Across Westfield, residents and businesses continue the process of piecing together the lives and schedules that were interrupted during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. The Westfield Board of Education’s responsibility is no different, and at its meeting Tuesday night, the Board began the process of finding days on the remaining 2012-2013 school year schedule to make up for the classroom time that was lost as a result of the storm.
The effort of finding suitable make-up days on the schedule is one complicated by both the educational requirements of the state and the traditional plans of families. Several Board members and parents noted it is a puzzle lacking an ideal solution. But after a presentation and discussion, the Board unanimously approved Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s proposal to make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 21, 2013) and Presidents Day (Feb. 18, 2013) official school days.
The state requires each district to open for 180 school days each school year in order to receive financial aid from the state, according to a presentation given by Dolan Tuesday night. A failure to meet the 180-day requirement would result in a loss of at least $2 or $3 million for the district, according to Board President Richard Mattessich.
The hurricane resulted in the closure of all district schools from October 29 through November 7. The district was able to re-open the high school and Edison and Roosevelt Intermediate Schools on Thursday, Nov. 8, meaning that those three schools lost a total of eight instructional days. The remainder of schools re-opened on Friday, Nov. 9, resulting in a loss of nine instructional days for those schools.
Dolan focused last night’s discussion on building the school calendar back to the 180-day plateau, with a specific focus on making up the days lost by the high school and intermediate schools. Further discussions – including those focused on the extra day lost by the elementary schools on Nov. 8 – will take place both privately among the Policy Committee and publicly at the Board’s next meeting on Nov. 27.
According to Dolan’s presentation, the district originally planned 184 instructional days into the 2012-2013 calendar, with four “extra” days to protect the district in the event days were lost to natural events like Hurricane Sandy. Those extra days enabled the district to reduce the number of days to make up from eight to four. Additionally, the district’s upper-level schools gained two days of instructional time when the annual teacher convention (originally scheduled for Nov. 8 and 9) was canceled, opening up two days of classes not on the initial school year schedule.
That left the district with the task of finding two days on the remaining schedule to make up for class time lost as a result of the storm. Dolan expressed a preference for choosing the most proximate dates possible, but also said it was prudent to avoid dates where students were most likely to have travel commitments and holiday plans. For example, the day after Thanksgiving and days during the winter holiday were not chosen because, in Dolan’s judgment, student attendance was most likely to suffer on those dates.
The district’s desire to reschedule for the soonest dates possible was also motivated by the strong possibility that more days will be lost this school year, particularly in the form of snow days during what many expect to be a turbulent winter. Contingency plans for such a scenario – including removing days from spring break, adding days to the end of the school year, or perhaps having classes on Saturdays – each carry their own unique set of problems. Dolan said that topic will be further discussed at the Nov. 27 meeting.
Schools will only be open for a four-hour session on Jan. 21, but the day will count as a full day of instruction. Dolan noted that the half-day would allow students and faculty to attend the town’s annual mid-day ceremony acknowledging the history behind the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Though the two days approved by the Board are federal holidays, Dolan told the Board that she had notified the teacher's association of her proposal and they had approved of it given the uniqueness of the situation.
Further scheduling adjustments, including changes of the dates of aptitude tests and math midterms at the intermediate schools, will be detailed on the district website.