July 18, 2008

Officials Discuss Schools’ Start Date Proposal

By Teresa Williams, Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Ga.

Jul. 18--THOMASVILLE -- State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox recently proposed to push the start date for the 2009-2010 school year back a few weeks.

Cox brought up the suggestion in April during the Spring Superintendents Conference and again in June at Georgia School Boards Association Conference as an effort to help the state's standing in federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

This later start date would allow education officials flexibility with summer retest scores on state standardized tests when calculating Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

The change would be voluntary for each of Georgia's 180 school districts.

Times-Enterprise asked area school system superintendents their thoughts on the proposal.

Dr. Tommy Pharis, superintendent of Grady County Schools, said the possibility is something that would "take a lot of thought."

"We're going to seriously consider the options," Pharis said. "We're already using summer retest scores to determine final AYP status (grades third through eighth) but, by pushing the start date back a couple of weeks, Superintendent Cox is saying we would not have to notify parents of choice or supplemental services until after we have final AYP determinations. This means schools would know final AYP status before offering school choice (chance to transfer to school not a "needs improvement" one under AYP standards). A calendar committee will begin to meet this year to address the 09 calendar and this possibility."

Pharis said a "probable benefit" to the proposed change could be a reduction in utility costs.

"If we started later, we would use less energy and utility costs would be less for the year because the peak rate was established at a time of lesser usage," he said.

Dr. Jean Quigg, superintendent of Thomas County Schools, said the system has "not put pencil to paper to really look at it" for a final decision, but has discussed the proposal and identified some concerns.

"Administrators and I have had discussions and do not wish to see something be mandated about when start date would have to be," she said. "A main reason for this is flexibility. We want to make sure the school system can finish the first semester before Christmas and we would not go from holidays (like Spring Break) right into testing. Pushing the start date might also conflict with graduating seniors and teachers who want to participate in college or other educational programs in the summer."

Superintendent of Thomasville City Schools Sabrina Boykins-Everett said the proposal is "still up in the air," but her system also wants to maintain its flexibility.

"We did respond to an early survey by the state superintendent of schools (Cox) and said we prefer to retain our flexibility in setting our own calendar rather than one unified state calendar," she said. "I know the state department of education did not feel it should impose this upon all the systems in Georgia. My understanding from my conversations with other superintendents is it is preference. Our preference is to keep the flexibility we have."


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