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Hall, Gainesville schools make most of time off because of weather

POSTED: March 3, 2010 11:30 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Leslie Frierson, right, talks to a group of Centennial Arts Academy teachers about utilizing data systems during a snow day Wednesday for the Gainesville school system.

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If the folks at the Gold Dome could have predicted North Georgia’s winter weather, there might have been no need to call for an extra three teacher furlough days this semester.

Gainesville City schools will most likely use Tuesday’s snow day in place of the furlough day scheduled for May 27. An online survey was sent out to school personnel Wednesday to see if teachers approved that idea. The final decision rests with the board, who meet again March 15, said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

A snow day on Jan. 8 also was used as a furlough, and the second one was observed Feb. 15.

Although days off due to weather are like nature’s furlough for schools, they are a little less convenient for teachers than the real thing, Dyer said.

“The only thing about furlough days is that for employees it would be better for them to know when they are going to be so they can plan around their professional needs,” she said. “Snow days you can’t predict but it does seem like more of a full day off.”

Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield said they helped make the best of a tough situation.

“They make a best-case scenario,” he said. “It was serendipitous perhaps because we had to find three (furlough) days, and they found us.”

The county’s school system already has used two snow days this semester — Jan. 8 and 11 — as furloughs, and the school board will decide at its next meeting whether to count Monday’s day off as a furlough as well. The board originally planned to allow early release for schools the day before spring break, April 2, and add that to a half day off on Jan. 7 to create the final furlough.

Whether due to snow or to save a dwindling state education budget, days off limit teachers’ time with students and can hinder student performance, Schofield said.

“We’ve been concerned all year long (about) this whole discussion of perhaps we can give our students less time to learn and we can give our teachers less time to prepare,” he said. “It’s gonna come at a cost, and we’ve said that all along.”

Hall and Gainesville school teachers were called in to work half days on Wednesday while students took a full snow day. Each school system is given four “freebie” days for snow days. Any more than that would have to be made up at the end of the school year. Most teachers used the time on Tuesday without students to catch up on class work or for faculty meetings.

“They’ve been doing all the things we never had time to work on when the kids are here,” said Enota Elementary School Principal Susan Culbreth. On whether the days off would affect preparations for state standardized testing, such as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, Culbreth said that is a common concern.

“There’s always that worry. There’s not enough time (to prepare) when school starts,” she said. “But we work really hard, so we’ll just do the best we can do and hope everyone does they best they can.”

In neighboring counties farther north, snow has helped fill furlough days and then some.

Lumpkin County observed five snow days this semester, three in January and two this week on Monday and Tuesday.

“I feel like any time you take instructional time, that’s obviously gonna impact (student) performance in school,” said Superintendent Dewey Moye.

In Towns County, schools have had seven snow days so far and will also use three for furloughs. Teachers have been modifying their lesson plans to accommodate for the loss of class time, Superintendent Richard Behrens said.

“They have to change lessons and try to get everything in before tests come up in the next four weeks,” he said.



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