At the Brooke County Board of Education's first meeting to accept public input on the calendar for the 2014-15 school year, the board heard mostly from staff with questions about how it will affect them.
The board received a few suggestions, including ending the first semester before Christmas break and cutting Thanksgiving or spring break if it will mean ending the school year earlier.
Rob Robinson, facilities supervisor, led Monday's meeting after being chosen to represent the school district at a meeting held by the West Virginia Department of Education to inform county school officials of new policies affecting school calendars.
Robinson said some staff at Brooke High School have asked for the first semester to end before Christmas break. They said it helps students to be better prepared for exams covering the semester and would follow the schedule usually used by colleges.
Principal Toni Shute said when a break is followed by a number of weather-related cancellations, as this year's was, it is even more difficult for students to prepare for the exams. She acknowledged not all courses end mid-year and students are exempt from exams if they miss three days of school or less, perform 12 hours of community service and have no out-of-school suspensions. However, she added some students, particularly seniors, prefer to take the exams to prepare for college studies.
Robinson said state policy requires a semester to be 85 to 95 days. To accommodate a semester that is 86 days and ending before a Christmas break beginning Dec. 22, the school year would have to begin on Aug. 11.
Board member Chad Haught said the current school year began Aug. 19 for students.
"I think that's plenty early enough," he said.
Ralph Smith, a vocational instructor at the high school, said school officials should consider classrooms without air conditioning when planning earlier start dates. Robinson said vocational classrooms and gymnasiums primarily are without air conditioning, but it is a concern.
This year's calendar included a week-long break around Thanksgiving and before Easter weekend and an end date of May 29, which could be changed to make up for cancellations. School officials have acknowledged the Thanksgiving break was spurred by low attendance and financial concerns.
Assistant Superintendent Marty Bartz said the school district has spent about $14,000 for substitute staff during the week, which many staff and students take off to go hunting. Kidder-Wilkerson said it's likely days from the spring break will be cut to make up for canceled school days.
Meanwhile, Robinson said school districts may address delays and early dismissals in various ways. They may add minutes to the school day in advance to make up for the lost time, should it occur, or add minutes after the delays or cancellations have occurred.
Districts may convert staff development days and days allotted for teachers to prepare for the school year or finalize grades at the end of the year. The latter days previously could not be used.
Robinson presented other possible calendars, including a traditional one with a start date of Aug. 22 for students and a year-round calendar that would include 15-day breaks in fall, winter and spring and a 30-day break in July. He said he only included the latter because it is being discussed in other school districts.
Board President Jim Piccirillo said he doesn't believe the board will support a year-round school year, but he added he and other board members are open to various suggestions.
Plans call for another public meeting to be held in March after a committee of school administrators, teachers and service personnel has reviewed options. The board must adopt a calendar for submission to the state Department of Education by May 1.