PWCS Shortens Spring Break, Adds 10 Minutes to School Day

| March 19, 2014 | 0 Comments | Education

Associate Superintendent of Student Learning Tim Healey presents a plan to revise the school calendar Wednesday night.

The Prince William County School Board voted Tuesday evening to shorten spring break by one day and add 10 minutes to the school day to make up for the additional snow day and two-hour delay this week.

Prince William County Schools will add April 21, the day after Easter, to this year’s school calendar, as well as 10 minutes to the end of the school day for all grade levels, beginning March 31.

This plan will provide the state with the required number of school hours for all grades. It also leaves open the option of annexing Friday, June 20 to the school calendar, should it be necessary.

In total, the changes to the 2013-2014 calendar year include the addition of March 31, previously a “teacher workday;” April 21, previously spring break; June 18, previously a half day, now a full day; June 19 (with the possibility of a 1-hour early dismissal for grade K-8); 10 minutes to the end of the school day beginning March 31; and the reduction of recess for the elementary school grades to 10 minutes per day.

School Board members spent a significant amount of time discussing their choices before unanimously approving Superintendent Steven L. Walts’ “Alternate Plan” as presented by Timothy Healey, Associate Superintendent of Student Learning to the School Board Wednesday night.

School Board Members Don’t Want to Lengthen School Year

School Board members first considered the Superintendent’s primary recommendation, which was to add June 20 to the school calendar, rather than April 21. This plan similarly included the extra 10 minutes per day. That  motion failed 1 to 7 with only Chairman Milt Johns voting in favor of it.

Johns said he voted in favor of the motion because he felt more people had already made their spring break plans than their June plans by this time. He also agreed including the day after Easter would likely be poorly attended because of travel. Johns said he expected that students and teachers who did attend would feel resentful of those who did not.

However, all other School Board members were clear that their constituents did not want to lengthen the school year more than necessary, and that parents and teachers alike preferred to sacrifice part of their spring break than attend school until June 20. Although summer vacation was further away, Board members said residents have already made immutable plans for June, such as vacations, camps and even weddings. Some teachers even had their own weddings to attend.

Likewise parents and teachers told the Board members they were in favor of adding a few minutes to the school day, which they did not believe would have a significant effect.

Desiring the fewest disruptions to travel plans, School Board members asked Healey if it were possible to add 15 or even 20 minutes to the school day. Healey said it was not advisable, as the time could run into sporting events time.

“We would have students released during the school day [on some occasions for sports]” Healey said. “More so in Mr. Trenum’s district, with Brentsville [High School] having to travel to Winchester for most of their events.”

Walts also said that had they added June 20, the school division would allow students to miss the day with a note from a parent or guardian, but teachers would be docked pay, since the school could not operate with a significant percentage of its workforce missing. He did not say if the same applied to April 21 or if all teachers who missed that day would be docked pay even if they had already purchased plane tickets, or had other difficult to change plans already made.

Gainesville School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite came to the Board meeting with two pages of comments from parents and staff members. She said the majority of people who emailed her preferred adding minutes to the day and taking a day from spring break over being released later in the year.

No Waiver for PWCS

Residents and staff have also been asking why PWCS has not filed for a waiver from Virginia for those school closings when Governor Terry McAuliffe had declared a state of emergency.

Dr. Walts said that the state is very strict in its interpretation of making “every reasonable effort” to make up the missed days. He said that he would only feel he could “ethically” sign the waiver if the school division had eliminated all holidays before the end of the year.

Walts explained:

There has been one school system granted a waiver, I believe it was about four years ago, the ‘Snowmaggedon.’ That has been the only waiver granted to date. I won’t speak for the chairman, but I would not ethically be able to certify that we have made every reasonable effort in order to make up three weeks of school with the things we are doing, I believe that it a reasonable effort, but it has not reached the point with which I could put my name to certify that every reasonable effort was made to make up those teaching hours.

Walts said that he serves on a state board of superintendents, where the issue has been discussed with other superintendents from around the Commonwealth.

SOL Testing Window Moved

Healey explained that the state had moved the SOL testing window by one week for elementary and middle school students. However, he also explained that days before the end of the year were still crucial for high school students, especially those taking high stakes tests, such as Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

Changes to Calendar not Permanent

School Board members made clear that the changes made to this year’s calendar were not to be permanent. However, Brentsville District School Board member Gil Trenum proposed that next year include a contingency plan that could even add additional minutes to lengthen the regular school day to alleviate the chance of the School Division having to revise the calendar again next year in the event of severe weather.

Walts said that he is already planning to convene the calendar committee to revise next year’s calendar to indicate what days would be first be considered if PWCS exhausted all its snow days again.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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