Every winter schools systems across the High Country deal with the effects of winter weather and how it impacts students, parents, teachers & staff.
Including today (Tuesday January 28,2014) Watauga County Schools have been closed 10 days, with one of those made up on a Saturday, according to WCS Public Information Director Marshall Ashcraft. Avery County Schools have been closed 11 days.
Avery County Schools Superintendent David Burleson passed along a letter to WataugaRoads.com explaining how the weather has impacted his system, and the steps they will now be taking to make up the lost days. Parents of students in Avery will be getting the letter as well.
A truth about our weather is that if you don’t like it, just stay around for a little bit and it will change. We have sure seen a lot of changing over the last several weeks. One negative change has been all the cold and snowy weather that has hit us recently. That weather has played havoc with our school schedule and especially our high school testing schedule as we try to finish final exams. We do greatly appreciate the patience of our staff, students and our parents. Our hope is the next few weeks will bring warmer, dryer weather, but based on our forecast that does not look promising. Many may ask, “Why is school closed today”? The basic answer is, because it is not safe for travel, especially for teenagers to drive to school. While the goal and desire for the Avery County Schools is to graduate every student college or career ready, the safety of our students and staff must take top priority. We will always err on the side of safety when it comes to the decision to close school due to inclement weather or other hazardous situations. The process to close schools is an effort made by a team of individuals following a certain protocol: the process usually begins days before by monitoring the weather reports to eliminate surprises in the weather forecast; getting advice from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Avery Sheriff’s Department, Avery Communications and the North Carolina Highway Patrol; and the national and local weather centers. When there is a chance of inclement weather, the day begins around 3 a.m. with school system personnel driving assigned routes around the county. At this time we are also checking with DOT, Avery Communications, the Sheriff’s Department and the NC Highway Patrol. The process can take a while and involves a lot of prayer. It is also important to understand that our buses have difficulty starting and operating when the temperatures reach single digits. The Avery County Schools are committed to each child's education. We will aggressively and intentionally do every thing possible to ensure that each child receives the best education. Even though we stand behind our commitment and mission, we will never sacrifice student safety and will, without exception, provide the safest travel and facilities for each child. We appreciate each person who works diligently every day to take care of our children and ensure their success. Here is a recap of where we stand with our calendar. First of all, the North Carolina General Assembly changed the calendar legislation from requiring 180 days and 1000 instructional hours to requiring 185 days or 1025 instructional hours. Being able to have 185 days or 1025 hours allows school systems to put in extra time or in essence “bank time” in order to fulfill the requirements of the legislation. Due to the fact that our school system was not allowed to start as early as we normally do, we opted to do the 185 days of instruction which allowed us to schedule 1089 hours of instructional time for the school year, giving us 64 hours over the required amount. In essence we banked 64 hours. At this time, we have missed 11 total school days, have lost 18 hours for delays or early dismissals and have finished school day 91. January17 has already been used as a make up day and we will also be using February 21, March 28, May 26 and June 6 to make up time missed. This leaves us with 179 school days and 1035 instructional hours. Our current plan is to add 30 minutes to the school day, except Fridays, starting February 3 and continue this practice throughout the month of February. We will plan to continue as long as necessary to make up any additional time we might miss. Adding this time, adds two hours per week or a day every three weeks. This can help us keep our four vacation days at Easter and allows us to finish the school year on June 6. Saturdays are also an option, but most of our families want this to be used as a last resort. There are many weekend activities scheduled and attendance is normally low for Saturday school. If this type weather persists, then Saturdays can be used. Attached to this letter is a plan we can use to operate buses only on our main roadways with strategic pick-up points. This plan can be used on days that the Department of Transportation has cleared the main roads to a point that buses can operate safely. We want to thank you for caring about our students and supporting our efforts to provide each of our students with a quality education. Sincerely yours, David Burleson