Whitesburg KY

Classes here still may end in May

Even with the number of school days missed because of an H1N1 scare in the fall and snow days this winter, students in Letcher County could still begin their summer breaks in May.

“They could unless we miss more days because of snow,” said Debbie Watts, superintendent of Jenkins Independent Schools.

Kenneth Cornett, director of pupil personnel for Letcher County Public Schools, said the last day of the 2009-2010 school year for students is still set for May 24.

Watts said as it stands now, three more instructional days will need to be added to the original last day of classes for students in the Jenkins school district, which was set for May 13. Watts said if no more school days are missed the last day for students would be May 18.

Both school districts will use some staff professional development days and “banked” days, which are days accumulated by having extra time added to the regular school day, to compensate for some of the missed days.

Watts said weather permitting, classes will be in session for Jenkins schools on Jan. 15, March 5 and April 2. Those were days originally set in the school calendar for professional development days for teachers but will now be used as instructional days for students. Watts said her staff has already completed the required amount of professional development.

“Right now with the banked days we have not added any additional days to the calendar but we are getting close,” said Cornett.

Cornett said a school year can’t go longer than June 30 because that is the end of the fiscal year.

“We would try to do things to prevent that from happening,” said Cornett.

Cornett said if the district got in a rare situation of having to close school for an extended time, pushing the last day to late June, the length of the school day would be increased or school would be in session on Saturdays to keep students from being in school in late June.

At the February board meetings, the Letcher County Board of Education and the Jenkins Independent Board of Education will both discuss whether or not to have classes during some of spring break. Both districts have spring break scheduled for the week of April 5.

“Our board will probably move to modify those days,” said Watts.

Different schools in the Letcher County Public School System were closed during various time last semester for flu-like symptoms and viruses. Martha Jane Potter Elementary School missed six days. Cowan Elementary School was closed five days. Letcher Elementary School and Whitesburg Middle School were closed four days. West Whitesburg Elementary School missed three days and Beckham Bates Elementary School missed two days. In addition to those days, classes were canceled district-wide two days because of low attendance rates caused by different illnesses.

Cornett said the district has applied to the Kentucky Department of Education for disaster days for the days canceled because of sickness. If those days are not granted, some schools may have to go longer than others.

Jenkins Independent Schools missed four days for the flu.

So far, both school districts have missed seven days because of inclement weather — all in January. Because of Christmas break, students have not been in class since Dec. 18.

“Missing so many days hurts student achievement,” said Anna Craft, superintendent of Letcher County Public Schools.

Watts said she is also concerned about student achievement and would like to get students back in the classroom as soon as it is safe.

“We are very concerned about student achievement,” said Watts. “We’re going to have to teach a lot in a short space. Our curriculum is so broad. We have so much to cover before test times and to help them understand it at a proficient level before testing.”

Craft said school districts in eastern Kentucky miss more days than other districts, making it uneven come state testing time.

“It causes us to fall behind the rest of the school districts,” said Craft. “That makes it uneven and unfair. If you don’t have any exposure to some things you aren’t going to learn it or master it.”

Craft said when classes do resume teachers will need to regroup and review old curriculum with students before starting teaching new information.

“You can’t just pick up,” said Watts. “You have to remind them where they are.”

Watts said her staff will soon have meetings to discuss schedules and strategies to help students learn.

“I think we are really going to have to push ourselves and see how we can help kids pick up lost ground,” said Watts. “Every day is important with those kids. We really have a lot of work to do between now and assessment time.”

Craft said students in kindergarten through ninth grade in the Letcher County Public School System can take advantage of the extra time they have during these snow days to brush up on reading and math skills by playing a computer program on the Internet called Kid’s College. Lesia Whitaker, associate director of curriculum and instruction, said every student should have been issued a user name and password to access the program at http:// www.kclogin.com.

“It’s at least a way to stimulate students’ thinking and learning while they are off from school,” said Craft. “It’s a great motivating tool for students.”

Whitaker said the computer program focuses on a student’s strengths and weaknesses. After a student answers so many questions, he or she is able to play a sports game.

“The feedback that we have gotten so far from the schools is that the kids love it,” said Whitaker.

Even though Craft is concerned about student achievement she said student safety is her main concern.

“We just have to put the safety of our students first,” said Craft. “We’ve got a lot of hollows and a lot of county roads where the sun doesn’t hit as fast.”

She said there are solid sheets of ice on some roads that make it dangerous for school buses to travel.

“I’m not going to put buses out there when it is too dangerous,” said Craft. “When it starts sliding nothing will stop it but a ditch or a cliff.”

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