published Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Hamilton County Schools keeping fall break

Hamilton County teachers like their fall break, and they'll continue to get it.

After discussing a later start to the school year, the Hamilton County Board of Education followed teacher consensus, approving a school calendar for next year that looks similar to this year's version and includes a weeklong fall break.

Teachers recently voted on two proposed school calendars for the 2012-13 school year. Similar to the current calendar, one version proposed Aug. 10 as the first day of school, with the final day on May 24 and including a weeklong fall break Oct. 8-12. The other proposed a start day of Aug. 17, running until May 24 with no fall break.

This year, school began on Aug. 10 for students and will end on May 22. Teachers and students were off for fall break Oct. 17-21.

About 2,700 teachers weighed in on the calendar vote this month, overwhelmingly supporting the calendar with the earlier start date that includes a fall break, said Stacy Stewart, assistant superintendent for human resources. A total of 2,385 teachers, about 88 percent of the votes, asked for the inclusion of a fall break.

On Thursday, the school board approved the teacher-recommended calendar in a 7-1 vote, though some expressed concern with the two versions. Board member Jeffrey Wilson was absent, while Rhonda Thurman voted against the measure.

Thurman said she thought the school year included too many days off, which makes it hard for students to retain information. She took issue with fall break, winter break and other days students are off throughout the year.

"I just don't like all this starting and stopping," she said. "Teachers tell me the hardest thing they have to do is start and stop."

Aside from the extended breaks, Thurman said she doesn't like students going to school in early August, the hottest part of the school year. It costs more in air conditioning and is harder on the children who ride buses, she said.

"I just don't understand why we do this," she said.

Superintendent Rick Smith said Thurman made a good point, but said state-mandated testing days make it hard to have a calendar without breaks.

"It's something we struggle with," he said. "That's something right now we just don't know how to work around, that testing day."

Board member Joe Galloway agreed with Thurman's points, but said the board should follow teachers' wishes on next year's calendar.

"I would like to see school [start] later myself," he said. "But teachers overwhelmingly chose this option. I think we ought to go with it."

Smith said district officials would start planning the school calendar in the fall next year, giving them more time for any possible major changes.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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