Next summer will be one day shorter for Columbia County students, but they'll get a few more days off during the following school year.
Columbia County School Board members tentatively approved a 2003-2004 calendar with a start date of Wednesday, Aug. 6 - just a day sooner than this year's start date of Aug. 7. The year will still contain only the state-mandated 180 school days when it ends May 21, but students will have some new holidays in between.
Included in the calendar next year is a "fall break" in October - two days off to create a four-day weekend - and another four-day, "mid-winter break" to coincide with President's Day in February.
Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price, presenting the calendar, said a committee made up of the system's teachers of the year created the new calendar, and then took three options to all the schools for a vote by other educators.
"I think if anything really begged attention, it was that teachers really wanted this fall break," Price said.
Not included in the calendar are student holidays for Veterans Day or Good Friday. Price noted that the strength of the schools' Veterans Day programs justifies keeping schools open that day. And by a recent policy change, students won't be penalized for taking Good Friday or other spiritual holidays off if they document a religious exemption for that day.
The calendar committee presented three options to teachers: A calendar similar to this year's, starting Aug. 7 and ending May 14, without any new holidays; a second option that also started Aug. 7 but with additional holidays ends May 20; and a third calendar starting six days earlier and ending one day later, but with more days off in between.
According to the results of the poll of teachers, most elementary- and middle-school educators preferred the third option, while a majority of high school teachers liked the second.
The calendar committee, using the poll as a guide, then "tweaked" the third calendar option, Price said - primarily by shortening the fall and winter breaks, and moving the start day from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6. Trustees gave the final version tentative approval in a vote last Tuesday.
The vote wasn't unanimous; trustee Lee Muns complained that the calendar "is a nice schedule for somebody that wants a lot of long weekends," and asked why no parental input for the process had been sought.
School Board Chairman Wayne Bridges - whose wife is a teacher - disagreed with Muns' call to post the calendar options on the county's Web site for parental review.
"You're opening up another can of worms," Bridges said, adding that seeking input from thousands of parents would be "a disaster."
"I think the people who best represent student learning are the teachers," Price said.
The calendar is scheduled for final approval at the board's next meeting Nov. 26, in Appling.
Tentative Columbia County school calendar, 2003-2004
July 24, 25, 28-30: Principals' conference
July 31, Aug. 1, 4, 5: Pre-planning
Aug. 6: First day of school
Sept. 1: Labor Day holiday
Oct. 17: Student holiday/teacher staff development
Oct. 20-22: Fall break
Nov. 26-28: Thanksgiving holiday
Dec. 19: End first semester, begin Christmas holiday
Jan. 5: Teacher workday
Jan. 6: First day, second semester
Jan. 19: Martin Luther King Jr. holiday
Feb. 13, 16: Mid-winter break
March 12: Student holiday/teacher staff development
April 5-9: Spring break (Masters Week)
May 21: Last day of school
May 22: Graduation
May 24-26: Post-planning
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