Kingsport BOE may add 30 minutes onto school day

Rick Wagner • Jan 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — If you’re a student in the Kingsport school system, a new calendar proposal could mean you attend 175 days of school a year instead of 180.

However, those 175 days would be up to 30 minutes longer.

If you’re a teacher, you’d work the same number of days but would dedicate some full days on the job without classroom instruction to do planning, conferences with parents and similar activities.

Under the concept — which would generate the equivalent of up to 13 extra school days a year — both groups would get a number of built-in weather days they wouldn’t have to made up.

The Kingsport Board of Education and Central Office staff are studying a proposal to adopt the longer school day for all elementary and middle school students and most high school students.

Assistant Superintendent for Academic Initiatives and Support Carolyn McPherson and Community Relations Director Amy Greear outlined the idea during an almost four-hour work session Thursday night at Dobyns-Bennett High School.

For Kingsport’s purposes, McPherson classified the proposal as a “stockpiling” of professional development days, although some school systems — including neighboring Hawkins County — use the 13 days strictly for weather-related days. The school year is not shortened if no days are taken, but up to 13 days can be missed with no makeup days required.

Under current Tennessee law, the 13 days can be used either for professional development and related activities, to avoid weather makeup days, or a combination.

Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller and McPherson said most systems not using the days strictly for weather use five for professional development and the other eight for weather days.

McPherson said Greeneville and Knox County schools use that model, although Kitzmiller said he thinks Kingsport would be better served with only one, two or three weather days.

Bristol, Tenn., and Johnson City schools also used the extended school days, while Sullivan County school officials are considering it.

Board members Wally Boyd, Pat Turner and Ron George and board Vice President Randy Montgomery, along with board President Susan Lodal, said the idea is a good concept, although Turner said she would oppose starting the school day any earlier, especially for high school and middle schools.

The current elementary school day is 8:20 a.m. to 3 p.m., middle schools are 7:50 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., while high school students — depending on their curriculum — start at either 7:35 a.m. or 7:50 a.m. and get out at either 2:35 p.m. or 2:50 p.m.

School officials said that some high school students, who start at the earlier time and don’t leave until the later dismissal, would not go any longer even if the proposal were approved.

Kitzmiller said one option would be to get a law change or exception granted for Kingsport to add 15 minutes a day instead of 30. That would reduce the number of days from 13 to 6.5. After seeing interest from the school board, he said he would approach the commissioner of education about the 15-minute idea and believes the state might be open to that idea.

“I think there is some willingness to be flexible at the state level,” Kitzmiller said.

Montgomery said if the state won’t budge on allowing either 30 minutes or nothing, the days should be shifted mostly to professional development.

The law also allows the days to be used for parent-teacher conferences and other activities. Kitzmiller said the planning time is sorely needed as federal and state mandates and curriculum changes continue to reshape classroom offerings.

The proposal would likely shorten the students’ school calendar, which the school board plans to begin doing on a two-year basis instead of one year at a time. However, officials emphasized the second year would be a bare-bones calendar that would be tweaked as it drew nearer.

The board consensus, as outlined by Kitzmiller, was to put together a preliminary 2010-2011 calendar this spring that could be changed later.

For instance, Tennessee mandates when TCAP testing can be done, and that could affect breaks in the school year.

“So much of what we do is out of our control,” Montgomery said.

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