By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Jan. 23, 2018 | 5:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – After a pair of snowstorms left students and teachers out of the classroom for days on end through the month of January, many school divisions, Dinwiddie included were forced to reevaluate their school calendar to see if the lost instructional time can be made up. Following a special meeting Tuesday at the school division’s headquarters, the Dinwiddie School Board approved a plan to make up a portion of the missed class time.
During their special meeting, school board members unanimously approved a revised 2018 school year calendar that sees adjustments made in an effort to regain time lost following winter storms on January 3 and 16.
According to a copy of the calendar and Dinwiddie Schools Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Royal Gurley, a previously scheduled teacher workday for Monday, January 29 has been converted into a full day of classes in Dinwiddie County. In addition, President’s Day, Monday, February 19, which also would have been a day off has been turned into a normal school day for the county’s schools.
In his report, Gurley explained the two days selected by school officials “would give back a lot of time” that was lost during January’s bout of winter weather.
The adjustments to the school division’s calendar come on the heels of the first winter storm that blanketed the area in several inches of snow on January 3 and left schools in the county closed from January 4 through January 9 as crews worked to make roads passable for buses and everyday drivers alike. After that storm, the school division released a statement saying, in part, they had no plans to make up those four missed days, noting that the school division’s calendar committee “[considered] many variables, including inclement weather]” when planning the program needs of students while meeting the Virginia Department of Education’s mandate that requires the Commonwealth’s school divisions to provide a minimum of 990 hours of instruction time during a given school year.
Less than a week after the school division announced their intent to forgo making up the four snow days, another storm system brought more wintry precipitation to Dinwiddie County, leaving schools closed again on Wednesday, January 17 through Friday, January 19, bringing the total number of missed days to seven in just the month of January.
Returning to work and school on Monday, Dinwiddie County Public Schools and their team of administrators began working on a plan to address the missed time in such a way that it provides needed instructional time to students, while garnering input from teachers and staff and minimizing impact on other parts of the school calendar, such as Spring Break and weekends.
“This has been an unusually eventful winter,” remarked Dinwiddie Schools Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston. “One of the smart things that school divisions have done is build time into their calendar for weather and emergencies, so we talked with principals and staff about these changes to the calendar.”
During the discussion, School Board member Barbara Pittman did note the challenge teachers may face from the loss of the teacher workday on Monday, January 29, which is usually the transition between semesters for most school divisions but, Dr. Gurley explained that teachers played a key role in the conversation regarding what days would be used as make-up days in Dinwiddie County, adding that principals and other administrative staff will be working with teachers to make the transition easier without the teacher workday.
“It was a great conversation,” Dr. Weston said as she spoke about the staff meeting held Monday where teachers were able to give feedback on the then-proposed, now-adopted revised school calendar. “We got valuable feedback and we haven’t heard anything but positive comments about this calendar.”
Along with addressing current snow days, Dr. Gurley noted that the school division’s calendar committee also identified other days that could be utilized if Dinwiddie schools are forced to close again for inclement weather or other emergencies, with a previously scheduled early release dates of Friday, March 30 and Friday, May 25 both in the cards for a conversion to full school days if additional makeup days are needed.
Following the calendar’s approval by the school board, Dr. Weston explained why it was important for her team to provide a decision on making up snow days as soon as possible to teachers, parents, and students.
“We need to make sure we are very transparent with our communication with our community,” the superintendent explained. “We put together our calendar last summer and people make plans around that calendar and I think, for our stakeholders, we want to make certain that we work very quickly to provide them with the most recent information possible so that they can continue to adjust their plans accordingly.”
As part of that decision, Dr. Weston said having different voices at the table was an important part of the process as they worked to ensure student needs and the needs of teachers and staff are both met. The superintendent added while the school division was still on pace to meet VDOE’s requirements of 990 hours of instruction, the needs of students was the primary driver in their decision to makeup the lost time.
“We took a look at our curriculum and what we want our kids to be able to do, where are they currently, where do we want them to be at the end of the school year, and what is the gap in between” Dr. Weston explained. “So, we had to look at the time that was available to us and what is the best time to offer those days to make those things happen.”
She continued, “We are really trying to protect things like spring break and weekends because we know those are important times for families, so we are focused on using the days that are available to us.”
As the winter season marches on, school officials said they will continue to monitor their calendar and make adjustments as need in the event of inclement weather or other emergency days but, for most of the school division’s administration, they are waiting for the entrance of spring into Dinwiddie after a long, snowy winter.
The updated 2017-2018 school calendar is available on the Dinwiddie Public Schools website at http://dinwiddie.k12.va.us.