Length of school day unchanged in Carroll

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Hours of daylight have gotten longer as spring nears, but for now, the length of the Carroll County school day will remain the same.

Severe winter weather has caused Carroll schools to miss 20 days, to close early six days and to open late seven days, said Superintendent Greg Smith. To make up missed instructional time, he proposed making up instructional time by extending the school day by 30 minutes.

Extending the school day would provide 16 additional hours of instruction, the superintendent noted.

But one Carroll County High School student, Jody Norman, objected to the proposal, believing it might cost him his after-school job.

Learning of the idea the same day as the meeting, Norman started circulating a petition against it only five hours before he spoke to the school board during citizens time.

In that short time, about 270 students signed the petition.

Most students have jobs that start at 4 p.m. as far away as Galax, Cana and Mount Airy, N.C., the petition stated. That leaves little time to get from school to work already.

"A change in the schedule would be very difficult for us and may cost us our jobs," said the petition. "As you know, it is very difficult to even find a job in these tough economic times."

If Norman loses his job, he wouldn't be able to pay for his truck and might lose that, too. He wondered if the school board could come up with some kind of work release for those students with jobs, if they approved the longer school day.

Before launching into the discussion about increasing the length of the school day later in the meeting, Smith showed photos of six-foot, one-inch-tall Strader Blankenship, assistant superintendent of instruction, standing in front an impressive snowdrift while out checking road conditions on Virginia 608 March 4.

Parents might understand better the school days missed if they saw these pictures, Smith indicated. The variety of weather conditions in the county might mean roads are "clear and clean" in one section and snow-covered and unsafe in another.

At times like that, schools have closed to guarantee the safety of all students, the superintendent said.

The winter weather has greatly cut into quality instruction time, Smith said.

The school year has already been extended to May 28, but Smith's concern for the lost time in the classrooms led to the idea.

"My recommendation is... due to the fact we've lost the instructional and classroom time, that we increase the instructional days by 30 minutes from March 15 through April 30," he said.

Carroll high and intermediate school principals would divide the extra time up between different class blocks.

Carroll schools should still exceed the 990 hours required by the state.

"The request is not based on just meeting the Standards of Quality, but doing what's best for the instruction," the superintendent said.

It's imperative that students get enough time for the remediation they may need.

Teachers could also recover time they missed during the snow days to meet their contract requirements, he added.

What about the students with jobs at the high school? School Board Chairman Robert Utz asked.

Not knowing the specific situations for all the students, Smith said he'd try to leave that up to the school principals.

And Smith indicated he feared winter weather might return in the coming weeks.

But School Board Member Phillip Berrier has heard concerns from those schools that start earlier in the day.

There's a disparity in the schools, as some schools start at 8 a.m. and others start at 8:30 a.m., he said. People at the schools that start early believe the idea to extend the school day is unfair to them.

Thirty minutes for elementary school children would make the day extremely long for them, School Board Member Franklin Jett believes. "I think there's a ton of remediation going on already."

Teachers want to make sure their students pass the upcoming Standards of Learning tests, Utz said.

Smith didn't think that Saturday school would be a palatable option. Extending the school day makes more sense because it doesn't require students, teachers or buses to come out on another day of the week.

School Board Member Harold Golding said he's heard from one primary school where people would rather give up their Easter vacation or have Saturday school — or any other option — to keep from extending the school day.

They were adamant about that. "Their kids are worn out by the time they finish the day," Golding noted.

Asked for her opinion, Brenda Collins of the Carroll Education Association said she'd rather hear about the plan for success rather than count hours in teachers' contracts.

Teachers will do whatever they need to do to educate their students — like the teacher who arrives at school at 7 a.m. to tutor — and meet their contract requirements, she said.

It's an unfortunate thing that the snow has disrupted the school year so much, but it might not be over, Utz said. He can remember a year when the only snow came on April 7.

When Smith asked the school board's opinion on the length of the school day, Jett moved to table consideration of the idea.

All school board members approved the motion.