Polk County School Board considering new school calendar

Published 10:27 pm Sunday, November 17, 2019

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Citing a desire to have flexibility in determining what is best for local students and families, the Polk County Board of Education is examining calendar options for the 2020-2021 school year to better serve students.

The board broached the topic of joining other school districts around the state in beginning school earlier in August during its regular monthly meeting on Monday at Stearns Education Center.

At present, state law restricts public school districts in North Carolina from starting classes before August 26 or ending after June 10. The late August start date prevents school districts from completing the fall semester before the Christmas break; Polk’s school calendars previously were created so that first semester courses and exams were completed before the holiday break and students got out of school in late May near Memorial Day.

The board discussed sample approaches including a variation of a “year-round” calendar that would involve three academic terms – a fall term beginning around two weeks earlier in August, a spring term ending two weeks earlier in late May and a summer term that would serve students in need of remediation, enrichment or other special programming. This type of calendar would be very similar to the existing school calendar except for the earlier start and end dates. Students would get two full weeks off for Christmas and summer break for most students would remain similar in length.

Adopting the three-term format would provide Polk County Schools an exemption from current state law regarding start dates.

Board members and Superintendent Aaron Greene discussed what earlier start and end dates would mean for students. By ending the first semester in December, students at the high school level would complete first-semester courses and exams before leaving for the holiday break. It would also allow students taking college courses to have an academic calendar aligned with those semesters. The added flexibility would also help Polk County Schools in allotting days for mandatory professional development for teachers and creating a calendar better equipped to deal with missed days resulting from bad weather.

The board agreed to move forward with creating a three-term calendar option and requested that district administration solicit feedback from parents and families in the community. Greene said he would update the board on any legislative action that might further restrict local control regarding the three-term option.    

In other action at the meeting:

• Polk County Early College students presented highlights from their August 2019 Study Trip to the Coast. The students discussed how much they learned and gave some interesting observations from their studies at the coast.

• Food Service Director Jennifer Peeler gave a report on changes in the food service program implemented this year and their impact on participation. Menu changes, staffing shifts and cafeteria improvements seem to be making a positive impact on the number of breakfasts and lunches consumed each day at all schools. Overall the district has increased participation and revenue as compared with last year.

• Curriculum and Instruction Director Ronette Dill reported on recent National Board Teacher Certification (NBTC) honors for the district. Polk County Schools was recognized as one of only 81 school districts across the nation with high rates of National Board-certified teachers. More than 20 percent of teachers in the district have earned National Board Certification. Dill commented on the value of the process in helping teachers improve their instruction and how fortunate Polk is to have such a large number of NBTC teachers serving students.  

• After School Director Linley Foster updated the Board on SUMMIT, an intergenerational mentoring and supplemental activity program that helps expose and teach students about unique content and skills such as photography, sign language, character and others. Foster and Greene conveyed their appreciation for the additional funding provided by Polk County Community Foundation to assist with volunteer coordination and supplies for activities.

• Accountability and Technology Director Dave Scherping continued the district’s discussion of using a design-build process to address the HVAC improvements needed at Polk County High School. The board agreed to release a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to solicit bids and proposals from firms on the project. It is estimated that needed renovations to the almost 27-year old HVAC system will cost approximately $3.7 million.

• The Board heard the recommendations of the Teacher Supplement Committee regarding licensed employee supplements. Given the current budget situation and need for predictability in local expenditures, the board elected to support the provision of annual supplements based on fixed dollar amounts rather than the historic percentage of salary calculation.

• Greene and Transportation Director Lambert Ridings presented a recommendation to the board to reduce the number of yellow buses and routes currently being operated in the district. This reduction proposal is in direct response to budget shortfalls due to decreased ridership and increased transportation and personnel costs. The reduction will ensure that Polk County Schools receives a much higher efficiency rating and subsequent maximum reimbursement for transportation costs and will save the district an estimated $100,000 in local expenses.