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Sullivan schools to start a week later next year

Wes Bunch • Jan 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County students will begin school a week later and share spring break with Bristol and Kingsport city schools, according to the system’s 2009-2010 calendar.

The Sullivan County Board of Education unanimously approved the calendar at its meeting Monday night.

“Starting a week later works very well for us because the state has moved TCAPs back into March,” said Elizabeth Sells, Sullivan County Schools student services supervisor. “So that moves this spring break into April, and that works really well for us.”

Students will begin next year with a half-day of class on Aug. 10, while teachers must report back Aug. 4. The last day of class is tentatively scheduled for May 24.

Next year’s spring break will begin later than usual on April 5, the week following Good Friday.

“We have a lot of families where maybe our teachers work in Sullivan County but their children go to one of the city schools, or vice versa,” Sells said. “So we try as much as we can and communicate with them and find out when it is.”

The new calendar also gives students a day off before Thanksgiving and on Aug. 21 for the Bristol NASCAR race. Christmas vacation will run from Dec. 18 to Jan. 5, and students will receive two one-day “winter breaks” on Jan. 18 and Feb. 15. A parent teacher conference for all schools will be held Oct. 7.

Sells said the system asked administrators at each of its 28 schools to give input on the calendar. Sixteen principals and the Sullivan County Education Association responded.

The board also gave Sells approval to research expanding school days by 30 minutes. If approved, the policy wouldn’t take effect until the 2010-2011 calendar at the earliest.

Although there would be some added costs, Sells said additional minutes would provide benefits besides extended class time.

“If we missed a certain number of days for inclement weather, we wouldn’t have to make those up until we got to 13,” she said. “Or we could designate a certain number of those days, like six days, for staff development.”

In other matters, the board heard the results of a youth risk behavior survey from Meredith Charles, Sullivan County Schools director of Coordinated School Health.

The survey was conducted on 95 percent of the system’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders during the 2007-2008 school year.

Charles said what caught her eye was the fact that 32.2 percent of boys and 27.2 percent of girls age 14 and over said they had been in a car with an adult who had been drinking alcohol.

“These are our middle school students, who one-third of them have, or do regularly, get in the vehicle with a parent or friend who is older and has been drinking alcohol,” she said. “It’s a huge safety issue for our children.”

Nearly 29 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls admitted to drinking alcohol at least once as well.

The survey also revealed that roughly 18 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls had seriously contemplated suicide, while 41 percent of boys and 38.5 percent of girls admitted to having tried smoking.

Charles said the school system would skip a year before conducting another assessment to see if improved health education curriculum and raised awareness have an impact on the results.

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