June 19, 2008

School Could Ring in Later

By Jess Davis, The Brunswick News, Ga.

Jun. 19--Glynn County schools would start later in August 2009 if the state superintendent of schools gets her way.

Kathy Cox wants schools across the state to push back starting dates to late August.

The move would allow the state to set a uniform testing date at the end of summer school, allowing scores of students who failed in spring, but passed in summer, count toward a school's adequate yearly progress rating.

Glynn County Schools Superintendent Michael Bull said he heard about the proposal, but doesn't know if anything will come of it.

"It's premature," he said. "It's not something I'm actively concerned about right now."

Bull said he would support the idea if it happened across the state. Allowing summer test scores to count toward AYP would "boost everybody in the state," he said, including Glynn County schools.

This year, there may be as many as six public schools in Glynn County that fail to make AYP.

Bull is not the only one in the school system who tends to favor the idea.

"I'm all for it," said school board member Lance Turpin.

Turpin said the community has wanted a later starting date for a long time, but couldn't push it back too far because of when standardized testing occurred. If the state moves tests, the schools can start later, he said.

School board member Dave Smith said he wants to hear more about the plan. He and other school board members will get that chance this weekend at the annual Georgia School Boards Association meeting in Savannah, where Cox will present the proposal Friday.

Smith said he would support the move, though only if implemented for academic reasons.

The school board typically sets the school calendar in January, Smith said. This year, the new school term will begin Aug. 13.

The possible push-back is welcome news to state legislators and tourism officials who have long advocated a later starting date for schools.

Proponents include House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, who had tried unsuccessfully to pass a uniform late-August school starting date in the Georgia General Assembly.

"Our school calendar doesn't allow students to work all summer," Keen said. Keen said the move would be good for students who want to work and good for businesses. Tourists from other areas of the state would have a few more weeks of summer to visit and businesses that rely on student help wouldn't suffer a labor shortage.

Also interested in the proposal is Eric Garvey, senior marketing director for the Jekyll Island Authority, which employs a legion of youths during the summer vacation months.

"It's a very encouraging development," Garvey said.

When Georgia schools start earlier, fewer people visit the Golden Isles, Garvey said. He said only half the hotel rooms on Jekyll Island are filled in August, but when school started later, almost three quarters of the rooms were occupied.

That decline hasn't been accompanied by an increase in visitors in May or early June, when schools are out, he said.

The island's Summer Waves water park also loses money because of early school starts, he said. Many of the park's workers are high school students and without them the park must operate on limited hours in August.

"It would be very encouraging for us" if schools start later, he said. "But the quality of education takes priority over tourism and leisure."


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