Short Summer Coming To An End: New Calendar In Full Force

Published 2:04 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BUCKINGHAM — In less than a week, educators in Buckingham will return to their classrooms after having just over one month of summer vacation.

And on Aug. 5, students will follow with their newly purchased backpacks and fresh tennis shoes for another academic year bound by a new school calendar — one that’s drastically different from years past.

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School in Buckingham for many years began at the end of August and concluded the following June, with the first semester concluding after teachers and students returned from winter break.

It’s a whole new ballgame now that has drawn a variety of responses from teachers, parents and students.

This one-time short summer respite came in the wake of the Buckingham County School Board voting unanimously to begin the upcoming school year in early August. According to the 2015-16 school calendar, the school year will end on May 19 rather than the traditional June date.

The calendar is similar to Cumberland’s and Prince Edward’s, which see students return in mid-August and finish in mid- to late May.

“I think any research-based strategy that results in greater achievement for our students is very positive,” said high school English teacher Michelle Wright. “That achievement is, of course, more than standardized test scores. If this new calendar provides more opportunities and better outcomes for our students, then we will know it is a positive change.”

The calendar change was made last May, giving parents, teachers and students ample time to prepare for the new calendar, school board members said.

The new calendar will see the first semester end before students go home for winter break.

High school student Charlotte Powell said she’s excited to have exams finished before she goes home for break.

“It makes coming back from break much less stressful. I am also extremely excited to be getting out much earlier. Overall, I like the new calendar,” she said.

Parent Lyla Wood, one of the most vocal opponents of the change, said there was no logical reason for the new calendar except “‘to be like other counties,’ yet [it] doesn’t correspond to surrounding county schedules. The list goes on and on,” she said, adding that she despises the change.

Third-grade teacher Denise Bryant said change is something no one is truly comfortable with.

“It concerns me that our students may miss out on ‘summer camp’ opportunities in August because they will be back in school. I can’t tell you of an exact summer camp … but should the opportunity present itself, our kids would miss out.”

Bryant said she likes the idea of starting school after Labor Day and ending the year in early June.

“Education, at all levels, is the key to success. Perhaps we need to better educate our parents on how the school system works and what we are also required to do!”

Tracie Wright, who has students in the division, hates the new calendar.

“I think there is still too much summer left in August for children to go back to school. Plus, when they get out in May the water is still too cold to go anywhere to have a nice vacation. As a parent, if I can’t get a good vacation booked, then I am going to be inclined to take my child out of school in August so that we can have a family vacation. That is my right, and I will do it in order to make sure my kids have those memories,” she said.

Retired educator Pam Morris, who taught for years in the division, said she thinks the new calendar is a better way to go. “When I started teaching, we started school earlier in August.  Having the first semester end before the Christmas break works better for exams.”

Kimberly Page, a Buckingham resident who teaches in Cumberland, where her children attend school, says Cumberland has been using a similar calendar for several years now, and it’s not too bad. “However, there are kids who still miss in August because of family vacations … It is nice to have first semester over before Christmas break, and [it] does make a difference for semester classes in middle and high school.”

She said with the new calendar she’s now more inclined to enroll her daughters in Buckingham schools.

Tara Tapscott, who teaches in Fluvanna and lives in Buckingham, thinks the new calendar will be beneficial for the upper grades. “Nobody likes change, so this summer stinks for Buckingham’s kids and teachers, but when they get out in May it will be sweet!” she said.

Buckingham resident Nancy Smith, who has two children in the division, said the pros of the new calendar are the first semester ending before winter break “so kids can take exams while info is still fresh in their minds” and getting out of school earlier. The con, she said, is that August — when students return — is hot and miserable. She would have liked an extra day off with Labor Day so families could take a mini-vacation.

“[It’s] a great idea … I really think it’s going to make an impact on the high school kids …,” District Five School Board Representative Sherry Ragland said during an earlier school board meeting while considering the new calendar.

“I really think we could help test scores … You’d have continuity,” District Three School Board Representative and Board Chairman H. Ed Wise said.