Two measures have been introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly to allow Watauga County the ability to set their own school calendars.
Last week Senator Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) filed Senate Bill 195, while State Representative Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe) in late February filed House Bill 203 seeking to allow Watauga County the flexibility in setting their school calendar.
The measures seek to allow the Watauga Board of Education to be able to schedule school opening and closing dates to coincide with the opening and closing dates of Caldwell Community College. In being able to do so the measures state that: school calendar flexibility would benefit all students in Watauga County Schools who are enrolled in classes through Caldwell Community College by allowing them to align their fall and spring semesters with the fall and spring semesters at Caldwell Community College. School calendar flexibility would allow Watauga County Schools and Caldwell Community College to meet the workforce development needs in Watauga County more effectively than the current structure by helping high school and college students develop the skills necessary for business and industry.
“The ability to better align our calendars with Caldwell Community College just makes sense.” says Dr. Scott Elliott, Superintendent of Watauga County Schools. He tells WataugaOnline.com that currently the school system has 242 Watauga High School students earning 456 college credits from Caldwell.
The measures join twenty eight other introduced bills both in the House and Senate, as of Monday March 13, seeking to allow school districts to set their own start and end dates.
Before the year 2004 counties in North Carolina had more flexibility in setting and adjusting their own calendars. But in July 2005, House Bill 1464 became law and stated no public school system could start before August 25 and the closing date no later than June 10. In 2011 House Bill 200 became law and stated that public schools must have a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction. In 2012 Senate Bill 187 became law and it stipulated that the date public schools could start may not be earlier than the Monday closest to August 26.
A major disadvantage for the mountain county schools starting the same date as their counterparts is weather. “When it comes to our schools and calendars, one size does not fit all when you consider in a given year we are held pretty much to the same requirement as counties that miss little to no days due to weather.” adds Dr. Elliott.”Unfortunately, it has become a very political issue with beach communities and summer camp owners having more say than teachers, parents, and school boards.”
The calendar as it stands now also produced another negative impact as Dr. Elliott explains. “The current law took away 10 teacher work days that had been used for professional development for our teachers and as “built in days” for making up weather days. We just need more flexibility.”
In communicating his thoughts about the measures to WataugaOnline.com Dr. Elliott concluded, “I appreciate very much both Rep. Jordan and Sen. Ballard for filing these bills. I hope we can see positive progress on these bills very soon. I think this should be a local education process. I trust our teachers, parents, and administrators on our Calendar Committee to develop a calendar that is best for our students.”