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Next year’s calendar wouldn’t be altered

By JESSE YEATMAN

Staff writer

St. Mary’s County’s public school superintendent said this week he is going to look at an extended school year that would move future first days of school to early August.

“I’ve been a proponent of a longer school year,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said, although the total number of class days would likely remain at 180.

But that would not come next summer. Charles Ridgell, director of student services, said that the proposed calender for next school year is similar to this year’s calendar. Students would return to school after summer break on Aug. 21 this year.

Winter break for schools would run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, a total of 12 days including weekends. Spring break is scheduled from April 14 to 21, a total of 10 days off.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for family vacations so students do not miss school,” Ridgell said.

The school board took its first look at next year’s calendar at Wednesday’s board meeting; a public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30 with board approval expected next month.

As proposed, the last day of school for next school year will be Thursday, June 13, 2014.

The calendar includes five extra days built in at the end of the school year as makeup days in case school days are missed for inclement weather. Schools would close earlier in June if fewer than five days are missed next school year.

The Chesapeake Public Charter School in Lexington Park operates on an extended year schedule, essentially starting school two weeks earlier in the August than other St. Mary’s public schools, allowing for week-long breaks in October and February.

The charter school’s schedule also offers a longer winter break and different early-dismissal days, Ridgell said.

“I’m enamored with the way the charter school has sliced and diced their days,” Martirano said.

A committee began meeting this year to look at an extended year schedule for all of St. Mary’s public schools, using the charter school’s calendar as a model, Martirano said.

The superintendent said he is not an advocate for starting school after Labor Day, as Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and others have recommended to spur additional vacation dollars for businesses in the state. All public school systems in Maryland now start before Labor Day.

Martirano said that not everyone can even afford vacations, and that many families can’t afford summer enrichment programs for their children. A shorter summer break is needed, he said, so children will not regress as much academically.

Board member Cathy Allen again this year brought up her concern that the many early dismissal days mean afternoon prekindergarten students end up going to school several days less than morning prekindergarten students.

“That continues to bother me,” Allen said, adding that prekindergarten students by the nature of the selection process are often the children that most need help because of their socioeconomic status or special needs.

She suggested the morning and afternoon classes alternate who will attend school on the early dismissal days.

Board member Mary Washington said the school system tried that before years ago, and it did not work. She said it was “a disaster” for parents who had to rearrange care schedules.

“The solution is very simple,” Martirano said. “All day pre-K.” However, he added, the funding is not available to hire the extra teachers and build the additional classrooms that would be needed.

jyeatman@somdnews.com