Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about concerns of Elkin City Schools officials and discussion held between the school system and local, state and national elected officials during a dinner held Jan. 7 in Elkin.
While Elkin school officials made sure to point out the high accolades the school system has received in the recent past, they also took time Thursday night during a special dinner meeting to discuss concerns they have with area state elected officials, county commissioners and representatives of the area’s national elected officials.
In years past, the Legislative Dinner hosted by Elkin City Schools has been in a lunch format with a formal tour of the school and seeing students and teachers at work, but this year, explained Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe, the idea was to have an evening event which could be more formal with more time for discussion.
System consolidation worries
Issues brought to the table by Bledsoe included a new bill which allows two county school systems to merge into one. He said, while the bill didn’t specifically say city systems in it, the topic of system consolidation has come up about every other year since he was hired as Elkin’s superintendent.
During the state officials’ time to respond to any concerns and questions and answers to take place, Rep. Sarah Stevens said unfortunately when there is a problem with one school system in the state not meeting standards or responding to direction to better the system, the state legislators cannot create a law to pinpoint just that system. So this consolidation law had to be a statewide bill to include all areas so the state would have the authority to realign school districts in that area.
“I believe in consolidation, but not in education,” said Stevens. “What minimal savings would come from it is not worth what we would lose. The competition in Mount Airy, Surry County and Elkin brings us all up.”
School calendar woes
Another concern for the local school system is the lack of control over the school calendar, with Bledsoe expressing a desire to be able to have first-semester exams completed before Christmas break.
Barbara Long, career and technical education director for ECS, explained exams aren’t until the coming week, and some students may miss their second-semester community college or online courses through the North Carolina School of Science and Math because they will be in first-semester exams for high school courses taken prior to the break.
“Let us decide when to start and when to begin. We have exams next week and we pray it doesn’t snow,” said Bledsoe. “Let’s get the first semester ended before Christmas.”
He added students might be two weeks without having anything to do because of the difference in start and end dates between the school system and the community college and online courses.
State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, who is from Alleghany County and is an educator as well, explained the coastal legislators love the calendar law, which presently denies local school systems set a start date prior to Aug. 26 unless they are eligible for a waiver due to a large number of days missed from inclement weather each year in a certain number of years, causing some counties in the Piedmont and foothills region to be eligible some years and then not be eligible other years.
“For the urban center, it doesn’t make a difference. In the foothills, we qualify for waivers and sometimes we don’t,” said Elmore, noting the mountains always qualify for waivers so it doesn’t affect them.
He noted the law did change to say a school system has to complete a certain number of days per school year or hours, rather than and hours, to help some with that issue. But he acknowledged the school calendar law would continue to be an issue state and local officials would have to work on.
“As far as in K-6, what’s wrong with year-round education, because you don’t lose retention [of what’s been learned] from year to year,” said Stevens, who noted she used to think year-round education was a bad idea until her daughter took a job as a teacher at a year-round school in the eastern region of the state. “The reality is it should be what’s important for the kids.
“My daughter is teaching in a year-round school, and I see the difference. By the end of nine weeks, they are ready for a break, and then they come back after three weeks refreshed and ready to go,” she said of both the students and teachers.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.