A plan revising Hanover’s school calendar for the 2023-2024 session that includes a pre-Labor Day starting date has evenly divided support among students and parents. A number of them favor retaining the traditional post-Labor Day start, while an equal portion of stakeholders support a first day two weeks earlier.
That’s the message school officials received when they requested public input following the introduction of the revised calendar last year. The responses were equally divided among the slightly less than 300 responses received.
For decades, a number of Virginia school districts began school after Labor Day, thanks in large part to a law dubbed the Kings Dominion Law that prohibited start dates pre-Labor Day. That law was repealed in 2019, allowing an exodus to the pre-Labor option for many districts.
“Three years ago at the request of the board, we sought feedback from the community as part of our calendar process regarding a prior to Labor Day start,” superintendent Michael Gill told board members at the April 12 meeting. “The feedback at that time came back almost even, 51% to 49%.” The board chose not to make any adjustments at that time.
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The calendar committee, comprised of about 20 parents, teachers, stakeholders and administration, assists in preparation of upcoming calendars. Last fall, the panel suggested a prior Labor Day start for the 2023-24 school year. Any change would not affect the current post-Labor Day start scheduled for the upcoming 2022-23 year.
“The calendar committee came to consensus in bringing this proposal to the board,” director of accreditation and accountability Nancy Disharoon said.
When she introduced the proposed changes at the December 2021 meeting, she requested another round of public feedback. Disharoon summarized those comments at last week’s meeting.
Those objecting to the proposed Aug. 21 start noted the impact it would have on family vacations, and others noted the late summer heat on students riding un-airconditioned buses. They also cited the impact on summer jobs. Others expressed a desire to leave things as they are since there is no need to adjust.
Conversely, those favoring a first day in August commented that the earlier start date would align Hanover with other school districts and regional schools like Maggie Walker Governors School.
The new schedule would also better coincide with the county’s College Academy and IB testing according to proponents.
Those supporting the start prior to Labor Day also argued that an earlier start date allows teachers to enroll in summer programs that often begin early for professional development.
Disharoon suggested another round of requests for public feedback and that those comments be accepted through May 3.
Chickahominy board representative Bob Hundley suggested that comment time be extended in order to receive the most responses.
“If we want to try and get as much input as we can, shouldn’t we have a little longer than May 3,” Hundley questioned.
Gill explained that date was selected to allow the additional input to be presented to the board at its May meeting so they could vote on the issue in June. “The thought being if people were making plans for the summer of 2023 would get as much advanced notice as possible,” Gill said.
“I’m just looking for as much input as we can possibly get,” Hundley said. “I would hate to see 300 out of 17,000 again,” he said referring to the number of responses received in December and early January.
Board members John Axselle and Bob May also voiced support for an extension of the comment period to gauge the community’s preference on such an evenly divided issue.
Comments are currently being and accepted and those affected by the proposed changes including families, employees, and community members. They are encouraged to send written feedback on the proposal to [email protected] by Friday, May 27 for consideration by the school board.
A decision at the June meeting is expected.
Not unlike school divisions across the nation, HCPS is finding it difficult to attract candidates to positions described as hard to fill. Topping that list are bus drivers, but a number of other positions are included in that classification.
School divisions are also finding it difficult to attract special education teachers, food service workers, high school math teachers, custodians, language, art and physical education teachers and many others.
In an effort to alleviate the situation, the school board has provided a variety of incentives to attract candidates, including a referral program that rewards current employees with $1,000 stipends for recommendations that result in full-time hires and bonuses. Compensation for many of the identified hard-to-fill positions have also been increased, but the problem persists.
Assistant superintendent for finance Christina Berta and assistant superintendent of human resources Mandy Baker presented expanded plans designed to address those shortages at last week’s meeting.
Berta said transportation hires will now be compensated from day one including an eight-week training session required in order to receive a CDL permit. She said instructional assistance will also be provided to candidates preparing for the test.
Another adjustment to the current compensation allows drivers to be compensated from the time they enter their buses, a practice employed by neighboring districts referred to as a key-on, key-off system.
That adds up to about 30 minutes additional time for each driver, costing about $200,000.
Baker also proposed doubling the referral incentive to $2,000, paid in installments as the new hire remains in service. The employee making the referral is fully paid within 180 days. There is no limit on the number of referrals can submit.
The board will vote on the proposals at its May meeting.