By Karen Hall
The "overwhelming majority" of Marshall County residents who responded to a recent survey about the schools' calendar are happy with it.
This was revealed at a meeting of the Central Office calendar committee Wednesday. Led by supervisor of secondary instruction Julie Thomas, assisted by elementary supervisor Vylatte Gooch and attendance and testing supervisor Dr. Patsey Thomas, a group of teachers, representing all the county schools, spent over an hour discussing the survey and other topics relating to the calendar.
The half days of school at the start of the year, and before the Christmas and summer breaks seem to be misunderstood and resented by some parents.
"We're finding the half days are considered a hardship," Julie Thomas said. "They don't understand half days," she continued. "They think we can choose between a half day and no school at all. They don't understand a half day counts as a day."
Committee members also spent some time talking about professional development days, with one of them remarking, "I don't know how beneficial that many professional development days are."
This drew a sharp response from technology supervisor Suzanne Ingram.
"If you look at your test scores you need them," Ingram exclaimed. "It's more beneficial if you train as a staff at your school. One size rarely fits all."
"That's why we have a professional development committee," said interim assistant director Dr. Larry Miller, "to reflect what teachers want and need. The whole thing was to help us address areas of concern and put real teeth into improvement."
Julie Thomas identified two issues for calendar committee members to take back to their schools and discuss with their fellow teachers: parent-teacher conferences and when they are most effective; and, professional development days, when they are most appropriate.
Six hours of parent-teacher conferences are required by each teacher's 200-day contract, but the ideal time to hold them varies according to the students' level.
One teacher pointed out it was important for the community to understand why the school calendar has so many "stops and starts."
She said people commonly say teachers "just want time off," but, in fact, research has shown that shorter breaks help student retention and academic achievement.
"You have to spread the 180 days," she said, referring to the state-mandated number of instructional days per year.
School board member Barbara Kennedy, chairman of the board's calendar committee, listened attentively to everything, and finally said, "Maybe the calendar's not the answer" to why Marshall County schools are not meeting educational expectations. She noted that three elementary schools did not make adequate yearly progress.
Ingram agreed with her and expanded on the point, stating, "The board needs to come down hard and say, 'instructional time is sacred in Marshall County schools.' We have to teach all students from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will take somebody with a very rigid backbone to say it."