County Schools To Open Before Holiday Next Year

OCEAN CITY – Most Worcester County students enjoyed an extra few days of summer break this week as the rest of Maryland’s public schools returned to the classroom, but that won’t be the case next year, as county public schools will also be returning before Labor Day.

The Board of Education gave unanimous support to a recommendation by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes last month to move the school year start date up a week, having students return to school before Labor Day, rather than the traditional post-Labor Day start date.

Each year, the school calendar is created based on input from students, teachers, parents and the Board of Education. A School System Calendar Committee creates three potential calendars, which is then narrowed down to one proposed calendar after feedback is received from parents, students and teachers. The calendar is ultimately considered and adopted by the Board of Education, usually around February.

While calendar planning is typically business as usual, the calendar committee will see a significant change this year, as they have been advised to set the school start date before Labor Day for the 2009-2010 school year.

“I am recommending that the Board of Education direct our School System Calendar Committee to create proposed calendars to begin prior to Labor Day for the 2009-2010 school year and still provide students with a four-day Labor Day Weekend,” said Andes in his recommendation to the Board of Education last month.

Currently, Worcester County is the only county in Maryland to still return to the classrooms after Labor Day. Calvert, St. Mary’s and Washington counties already got a jump-start on the school year, returning on Aug. 20.

The rest of Maryland’s public schools, with the exception of Worcester County, started school this past week, returning either Monday or Tuesday.

While most teachers were back in the classroom this week, many Worcester County students got in one more week of work at area businesses. However due to the way the 2009 calendar year falls, Worcester County public schools will not be enjoying their late return next year.

In 2009, Labor Day will fall on Sept. 7. According to. Andes, if Worcester County public schools were to wait to start school on Sept. 8, 2009, it would extend the school year well into the month of June, but more importantly, it would affect standardized testing.

Each year, high school students are required to take and pass the state’s end-of-the course graduation tests in four subject areas. The High School Assessments (HSAs) have become a major part of the public school system, as students are required to pass the tests to graduate.

Typically, the HSA’s are taken during the same time frame each year. For example, students will take re-take examinations in the second week of October this year, with end-of-the course examinations taken in the second week of January. Students in grades 3 though 8 take the Maryland State Assessments in mid-March each year.

Andes predicts a similar testing schedule for the 2009-2010 school year. As a result, Andes recommended starting school earlier in the 2009-2010 school year, in an effort to maximize the time for HSA and MSA preparation.

The Board of Education supported Andes’ suggestion last month, unanimously voting to direct the Calendar Committee to set a pre-Labor Day back-to-school date.

Barbara Witherow, coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs for Worcester County Public Schools, explained this week that while the 2009-2010 school year will see an earlier start date, no decisions have been made regarding start dates beyond the 2009-2010 school year.

Witherow also reported that no complaints have been received as of yet regarding students and teachers losing out on the chance to make additional money during their last week at summer jobs.

“Our school system is currently the only school system in Maryland to start school after Labor Day. We hope that our parents support our position that our students must be given every opportunity possible to be successful on the High School Assessments, as passing them is a graduation requirement,” said Witherow.

While the change will ultimately affect local students and teachers, area businesses have become accustomed to losing employees around mid-August.

For the Ocean City Beach Patrol, losing staff this time of year is nothing new, an occurrence that has prompted them to recruit differently.

“Most of our teachers are already back in school, but we had a very good recruiting year,” said Beach Patrol Lieutenant Ward Kovacs.

Kovacs reported that this time last year, the Beach Patrol was only able to have 29 stands on the beach, 58 stands were set up along the beaches yesterday. Kovacs attributed the increase in guards to aggressive recruiting efforts this year.

“It’s the same for us every year. We decided to do some targeted recruiting this year,” he said.

Recruiting foreign students, post-college students and local Salisbury University students has helped the Beach Patrol keep more eyes on the water through September.

As for next year, Kovacs doesn’t anticipate the early return of their local teachers having any major affects. Kovacs noted that while they have many local teachers on staff, they have become accustomed to recruiting and planning ahead.