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Icy weather plays havoc with school scheduling

by Brenda Bernet | January 17, 2014 at 2:00 a.m.

Oark High School English teacher Bill Morelan is shuffling his lesson plans this week, the first full week of school since November.

Oark students were in school for only six days in December because of snow days and a holiday break. The second semester was to start Jan. 6, but another bout of winter weather pushed it to Jan. 13.

“It’s not so much covering material,” Morelan said. “It’s more about mastering skills. When you’re trying to teach kids to master essential life skills and you have a gap like that, you have to do a lot of reteaching.”

Superintendents in as many as 24 school districts in Northwest Arkansas report having missed at least five school days because of bad weather. At least nine rural districts have missed 12 or more days, and superintendents know that there could be more bad weather and missed days ahead.

Northwest Arkansas has been hit harder by winter weather than any other parts of the state.

Rural districts - including Eureka Springs, Green Forest, Huntsville and West Fork - missed seven days of school in December and another five days in January.

Those two long, unexpected breaks bookended with the planned Christmas and New Year’s break.

The Jasper School District operates the Jasper, Oark and Kingston campuses, and sometimes opens one campus while another remains closed.

In December, after seven snow days, roads in the Jasper and Kingston communities had improved enough for the district to reopen those campuses, but the Oark campus stayed closed for one more day.

In January, Kingston was out for the full week of Jan. 6. The district sought to open the Jasper and Oark campuses on Jan. 8, but freezing rain again made roads slick. Oark students arrived at school that morning only to be sent home on buses at 10 a.m. The weather also led to an early dismissal at the Jasper campus, Superintendent Kerry Saylors said.

“I had one bus at Oark that was able to drop all the children off, but the bus was not able to return to campus,” Saylors said. “We had to leave the bus stranded on top of the mountain.”

School officials were able to reach the bus driver and get him home, Saylors said.

The campuses now have to make up a different number of snow days.

STATE REQUIREMENTS

The Arkansas Standards of Accreditation for schools require all public schools to meet for at least six hours a day for 178 instructional days a year.

Also, school districts must include five makeup days when they create their school calendars.

The Arkansas Department of Education set a deadline of Feb. 28 for school districts to apply for waivers if they have missed more than 10 days because of bad weather.

While Oark has 13 days to make up, Kingston has 12 and Jasper has 11½ .

A Personnel Policies Committee for the Jasper School District will make a recommendation to the School Board on how to make up the missed time, and Saylors said he is considering applying for a waiver from the state.

Districts are required to make up the first 10 days, and the state department encourages districts to make up as many days as possible, a department memorandum posted Tuesday states. Inaddition to the five makeup days in their calendars, districts have the options of converting teacher workdays into school days, holding classes on holidays and part or all of spring break, and adding days to the end of the school year.

Eureka Springs teachers and administrators are considering holding school on Saturdays, during spring break and on Memorial Day, and adding on to the school year, Superintendent David Kellogg said.

The district canceled seven days of classes in December and missed a full week this month for a total of 12 days.

A district Personnel Policies Committee is weighing options for adjusting the district’s calendar, Kellogg said, and he is considering applying for a waiver from the state department.

There’s a downside to any solution, Kellogg said. Holding classes on Saturdays wears down students and teachers by the middle of the next week, he said. It’s also hard to give up the breather that spring break offers before successive weeks of state testing begin. Extending the school year to the middle of June affects students’ plans for activities and teachers’ plans for attending graduate school.

“There’s going to be somebody that had something planned one of those days,” Kellogg said.

While the district can rearrange the calendar, teachers are still 12 days behind schedule, Kellogg said.

“Here we are barely into the real snow season, and we’ve already missed 12 days,” Kellogg said. “We could easily miss several more days.” LESSON PLAN TWEAKS

At Bentonville High School, teachers are making lesson-plan adjustments because of the missed days. Teachers routinely adjust lesson plans on the basis of how students are masteringthe lessons, Principal Chad Scott said.

“Our teachers more than anything just want to get some momentum,” Scott said.

“This week is a week where we’re going to be in school all five days. Let’s just get started, and let’s go a few days and get some traction.”

At the start of the school year, the Springdale School District had planned a teacher workday for Jan. 6, but after missing five days of school in December, district officials had rescheduled Jan. 6 as a class day.

But the weather didn’t cooperate, and students missed not only Jan. 6, but also Jan. 7. School was in session Jan. 8, but closed again Jan. 9. That left the district with seven days to make up, Deputy Superintendent Jared Cleveland said. “It’s just been awful,” he said.

In the Huntsville School District, this month’s snowstorm turned a two-week holiday vacation into a three-week break. Students returned to class on Jan. 13 instead of Jan. 6.

Green Forest and West Fork had planned two-week holiday breaks, but the districts held classes on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 to make up the seven days of school canceled in December.

Both districts canceled another week of classes the week of Jan. 6.

Instead of closing on some holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Jan. 20 and George Washington’s Birthday on Feb. 17, many districts will be holding classes. Some districts also are extending the schoolyear into June.

In December, when the first round of snow and ice canceled school, Morelan’s students were studying different styles of writing, including informative writing. An eight-day disruption in instruction caused some students to forget part of the lesson, Morelan said.

He had to spend some time reteaching it, he said.

And instead of writing three informative essays this year, Morelan said, he now has time for two. If he loses any more days, his students likely will write only one.

“We’re definitely behind where I’d like to be,” Morelan said.

“I’d rather do one really, really good informative paper than to try to still squeeze in all three.”

Front Section, Pages 1 on 01/17/2014

Print Headline: Icy weather plays havoc with school scheduling

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