By Jennifer Wohlleb
As snow and ice piled up this winter so did missed school days, with some districts’ missed numbers into the 30s. Making up the lost days is a seemingly simple matter, but school leaders say there is no way to make up all of the lost learning time.
“It has been a big interruption to the instructional schedule,” East Bernstadt Independent Schools Superintendent Vicki Jones said on Wednesday, March 5, the district’s 18th snow day of the year. “The kids have not been here since last Friday, so if we do get to come back tomorrow, the teachers are going to have to spend time reviewing instead of just moving forward, because we feel like that is too big a break to remember everything that was covered the day before.”
Nelson County Schools Superintendent Anthony Orr said the constant interruptions have made it hard to establish any kind of rhythm since returning from Christmas break.
“This is the second week since Christmas that we’ve been able to go only two days, and we’ve had two other weeks this winter where we were able to only go one day,” he said on March 5, which was Nelson county’s 15th missed day. The district has since missed more days. “So when you have weeks where you have one day, then you’re off for four days, or you go two days and you’re off for two or three days after that, you just can’t get people steady and focused.”
Orr said not only do teachers have to spend time refreshing students on lessons already taught, but also reminding them how to behave to get them in the right frame of mind to learn.
“I have every confidence that our students and staff are going to learn and teach as much as they can between now and the end of the school year,” he said, “but I think it would be foolish for me to believe that we won’t take a bit of a ding from this start-and-stop process that we’ve been going through the past few months.”
Steve Riggs, assistant superintendent of operations in McLean County Schools, said until the district can get back into a routine after missing 14 days as of March 6, the constant interruptions are going to continue to impact learning.
“There’s no way we could follow our lesson plans and be on target where we had everything mapped out and planned right up to testing time,” he said. “We’re just trying to get back into routine and remap everything.
We used a working day (March 5 when students were on a snow day) and that’s one of the things that we attempted to do, so that we could try to get ourselves focused back on a game plan and be prepared for the tests at the end. (Faculty) had full group sessions part of the day and then we sent them out to their rooms to give them the opportunity to work on preparation for moving kids forward.”
He said reviewing material with students is going to be part of the remapping process.
“Because of that there are going to be some limits in the amount of curriculum you’ll be able to cover; it’s just inherent in the issue,” Riggs said. “There has to be some review to get it going again and to do that, something is going to have to be left out because that is going to take out time for something that should have been moving on in the curriculum instead of backing up to review.”
Snow packets, snow routes
East Bernstadt tried to keep some of its students engaged, with teachers sending students home with packets of work when winter weather was anticipated.
“Sometimes they have been caught off guard (by the weather) and maybe did not send those home,” Jones said, “but I know a lot of teachers made them ahead of time, a few weeks at a time and they would say to the kids, ‘If you’re home, do one math sheet and one reading sheet for each day you’re home.’”
That’s harder to do in districts such as Lee County, where students received an unexpected extended winter break. Their return in January was a week late and school was in session for only four days that month, Superintendent Jim Evans said. Lee County had missed 26 days as of March 14, but felt fortunate that it hadn’t been more.
“We’ve developed a snow plan, which has gotten us back in school a few days earlier than we normally can do,” Evans said. “The snow plan that we run, we don’t run any gravel roads – we still have quite a bit of gravel – we only run our main routes, so that does get us back in. I know some of our surrounding districts have missed more than we have, but we have been able to use that snow plan to keep us below 30 days.”
He said he had felt the district was in good shape until the first week of March, when school was out for four days.
“We had added days back into the calendar that were teacher planning days to try to make up for that lost time,” Evans said. “We’re now (as of early March) looking at spring break … normally we only have two days for spring break; this year we had added a third day. But our options are either taking all of it (for make-up days) or taking one day, but instructionally that’s going to hurt.”
Like the other district leaders, Evans said adding days to the calendar will not make up for time lost to review.
“We’re glad to have state testing on for the last 14 days of the school year (rather than the previous fixed schedule), so that’s going to help some,” he said. “Hopefully once we get back in we’ll be able to continue a sequence of days without an interruption. Our staff here is committed to doing what’s right for kids and when we get back in and get things going, I feel confident that they are going to do everything that they can do to get things back in place.”