Commonwealth Journal

March 5, 2014

School officials to kids: Have an ice day

Arctic aftermath shuts all 3 districts

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

Once again, local schools got put on ice.
Each of the three public school system shuttered their doors during the first part of this week, as the arctic blast that hit the area Sunday night left lingering snow and ice for days in its wake, making the kind of travel necessary to get to school beyond hazardous.
Now, each school is faced with the prospect of pushing back graduation even further, in a year where  it was already looking to be later than most.
Of course, that’s the glass-half-empty perspective. Sonya Wilds, assistant superintendent of Pulaski County Schools, noted that it could always be worse.
“We’re in much better shape than most districts in the state,” she said. “Many have missed 20-plus days (of school). Several have missed 25, 28.”
Indeed, compared to those staggering numbers, Pulaski’s 12 days out of class so far is a relative bargain. Still, she said, it’s more than what the county schools — usually the district prone to be out of session more often due to the remoteness of many of its students’ residences — have missed in recent years.
In the past couple of years, the county schools missed only three or four days for snow. In early February, Wilds compared the count at that time to 2010-11, when the county was out a whopping 12 days.
Yet here they are again at a dozen days detained, counting today — since county school officials had already decided Thursday would be another missed day.
Wilds is optimistic about Friday being sunny enough that students can get out and get to class, but “we’ll just have to see how it progresses through the day (Thursday).”
As of right now, Pulaski’s last days of school would be June 2. Officials have already decided to nix the April 4 professional work day and have school then. They’re “not considering” cutting into Spring Break (April 7-11) at all at this time, said Wilds.
Boyd Randolph, superintendent of Somerset Independent Schools, expected on Wednesday afternoon to be on a one-hour delay. At least it won’t add to the total of missed days, which reached eight this week. 
That number was already “unusually high” before this week, he noted. “My first two years as superintendent, we missed three days for inclement weather — total.”
Randolph said that the missed days will be added on to the tail end of the instructional calendar, and that Spring Break isn’t in danger. He would prefer having to go into June, however.
“We were originally scheduled to get out on May 23,” he said. “If there are no amendments ... then it will be the following week. District policy is for graduation to be on the Friday after the last day for students. We would be extending past Memorial Day currently if there are no other amendments.”
Right now, the biggest concern would be the new accountability system for Kentucky schools, and how that might be affected by all the missed days.
“The end-of-year assessments have to be done in the last 14 school days,” said Randolph. “We’re not sure when those 14 days will fall if we continually have to tack on days to the end of school year. If it will quit snowing, we can ... have a handle on when we can start the end-of-course assessments and K-PREP testing for elementary and middle school students. That’s the biggest thing we need to make plans for.”
Science Hill Superintendent Rick Walker said that school on Thursday was looking good as of Wednesday afternoon. 
“Our bus drivers have certain spots they go check, have their assignments for checking routes, and communicate with our transportation director,” said Walker of the process for determining the safety of getting students to and from school. “It looks a lot better than it has in days. ... We don’t have as many rural roads (as the county district), so we’re fortunate for that.”
Science Hill, the K-8 district located in northern Pulaski County, has missed 11 days so far and is currently looking at getting out by the end of May.
“Unless we can figure something else out or the legislature gives us some type of relief, we could still be out all of Spring Break, and we’d either then go to school on Election Day and the last day would be Friday, May 30, but if we’re out on Election Day, we’d come back Monday, June 2,” said Walker. “Our school board would rather not (go in June). We start back the second week of August and we’d like to give the kids some summer.”
One thing that could help would be the state legislature potentially waiving up to 10 instructional days. Both Wilds and Walker noted the impact that could have on lessening the need to make drastic changes to the schedule. The idea is currently being discussed in Frankfort, as well as a proposal to hold classes on Election Day (May 20).
“It’s been a statewide problem this year, so they’re looking at this from the state level,” said Wilds. “We’ll see how that plays out. There are a few variables out there.”
And with any luck, fewer snow days on the horizon.
“That’s my hope,” she said, “that it’s going to end, and maybe this will be the last round of it.”