Prince Edward board hears latest school calendar proposal

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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If the current proposal is approved next month, students in Prince Edward County Public Schools would start classes on Aug. 5 this fall. The school board heard staff’s latest presentation during their Wednesday, Feb. 7 meeting. 

Under this plan, new teachers would report on July 24, with convocation taking place on July 29. Open House would be held on Aug. 1, with then students starting classes, as we mentioned earlier, on Aug. 5. The bigger changes happen later in the school year, with some reworked time off. Prince Edward County Elementary kindergarten teacher Ashley Ross is a member of the division calendar committee and so she presented this latest calendar recommendation to the board. 

The biggest change would come in October, where students would get a three-day break. 

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“We got feedback from staff [saying] ‘we are tired our children are tired come October’,” Ross said. “Teacher absenteeism is the highest in October and student disciplinary referrals are highest in October. We saw our teachers need a break and our students need a break.” 

What about Thanksgiving? 

Last year in November, the school board considered making the Thanksgiving holiday a full week, arguing that teachers and students needed it. Due to how close it was, just weeks away at the time, board members agreed to table the idea and revisit it now, as they looked at next year’s calendar. But that full week didn’t make it into the latest staff proposal. And when school board member J. Harvey Tackett questioned why, Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said it was a committee decision. 

“In discussion with the committee, it was more important to have a fall break than it was to have the full week at Thanksgiving,” Johnson said. 

Ross agreed. 

“Having a full week at Thanksgiving would be wonderful, but we need the break in October,” Ross said. “We’re exhausted, the children are exhausted.” 

Schools in Virginia are required to be in session 180 days. If the district gave the full week at Thanksgiving and added the October break, days off would have to be taken from other parts of the calendar to balance that out. 

Tackett pointed out that they could do the full week for Thanksgiving if the district started winter break after classes on Dec. 20, rather than after classes on Dec. 17. 

“You’d still have two full weeks of Christmas vacation, still have your three day break for fall and still have your week for Thanksgiving,” Tackett pointed out.  

He also pointed out that during half-days, like the one right before Thanksgiving and winter break, not a lot of learning happens. 

Johnson argued that learning did take place during those days, but it was more social learning. 

Other Prince Edward members support plan

Other board members endorsed the current proposal as is. Dr. Susan Kimbrough, who originally asked for the full week off at Thanksgiving, said she understood why they made the switch. 

“I am in complete agreement that the month of October is when many, many new teachers want to get in the car, drive away and never come back,” Kimbrough said. “So I (can) appreciate having a fall break.” 

Kimbrough added that while Tackett had a point, those extra days at Thanksgiving are needed

“I agree with Mr. Tackett that probably not a lot of learning is going to go on [the days before Thanksgiving], but it does count toward our 180 days,” Kimbrough said. “As a former teacher, I think this is a really great calendar.” 

What happens next? 

The school board will have the rest of this month to look over the calendar, ask questions or make notes for any potential changes. Then it’ll come back to the board next month for a vote.