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News Macon County obtains school calendar waiver


Classes start three weeks earlier to end first semester before Christmas

At a meeting of the state board of education last Thursday, a calendar waiver for Macon County Schools was approved that integrates two, week-long periods for catch-up or enrichment of students in various subjects. The alternative calendar for the 2011/12 school year, which was approved by the county school board at a February meeting, begins classes on Aug. 4, three weeks earlier than last year's calendar and the Aug. 25 start date proscribed by North Carolina law.

Schools superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman says there are numerous benefits to the approved calendar in addition to the two “intercession” periods for intervention and enrichment. Now, the first semester will be completed before the Christmas break, avoiding a first semester testing schedule that can potentially go as late as February. The school year will end on May 24, before Memorial Day and more than two weeks prior to last year’s originally scheduled end date.

The calendar will also become synchronized with dual-enrollment and college-level courses that the county is required to offer to high school students. This will be a benefit both to students enrolled in Macon Early College and others taking dual-enrollment courses at Southwestern Community College.

Finally, Brigman says that the new calendar should be appreciated by student athletes who will no longer be starting practice two to three weeks before the start of the academic year. “It should foster a smoother opening for the athletic sponsors and be more conducive to full participation,” Brigman said.

“As far as community interest and school involvement in our fall sports, I think it will be a benefit,” says Coach Jay Brooks who heads the Athletic Department at Franklin High School. The fall sports season begins August 1, and for many years soccer, volleyball, cross-country, tennis, golf and football have all begun their game schedules weeks before other students arrive for classes and while many families are still on vacation.

“I think that it will be a positive thing for us,” said Brooks, though he acknowledged that this year’s summer vacation will be shortened because of the change. “Any time that there’s change and decisions made, not everyone is going to agree with it,” he added.

The shortened summer was one of the concerns sited at the February meeting of the board of education. Coach Bob Kuppers, who also sits on the county’s board of commissioners, was one individual who spoke at the meeting, asking the board to consider postponing implementation of the calendar until 2012/13, in part to give teachers and parents time to prepare for the change in summer schedule. Kuppers also questioned the schedule of the intercession periods.

“It should foster a smoother opening for the athletic sponsors and be more conducive to full participation.” —Macon School Superintendent Dan Brigman

The academic intercession periods, which are scheduled in weeklong blocks in the middle of the first and second semester, are designed to give more academic support to students struggling in core subjects while at the same time offering opportunities for other students to participate in enrichment programs. Kuppers and others suggested that pushing the intercession closer to the end of the semester or breaking it up into two blocks.

Due to an impending deadline for submission of the waiver request, the board had decided in a 3-2 vote to go ahead with the application for the alternative calendar which had been the preferred choice of the calendar committee made up of representatives from each school in the district. The calendar was also supported by the superintendent's Parents Advisory Council.

“A big thanks to each school calendar representative for attending multiple meetings and presenting information to their school,” said Pat Davis said on Friday. Davis, the director of Testing and Accountability for the district, facilitated the calendar selection process.

The length of the school year (190 days) will not change with the new calendar (180 instructional days are mandated by the state). It will, however, give the district more flexibility to deal with snow make-up days in the second semester. On the other hand, a tight first semester schedule with few possible make-up days in the month before Christmas was another concern of some who asked the board to reconsider the calendar.

School districts around the state have been lobbying state legislators to return school calendars to local control after the state mandated starting and ending dates in 2004. Currently a number of bills are circulating the General Assembly which would do just that, but none have made it out of committee as of yet.

Brigman noted that in the event that such a bill did pass in this session, the district may revisit the calendar for adjustments and fine-tuning. “I think it would be very appropriate if the legislation was passed to revisit [the calendar], and the board would be asked to provide feedback to any amendments or adjustments to the existing calendar which they already approved,” he said.

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