The school system plans to set aside three days during winter break in February next school year to serve as “potential inclement weather make-up days,” to be used if needed, a memo from Cherokee Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo said.
Principals also have the authority to schedule times this school year to make up work at individual schools, but attendance would not be mandatory.
Petruzielo said “one size does not fit all,” in announcing the decision.
“Every principal has been authorized to alter student and staff schedules within current hours at their discretion, while still meeting state requirements,” Petruzielo said Monday in a letter to school board members. “Schools also can offer additional/optional instructional opportunities, such as before-school, after-school and/or school on Saturdays, in order to meet the academic needs of their students.”
He said the use of additional or optional before-school, after-school and Saturday school have been proven “extremely successful” in Title 1 schools for helping at-rick children, and said each school can best decide what its students need.
Cherokee School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said schools were closed two days during what Jacoby called the “Polar Vortex,” when freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chills threatened students with potential frostbite, three days for “Snow Jam” in January, when a snowstorm caught the state off guard and locked thousands in traffic across metro Atlanta as conditions worsened, and four days in the most recent winter storms, which left the county blanketed in snow and ice for days.
The state Department of Education allows each district to cancel four days of school for inclement weather, without required make-up days; and on Feb. 20, the state Board of Education increased the number of allowed cancellation days, ruling that districts are not required to make up school days that were canceled during the “State of Emergency” periods issued by Gov. Nathan Deal in January and February.
Seven of the nine school days canceled in Cherokee fall within the two State of Emergency periods declared by the governor, which means the Cherokee School District has used two of the four excused inclement weather days allowed by the state this school year and is not required to schedule make-up days.
With important state tests coming up for students, including the Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test and high school End-Of-Course Tests, Petruzielo said instructional time is important. But, he said, there is no perfect solution for making up the lost school time.
“We are very aware that the loss of nine days of instructional time could impact the ability of some students to master performance standards and pass state standardized tests,” Petruzielo said. “We also are aware that there is no expeditious way to make up this time within the current school calendar without significant negative impacts; likewise, adjusting the current hours of operation presents similar challenges.”
Petruzielo said principals have been encouraged to collaborate districtwide to meet student’s instructional needs successfully, “so that students throughout the school system can benefit from collective resourcefulness and ingenuity.”
He said teachers and administrators have already been working to ensure students get the instruction they need to succeed.
“Classroom teachers and school-based administrators, since the first inclement weather days of the season, have been developing and implementing various schedule adjustments, classroom instructional techniques and homework assignments to ensure that students stay on task and on schedule as we approach statewide testing this spring,” Petruzielo said.
In response to the many days lost to bad weather this school year, the district implemented a new strategy for next year to help remedy the problem of lost instructional time.
“Beginning in the next school year, (the district will) designate the latter half, Wednesday to Friday, of the February Winter Break as ‘potential inclement weather make-up days’ to be used for that purpose, if needed,” Petruzielo said.
Petruzielo said the district planned to send a letter home to parents today, as well as post information online, about the district’s plans for make-up time.
He added that teachers and administrators have already begun to make up for missed work hours using the district’s guidelines.
“The furlough days previously scheduled for June 3 and 4 are additional opportunities, if needed, for making up missed hours through post-planning activities,” Petruzielo said. “In service/professional development days will be held May 30 through June 4 for other CCSD employees who need to make up missed work hours.”
Petruzielo said employees who work at non-school work sites will have other make-up options determined by departments at the district level.