LINCOLNTON – A much-anticipated decision to request legislators to change the school calendar was made at the Lincoln County Board of Education’s regular monthly committee meeting Oct. 2.
The board, which met at its new homebase – formerly Battleground Elementary – on Jeb Seagle Drive, unanimously voted to move forward with asking state legislators to approve Lincoln County Schools starting two weeks earlier than usual, on Aug. 12, for the 2019-20 school year.
“What happens to those two weeks?” asked LCS Human Resources Director Heath Belcher. “We built in an intersession time – and we have to have more conversation about what that looks like – and we added a week at Christmas and a week before Easter break.”
Earlier in the year Belcher had sent out a survey to parents and LCS staff to try to gauge the public’s feelings on starting earlier – meaning first semester would end before the winter break.
The first go-round, survey results came up short so they circulated the survey again, garnering a total of 1,370 participants. The results were split into two categories – educators and parents – and results were similar between the two.
Nearly half of all participants – 47 percent of educators and 41 percent of parents – said having a balanced schedule was important (i.e. – each semester having the same number of days). A large portion had no opinion and few thought balance was a bad idea.
Other big findings, Belcher said were that 75 percent of parents said if given their child had the opportunity to complete their senior year before winter break, they’d take advantage of being able to enroll in spring college courses. And 60 percent of employees and 52 percent of parents disagree with the current school calendar being what’s best for students.
Though the margins were slim, data revealed that the majority of survey participants supported changing the school calendar.
But Belcher said one concern with moving the calendar is vacation time – many survey-takers reported taking vacations in early- to mid-August.
“I think parents can plan well within whatever calendar we offer,” said board member Joan Avery, a longtime supporter of changing the calendar.
“Board members, I think we’ve given this a lot of thought,” Superintendent Lory Morrow said. “I think this represents the best of it all and would be a good representative of what would be best for our students.”
Morrow also mentioned having recently spoken with N.C. Rep. Jason Saine about the possible change, and she felt confident voicing her support for it.
House Bill 3, she said, was passed Oct. 1, and it essentially provides some flexibility in the school calendar for district hit by Hurricane Florence as well as providing relief for those areas.
And while LCS isn’t directly impacted by the bill, Morrow said it’s a good thing for this area, too.
“It’s bringing the conversation out front, on the Senate floor about the need for local calendar flexibility,” Morrow said.
Currently, the state sets requirements for school calendars, and one of the requirements is having to start school the Monday closest to Aug. 26, unless legislators grant special permission to begin sooner.
The calendar the board is proposing includes about 180 class days total – 88 for each the first and second semester. The number of holidays, vacation days and work days are similar to the current calendar, but the major change would be having intersession – extending winter and Easter break. Instead of going back to school Jan. 2, students would return Jan. 13 for second semester, and Easter break would start about four days earlier as well.
Board member Candy Burgin voiced her support for moving forward, under the condition that fellow board member Cathy Davis, who was not present at the Oct. 2 meeting, have time to weigh in before the board announces the decision at its Oct. 9 meeting.
“This has been Cathy’s baby,” Burgin said, and the other board members agreed prior to taking the vote.
Morrow said the state could make adjustments to the calendar, but she’s “ready to go for it.”