August 2, 2008

Yowell Opening Pushed Back

By Rhonda Simmons, Culpeper Star-Exponent, Va.

Aug. 2--Yowell Elementary School students and teachers will have to wait an additional week before they are allowed to set up shop inside their brand new $15 million two-story school.

The first day of school for the county is Aug. 20.

The Culpeper County School Board voted unanimously 7-0 in favor of opening Yowell on Aug. 27 during its work session Friday evening.

Before the vote, Yowell Principal Cathy Timmons made the suggestion to open Yowell a week late.

"I think emotionally, physically and instructionally this will make a sound idea than starting on an alternate site," said Timmons. "By starting on the 27th teachers and students could begin at Yowell (at) the same location.

"This means they would not have to move locations from that alternate site that we had talked about previously."

Earlier this year, school officials discussed housing Yowell students in Culpeper Middle School's ninth-grade wing and/or the nearby Culpeper County High School annex until the county's sixth elementary school was complete.

Timmons said she polled the Culpeper Parent Advisory committee Thursday on whether Yowell students should open late or begin classes at an alternate campus.

"Every response that I received stated the preference for delaying the opening to allow Yowell Elementary School (students) to start on our own campus," she said.

Starting before Labor Day, Timmons said, Yowell students would be able to save three instructional days.

A five-day delay would result in losing about 1,750 minutes or 29.15 hours, according to Timmons' calculations.

"By tweaking my schedule a bit, I could gain 10 minutes onto my instructional day," said Timmons, who shared her ideas with the transportation department. "It's been assured that this could be done if we work like nice oiled machines getting our kids on the bus in the afternoon.

"By gaining that 10 minutes a day and multiplying by the remaining 175 days, we've earned back 1,750 minutes, which is exactly the amount of time we would have lost by delaying."

According to state law, school systems must operate at least 180 teaching days or 990 teaching hours.

Timmons also suggested having Yowell students and teachers attend school during professional teacher development days to make up the five days.

School Board member Elizabeth Hutchins agreed with Timmons' alternative planning, but differs when it comes to adding 10 additional minutes a day to Yowell's schedule.

"We did that before to pick up some time and you don't gain instructionally as much," she said. "Ten minutes a day does not do a whole lot for teaching."

Hutchins also wanted to know where Yowell students would be while all the other students would be in school.

"Are we expecting the parents to simply take care of these children at home?" she posed. "Or are we going to provide some type of daycare for these children? I know that a lot of these parents are commuter parents."

Vice Chairman Bob Beard pointed out that the school system is not legally responsible to provide daycare.

"I think working together as community partners there's possibly an easy and cost-effective solution to this problem," he added.

Before the discussion, Hunter Spencer, Culpeper County Public Schools construction projects manager, briefed the board with updates on the progress of construction at Yowell.

"We've come a long way in a month," Spencer said.

Last week, the setback at the county's sixth elementary school -- under construction at the intersection of Yowell Drive and Sperryville Pike -- was blamed on site work.

Spencer said the site work should be complete in less than two weeks. Construction crews installed phone lines on Friday, according to Spencer.

"There are over 100 people working every day," he said. "The contractors are putting (in) every effort to get this done."

Spencer told the board that he expects to receive a temporary occupancy permit for Yowell on Aug. 20 that would allow a limited amount of people such as teachers to set up their classrooms before the first day of school.

He also expects to get a permanent occupancy permit by Aug. 27.

School Board member Rusty Jenkins asked Spencer about the intersection and if it'll be ready for a horde of bus and car traffic by the time school opens.

That's when Spencer informed the board that there won't be a stop light installed by the first day of school. He hopes to utilize local law enforcement officers at the intersection to direct traffic.

Although, he said, Yowell Drive and the northbound side of U.S. 522 should be paved by next weekend.

Rhonda Simmons can be reached at 825-0771 ext. 125 or [email protected]


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