School system looks at snow packets for next year

BUCKHANNON —Upshur County Schools is looking at the adoption of snow day packets but not for this year. 

The addition to the state policy 3234 on the school calendar allows counties to develop a plan subject to approval by the state board of education for teachers to assign and grade work that could be completed at home for snow days. Up to five days may be made up in this manner.

Superintendent Roy Wager said at the most recent board of education meeting that principals have a lot of concerns about implementing snow day packets.

One of the biggest concerns was about the quality of the packets and if each teacher did their own,  how one teacher might assign three worksheets and another night have a heavier workload.

Wager said he sought input at a recent superintendent’s meeting about what works in their counties.

Some counties give a homework grade for the packets and another county gives an attendance grade.

Wager said he felt the attendance grade would cause more problems.

The packets should be done for core subjects but some counties have all their teachers make up packets.. 

“I have a lot more questions than I have answers,” he said. “There’s not really a plan.”

Board member Katie Loudin said she didn’t  understand the argument about the disparity between different teachers assigning work.

“That always exists for normal instruction,” she said.

Wager said one superintendent shared they had a parent complain because one student had their work done in five minutes and the other student spent three hours.

Loudin said, “Is that not reflective of how much work they have to do in their classes all the time though?”

Wager said he doesn’t like seeing classes give so many homework grades.

“I always thought homework was practice,” he said.  “Who are we grading when we send homework home? And what about the students who get absolutely no help with homework at home?”

Loudin suggested a completion grade versus a grade for right or wrong. 

Wager said Upshur County already banks instructional time by going longer than the required minimums of 315 minutes for elementary, 330 minutes for middle school and 345 minutes for high school.

“Adding a half-hour to our day has not really extended our day, it’s just that we go 30 minutes instructional time more than what the state requires,” he said.

“The day is not any longer for students,” he said. “They are the ones getting more instructional time which is a good thing.

The superintendent also shared his personal view on the new policy.

“My feeling is the legislature has gotten so much more grief the last few years with the calendar from making it up, to me this is a way to get around having to make up instruction. I’m not saying we are not going to make up packets but I am saying we want to have the whole story. I don’t want to cheat the kids.”

Samples said, “I want this conversation to continue. I’m not saying I don’t want us to do this, but we need to have guidelines.”

Wager replied, “And we didn’t get any guidelines.”

B-UMS principal Renee Warner said teachers want to put quality work in the packets.

“We have very committed teachers in Upshur County who don’t want to just, on the fly, create a packet in case we have more snow days next week.

“They want to take this seriously. They want to plan. They want to be purposeful about it. I think I can speak for them from elementary to middle to school that they are not interested in giving them fluff work.

“ In the hands of the best instructors is where we want them in a regular instructional day but we want them to be learning while they are at home.”

“As a principal, I wouldn’t want them just to throw something together at this point. It does take conversation, planning and opportunities for teachers to get together – especially elementary principals.

“I would like to see us as a county plan for next year as a packet possibility so there is purposeful, intentional  educational material that goes home to those students.”

Assistant superintendent Jack Reger agreed that the principals want “meaningful” work.

He said one county offers a snow day packet and the students have an additional 10 days to turn it in after they return to school.

“The last thing we want our students to feel is they are just doing busy work,” he said. “That is a very defeating  attitude. Kids truly believe in fairness and justice especially at the middle and high school. Our principals voiced a thoughtful effort in this process.

There was some discussion about how not all students have access to technology or high speed internet. There are options for downloading homework packets to devices before the students take them home, giving snow day paper packets or using a combination.

Upshur County Schools has used accrued time to not have to make up the first five days missed due to winter weather.

Wager said the sixth day would be made up on Feb. 19 on what was an OS Day. Since the board meeting, students missed more days.

The seventh day missed will be made up March 16 and the eighth day missed will be made up March 26. If students miss any more days, those days will be made up over Spring Break but Easter Monday and Good Friday will be protected.

The Upshur County Board of Education may consider upping its flood insurance for schools after the 2016 floods that affected other counties.

Director of finance George Carver told the board that Nicholas County has school buildings that had not been flooded before.

“They never thought they would have that kind of problem,” he said. “They had been there for decades.”

Now, the School Building Authority is even looking at flood plains more closely in its building projects.

“When we were submitting our SBA grant, we were told we should not even submit something for Hodgesville because it is in the flood plain,” he said. “That would mean the SBA would not be inclined to fund any projects in the flood plain and that was a change in thinking for them.”

Carver said that made him start looking at the coverage UCS has on its buildings.

Hodgesville and Fred W. Eberle Technical Center both have insurance that is required by the state but the policies only cover a small amount.

“At a cost of $5 to $15 to build a new elementary school, $500,000 will not stretch very far,” he said.

Carver also said he was looking at all the schools, even though the rest are not in a flood plain.

The board meeting was held at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

“I think this building is in a situation where it is not inconceivable where you could have a major flood event,” he said.

Buckhannon Academy Elementary School is positioned at the bottom of Victoria Hill and also has an underground spring that goes nearby.

Carver invited Jamie Powell with Loudin Insurance Agency to share some information and the board will continue discussing.

In other business, the board of ed: 

-Approved the third and final reading of Revised Policy 9004 for curricular and extracurricular bus trips

-Heard the second reading of revised policy 4011 – Expected Behaviors in Safe and Supportive Schools and second reading of proposed revised policy 4011.2 alternative education

-Approved revisions to the board meeting schedule to allow more meetings to be held in schools around the count this year to begin sharing information about the proposed excess levy.

The new assessed values will be available on March 1 that can be used in a draft levy call, according to Carver.

-The board voted to expel a student for one school year for violation of the safe schools policy.

The next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School.

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