Survey says Sullivan schools should have later fall, spring breaks

Rick Wagner • Nov 29, 2017 at 8:55 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s 2018-19 school calendar will be very close to Kingsport’s already approved one  if the county school board follows an overwhelming recommendation from a survey of the public that favored Draft 2 over Draft 1 by almost 8-1.

What are the differences and the survey results?

The student start and end dates of both draft calendars were the same, Aug. 6 and May 23, respectively. The main differences were that fall break and spring break were a week earlier in Draft 1 than Draft 2. The Board of Education reviewed the drafts in a work session Tuesday afternoon. The BOE is to vote Monday, Dec. 4, on next year’s calendar at a 6:30 meeting in the first-floor meeting room of the health and education building off the Blountville Bypass.

Of 3,101 respondents to the open online survey, Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said 77.3 percent voted for Draft 2, which has fall break Oct. 15-19 and spring break March 25-29. Draft 1 has fall break Oct. 8-12 and spring break March 11-16. Incidental differences are that Draft 2 has a staff development day April 3 while the preferred Draft 2 has staff development day April 18. Also, the first nine weeks ends Oct. 9 in Draft 2 but Oct. 5 in Draft 1 since students would be in the middle of fall break if the nine weeks ended any day from Oct. 8-12.

Why not start after Labor Day?

Board of Education Vice Chairman Randall Jones, who helped with the calendar options, said the survey-favored draft closely mirrors Kingsport’s school calendar and that an option to start school in late July drew almost no interest. Rafalowski said BOE member Jane Thomas’ idea to start school after Labor Day would be difficult at best because of Tennessee standardized testing windows. 

For instance, if the second nine weeks didn’t end until sometime in January, students would take standardized tests before Christmas break and miss part of the instructional time in classes with standardized tests.

Rafalowski said another reason school used to start in late August and ended in May or early June, even with snow, was that fall break didn’t exist and Thanksgiving break was only two school days. The bottom line, she said, is that based on current and past surveys, students, parents, staff and teachers want a full five-day fall break, a five-day spring break, an extended Christmas break and three school days off for Thanksgiving, starting with the Wednesday before. However, Thomas said that with such an early August start, the fall break is all but essential for students, teachers and staff.

What is new in both drafts?

Rafalowski said both new calendar drafts include six hours of professional development toward the 18 hours Sullivan teachers must earn each year and that parent-teacher conferences went from evening back to days.