ELIZABETHTOWN — In true Pope Gregory fashion, the Bladen County Board of Education is looking to shake things up when it comes to the calendar.
At Saturday’s board retreat, members talked with district staff extensively about what it would take to end the first semester before Christmas.
Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor fielded the question.
“In Bladen County, we have to be careful about aligning our calendar with the tourism industry,” he said. “As board members, you’re between a rock and a hard place, thinking about what’s best for the school district and what’s best for the economy.”
The advice didn’t sit well with one board member.
“We’re not here to look out for the tourism industry,” countered Berry Lewis. “It’s really not fair to the kids.”
Board member Roger Carroll agreed.
“I’d hate to know I had to take an important test after being off for two weeks,” he said. “To me, I think it’s hurting our kids the most.”
After reminding board members about a letter from White Lake Mayor Goldston Womble requesting the board to not support a North Carolina General Assembly bill that would have allowed a calendar adjustment, Taylor suggested to those present that the problem really lies in Raleigh, not with the board.
“One hundred percent, it all comes to politics in Raleigh,” he offered. “The vacation industry really pushed for this calendar, and, for whatever reason, nobody wants to touch it. We’ve fought and fussed and cussed, and most senators agree, but you have one or two who won’t let it go, and they control everything.
“It’s one of the big things I would like to see the new (state) school board push — to give us the ability to determine our own calendar locally,” he added. “It doesn’t make any sense for Raleigh to be able to control that.”
Currently, all districts in the state are held to strict requirements when determining a calendar. The one having the most impact on ending before Christmas is the stipulation that schools can’t start any earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26. This year, that means schools can’t start before Aug. 28. In addition, the calendar must cover 185 days or, alternatively, 1,025 hours of instruction, whichever the district selects. Sundays are excluded, 10 annual vacation leave days are mandated, state holidays must be observed, and the schedule must cover nine calendar months.
“I’d like to see what it would take to end before Christmas,” Board member Alan West said, “even if it means more hours during the day.”
“Right now, our calendar committee elects the 1,025 hours,” Assistant Superintendent Tanya Head explained. “You have to have 350 hours of instruction, and that’s not including lunch, recess …When you talk about lengthening the day, you’re talking about asking a 5-year-old to start their day at 7:45 and go until 5.”
“What better time to start than when they’re small?” offered board member Roger Carroll. “They’re used to it, and when the day is extended, it’s no big deal to them.”
“If it’s 7 to 5, that won’t work, but if we can add 30 minutes to the day, I’d like to look at that,” West remarked.
When someone questioned how it was that charter schools were able to start Aug. 1, Taylor informed those present that charter schools weren’t held to the same calendar restrictions to which traditional schools are held.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.