PRINCETON — The Mercer County Board of Education held the School Calendar Workshop for the 2015-2016 school year on Wednesday in the seminar room of Mercer County Technical School. The public forum serves as an opportunity for teachers, parents, and the general public to voice their suggestions, comments, and concerns in front of the Board.

Dr. Deborah Akers, Mercer County superintendent, began the meeting by explaining to attendees the laws and regulations that surround the education system. Many parents spoke up on topics pertaining to the pros and cons of shortening or eliminating spring break to prevent students from making up instructional days during their scheduled summer break. The main reason several parents oppose of eliminating spring break in the case of excessive snow days is because many families plan their vacations during this time.

An additional topic discussed was implicating a balanced schedule versus the current 10-month school schedule. A balanced schedule would require students, teachers, and staff to attend school or work for nine weeks with a 2-week break following.

As for other topics, starting in the beginning of the academic school year, many were in favor of starting an adequate amount of time earlier in the fall in order to complete the semester before Christmas break.

In regard to the school calendar, Jennifer Alvarez, a parent of two children who are students at PikeView High and Athens Elementary School, would like to see flexibility built in instead of having several four-day weekends in March.

She said, “If those built in days aren’t used as snow days, they could be converted to early June or late May and let the students out earlier. It is nice to have them built in, in March so that we don’t have to make up days in the summer, but actually using them in March makes it difficult on people who work. I think just about everyone would rather start summer early instead.

The lack of a summer vacation affects teachers just as it does parents and children. Joanna Burr, an English teacher at PikeView High School and parent of two Mercer County students, doesn’t feel like teachers or students had much of a summer last year. She said teachers are required to participate in trainings during the summer, which as necessary as they are, purge teachers of relaxing during break.

Burr said, “I spent a week of training for AP literature, which is only taught during the summer and required of us to do every three years. Then I spent quite a few days training for Common Core here in Mercer County. I helped train at several workshops for other teachers at the beginning of the school year. I don’t feel like I had any time off. The one thing I did like this year was that the first semester was over before Christmas break started so early, but then keeping us till the middle of June this year seems like a long school year. Those extra days in June that they are tacking on due to snow will happen after state testing, and most teachers try to get their standards adequately covered before state testing, so adding the days in June isn’t as beneficial.”

Mercer County is required to have 180 instructional days, and to make up every minute that is missed due to inclement weather. A total of 16 instructional days have been missed from the 2014-2015 school year, but fortunately 14 of those were built in as OES (out of school environment) days. Under current law, only two days have to be added on to the 2014-2015 school calendar year.

The School Calendar Committee splits into three groups, each creating a potential school calendar. The committee then submits the proposals to Akers who usually sends it to the West Virginia State Board of Education. The calendar must be submitted to the state board and a final decision is made by May 1.

Akers wants parents to know that, “One of the important things that we try to look at with building our calendar for this year was the fact that we wanted to get as much instructional time before testing so we built in days, which I think is an important thing to do because we have look at the calendar in terms of personal preferences, but we also have to look at what is good for kids at school.

The board encourages the public to speak up and voice their suggestions, comments, and concerns.

— Contact Sara Cameron at byline.sarabcam@gmail.com

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