GINNY RHODES/MCDOWELL NEWS

It was a packed house at the monthly Board of Education meeting Monday night. The vote for the calendar option occurred at the top of the meeting under the superintendent's administrative reports.

*This article has been updated to fix a correction on the survey results.

The room for the McDowell County Board of Education meeting Monday night was filled with teachers, students and community members as the calendar committee made their recommendation for the 2017-2018 school year.

And, two community members voiced their opinions on the calendars during the public comments section of the meeting.

The recommendation made by Superintendent Mark Garrett was to maintain the same traditional, Eastfield and Early College calendars for 2017-2018 and look at other options later.

“After reviewing the received calendar options, surveys and responses, the board would like more time to take a closer and more in-depth review of how the community feels,” board member Greg Barksdale said in a prepared statement. “(We) would like to further instruct Superintendent Mark Garrett to set up community forums at Marion, Nebo, Old Fort, West Marion, P.G., North Cove and Glenwood (elementary schools) for the purpose of gathering information about concerns from our community about the seasonal calendar. After the communities meet, the board will review and gather information and make a decision on the calendar at a later date.”

The board approved the motion unanimously with no discussion.

Garrett informed the board before making the recommendation that the calendar committee met in November, December and twice in February. He also made presentations to Marion Rotary, Marion Business Association, MEDA Board, Chamber of Commerce Board, West Marion Forum and at a community meeting last Thursday at East McDowell Middle School. Information has been presented in the newspaper and on the school’s website with survey links for staff, students and the community.

“Even though I want to get to the point where we can adopt a two-year calendar, we felt it was prudent at this point to do more forums as we move forward,” Garrett said.

The results from those surveys were 520 responses from staff with the majority supporting a seasonal calendar. Survey responses from students totaled 1,155 with elementary students in strong favor of the season calendar, a split with the middle schools and the high school in favor of maintaining the traditional calendar.

For the community survey, which included 938 parents, 154 grandparents, 25 legal guardians, 19 family members, 15 community members and 13 alumni, 48.1 percent, preferred the seasonal calendar while 50 percent voted to maintain the traditional calendar.

The grand total number of survey responses was 2,748, with 45 percent voting traditional, 48 percent voting seasonal and 6 percent voting no preference.

An overall total from Thursday's community meeting was 55 percent of the respondents prefer the traditional calendar, while 45 percent voted changing it to seasonal.

The top three aspects staff liked about the new calendar, according to data from the survey, were the breaks, reduction in regression for students and ending the semester before Christmas. The top three concerns from staff were childcare, summer job opportunities for students and athletic events not lining up.

The same basically went for the likes and concerns of parents and the community. The top three likes for parents were the breaks, students retaining knowledge and vacation and family time flexibility. Their top three concerns childcare, band and athletic events not lining up.

Bonnie Childers spoke for five minutes to the board, and her concerns were mostly with the future of the marching band.

“I respectfully disagree with the superintendent. Since the superintendent says he knows this much about the band, I would like to talk a little about what the band is,” said Childers. “It’s not an extracurricular activity. It has always been an integral part of middle and high school. Band kids form a family. I’ve watched the McDowell High School marching band for the last 15 years, and have grown to the point of being one of the best and biggest marching bands in all of western North Carolina.”

Childers went on to praise band teacher Jenny Lanier for working countless hours with over 160 students. She noted the invitations the band has received to walk in 2015’s McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day parade and their upcoming walk in the Veteran’s Day parade in New York City, among their many weekend competitions throughout the year.

“Due to conflicts with the seasonal calendar, marching band competition either ends completely, or at the very best, our band is put at an extreme disadvantage,” said Childers. “I’m extremely thankful that the seasonal calendar will not start this year. Another year will allow families and teachers who will be greatly impacted by this to try to make plans for the many problems that it may cause. And, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to see our great marching band take the field at competition at least one more season.”

Michele Burleson, an instructor at McDowell Tech, was the next to speak on the calendar options. She presented the board with research packets she compiled on the benefits and challenges of a seasonal versus traditional calendar. She was given three minutes to present her side.

“I started researching and everything I was finding said there was no conclusive evidence that achievement was there. I contacted the state board and they told me they did not know the school’s specifically in that study,” she said. “I got on EDDIE (Education Directory of Demographic Information Exchange), and found that 99 schools in NC are year round or seasonal schools, 25 of which are middle schools and three high schools. That tells me that this is not happening at a high school level, and it’s not very conducive for our high school students.”

McDowell County Schools supplied the public on their website with documents on achievement in schools based on their calendars. A summary of those findings said, “Students at grades 3–8 in year-round schools obtained higher scale scores, and had more students score at Level 3 and above, and Level 4 and above on the Reading, Math, and Science EOG assessments compared to students in traditional calendar schools. Students taking Biology, English II, and Math I in traditional calendar schools earned higher scale scores, and had more students score at Level 3 and above, and Level 4 and above on the Biology, English II, and Math I EOC assessments compared to students in block or mixed calendar schools.”

And so, the debate continues.

To see the calendar surveys, visit www.mcdowell.k12.nc.us.