By Peter Rathmell

Lexington City Schools and Rockbridge County Schools will shake up their academic calendar for next year.

Along with starting the school year four days earlier, both the county and city school divisions are going to complete their entire first semesters before the holiday break. Historically, the first semester extends two or three weeks into January.

Most of the teachers felt it would be better to have students take the exams before Christmas break, said Rockbridge County Schools Vice Superintendent Phillip Thompson. Thompson is in charge of creating the county’s academic calendar.

Students work at Maury River Middle School

To fit the entire semester before the holidays, the county is going to move its start date to Aug. 15. This year, schools opened Aug. 19.

Although both school divisions will start on the same day, they will not necessarily follow the same calendar.

The protocol is for the largest school division in the county  to set the start date for all school divisions, said Lexington City Schools Superintendent Scott Jefferies.  Rockbridge County Schools, therefore, take the first step.

But after the start date is set, Lexington City Schools may assign whichever days off the school board wants, whether they are teacher workdays or holidays. In many cases, these days off taken by city schools do not line up with those taken by schools in the county division.

Both divisions make an effort to have three or four teacher workdays before school starts each year. After that, the only requirement is that students are in school for at least 180 days.

Jefferies says that when he is planning the calendar, he tries to have either a teacher workday or a holiday each month to break up the school year for teachers, students and parents.

“I am a stay-at-home mom, so teacher work days are a special bonus for my family,” said parent Katie Rowland, who has a daughter in third grade at Waddell Elementary School.

“I love having my daughter home for the day.”

Snow days also factor into the calendars of both school divisions. Students legally need only 180 days in a school year, and both Lexington and Rockbridge have snow days built into their calendars.

Lexington has four days and Rockbridge has five days scheduled; if there are fewer snow days than expected by the end of the year, the school year will end sooner.

So far this year, Lexington has used three of those days while Rockbridge has already exceeded its expectation with six. It’s not clear what the procedure will be to make up the lost day.

One holiday on which the two divisions differ is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Lexington City recognizes the federal holiday, but Rockbridge County does not. The reason for the different calendars boils down to what the people in each division value most.

“When it comes down to it, it’s what folks say they would rather have. ‘I’d rather have Memorial Day versus Martin Luther King Day off,’ that sorta thing,” said Thompson.

To determine which days to take off, Thompson tries to have open communication between teachers, parents and administrators.

“What we’ve done is send out surveys to teachers to see what they prefer,” said Thompson.

Thompson says the surveys present different options that teachers can express interest in, allowing them to help pick what combination of days off the school goes with.

Lexington City Schools does not yet use surveys when making the calendar, but that does not mean that Jefferies does not have the support of parents and teachers when he drafts a calendar.

“I have total confidence that Mr. Jefferies has the teachers’, students’ and parents’ best interest in mind when making this calendar,” said Rowland.

According to Thompson, the county has already had its calendar approved. Jefferies says that he hopes Lexington’s calendar will be finalized and approved in March.

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