Board considers early August start to school
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Three of the five Kanawha County school board members favor a proposed school calendar for next year with an Aug. 9 starting date, the earliest ever.
The school year would end May 16, 2014, unless makeup days were needed.
Board members think an earlier start could alleviate student stress when it comes time for the December holiday break.
This school year the first semester does not end until Jan. 8, 2013. Students have more than a week off for the holiday break that falls at Christmastime, but they are expected to return to school ready for final exams, said board member Bill Raglin.
That makes the holidays unnecessarily stressful, he thinks.
"I like to be able to leave and go on holiday break and not to have lurking in my mind tests and assignments that are going to be due that are going to impact my grades," Raglin said.
"I would feel more comfortable with a schedule that would wrap things up before the break."
To accomplish that, the first day of school must fall earlier than this year's Aug. 17 start date.
The calendar with the Aug. 9 start is one of two proposals the board will consider at its regular meeting Thursday.
Board members Becky Jordon and Robin Rector also are open to starting school earlier.
The holiday break should afford students a chance to recuperate and relax, Jordon said. However, she also thought it could help improve student performance on standardized tests.
The ACT, Advanced Placement exams or Westest are administered at roughly the same time in the spring each year. If Kanawha County students start classes earlier, it will give them more time to cover materials than in previous years, Jordon said.
Board members opposed similar schedule changes in the past largely due to a lack of consistent air conditioning in every building. In 2011, when the board discussed moving the first day of school to Aug. 9, Board President Pete Thaw voiced such concerns.
"Aug. 9th, think about it. You think it's hot in May? Try August," Thaw said at the time.
He did not return a message left Tuesday.
Rector and Raglin also mentioned air conditioning at schools, but they said recent improvements to systems across the county might have eliminated that problem.
In May, Kanawha County voters approved renewal of the county's school excess levy. Under the terms placed before voters, the school system promised to commit $20 million to improving energy efficiency. Many of those improvements include upgrades to air conditioning systems, county facilities director Chuck Wilson told the Daily Mail in October.
Although work started this summer and Wilson thinks it won't be complete for 18 months, Rector and Jordon both thought the work should be sufficient.
"We have hot temperatures at the end of May and June. Actually, I think we've had more problems with June heat," Rector said. "We're doing an awful lot of work and paying an awful lot of money to revamp these heating and air conditioning systems; I think we ought to be seeing some of the dividends."
Concerns about whether an earlier start would negatively affect athletic practice schedules don't add up, in Jordon's opinion.
"What comes first is academics. Our children need to do better on those tests," she said.
The board also could approve a calendar with an Aug. 16 start and June 2 finish, unless makeup days are needed.
The day before Thanksgiving is an off day included in both calendars, a change made from this year's schedule following complaints, Rector said.
The board's meeting is slated for 6 p.m. Thursday at the county board of education building on Elizabeth Street in Charleston.