with bus drivers for next year," Albright remarked. "We are looking at what they can run on snow days."
Parents discussed different ways to get as many children to school as possible, including calling parents to meet at a certain bus stop.
"The thing is, you saw those people (who live on secondary roads) in Wal-Mart, on days when there wasn't school," one woman remarked.
Albright added that state law now mandates that if there's snow on the ground, buses need to be "chained up"-or wearing chains on their tires. He further added that if a school bus does not run because of road conditions, the student will not be counted absent.
"I think we decided a couple meetings ago, we are going to be proactive in making snow-day packets," Gatian added. "You can send home a snow-day packet with reading material, and students can do a simple report," she stated. "What we are trying to get at, is to keep them in the gear of learning."
In another matter, one individual asked about separate schools with specific situations, such as a gas leak or a bomb threat. "How's that factor into it all?"
"You have to make up that up through accrued time if school dismisses," Gatian answered. Gatian added that she was concerned about how if "an incident goes on during school, personnel is already there, that's a day of their contract." She added, "If we don't get that half day in, we have to accrue that time."
Scheduling practices for extracurricular activities can also be tricky when it comes to winter weather. Albright explained, "Coaches talk to the athletic director, and I know I've upset some coaches by saying we can't practice today . . . We aren't going to do what is convenient. There are days we have to cancel in the morning . . . if it is good by three o'clock it's not a coach's decision, it's our decision."
One teacher expressed disapproval in the new calendar plan: "The legislature . . . Do they realize we are 600 teachers short in this state, for qualified personnel, and they've made it less likely for us to train those coming out of college?"
"Mr. Albright and I were in the meeting with the state superintendent," Yeager remarked. "We have to have 180 instructional days."
"Our staff has been reporting on snow days. We've been there, so that's something people need to understand," Weekley added.
"Most other counties don't go. There are counties that do," one woman remarked.
One gentleman argued that if it was safe enough for teachers to report, why could students have not gone as well. "You had all the town .. . . . all town kids could have been there."
"I've heard many times that if teachers can make it, why can't kids," one gentleman stated. "Teachers are adults. The board is responsible for kids. I appreciate concern."
"At the end of the day, the safety of the bus drivers and the cargo, which is our kids, is what's important," Blair remarked. "When we make that decision, that's what we are looking for."
"Teachers were required to report after so many days," Albright stated. "We never reported on time, and I gave the idea that if it was unsafe, they could take a leave day. We had central office people who didn't make it on some of the days, but they took a leave day, and no one was going to be docked or chastised." Albright added that roughly $90,000 is paid in salaries a day. "If I gave 10 days (off with pay), how can I ask taxpayers to vote for a levy and say 'I spent your money wisely.'"
"This is changing from the snow day discussion," one woman began, "but I've been in Wetzel County since my 35th year . . . One day to prepare a classroom is ridiculous . . . I do not know of a single teacher in my school that is not there over that whole weekend before school, or going in weeks ahead of time. You can't get everything done in one preparation day, or even two."
"The state law allows one day," Albright remarked.
"I think these public meetings are a good thing," Patterson noted. "But I think next year we need to include (legislators) Dave Pethtel and Larry Edgell."
The board members also confirmed at the May 11 meeting that seniors would not be affected by the calendar, due to the massive amount of preparation that goes into graduation and securing a spot for graduation in places such as Kanawha County (the Charleston Civic Center). Albright also stated that writing assessments and standardized tests would not be affected, as the testing window is flexible.
Albright said the online survey has been tweaked and posted again on the Wetzel County School's website, www.edline.net/pages/wetzel_county_school_district. It will be available until April 7 and they encourage parents, students, educators, and community members to offer their input on the new school calendar.
Calendar Changes At A Glance
-Legislation was passed down during the 2013 West Virginia Legislature
-Students must attend school for 180 days
-Every day cancelled for inclement weather must be made up
-The 200-day employment term for school employees must be completed within 48 weeks. Previously the term had to be completed with 43 weeks.
-Time lost to delays and early dismissals must be made up.
-There will no longer be ISE (Instructional Support and Enhancement Days). Faculty Senate will be held once every 45 days on a non-instructional day.
-Each county is required to hold two public meetings for the purpose of gathering input relative to the school calendar and the new requirements. Wetzel County's hearings were held on March 3 at Hundred High School and March 11 at Magnolia High School.
-If a school dismisses early because of a particular problem, it has to make up that time.
-Assemblies meeting Content Standards and Objectives can be counted as instructional time.
-Students cannot attend school into July because of the fiscal year. However, they could go into the middle of June.
-Wetzel County's calendar must be similar to the calendar of Pleasant, Ritchie, Tyler, and Marion counties because of students attending MOVTI and North Marion High School Career Center. These institutes are moving their start time up to 9 a.m.