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Why some lawmakers think a later start to school year could boost local tourism
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Students and parents make their way along Enota Avenue Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, as they prepare for the first day of school for Gainesville City Schools at the new Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. - photo by Scott Rogers| The Times

If it seems like the school year starts earlier and earlier each year, Georgia lawmakers have noticed.

With public school districts across the state beginning and ending their academic years on different dates, state officials are considering what benefits might come from standardizing calendars and launching the school year after Labor Day. 

There’s an economic motivator driving the discussion.

“Our goal is to determine if a later start date is feasible and if it would provide additional opportunities for families to take a vacation together while increasing the availability of summer workers for our booming travel and hospitality industries,” Sen. Steve Gooch, R–Dahlonega, said in a press release this week.

Steve Gooch
Steve Gooch

Gooch will chair a Senate study committee tasked with evaluating how a shift to a later start date would impact students and families, regional economies that depend on the tourism and hospitality industries, and the interests of local school districts.

The 11-member committee will report its findings by December.

“Sen. Gooch’s leadership has helped guide North Georgia — and our entire state — to achieve record job growth and economic prosperity,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said in the press release. “I’m confident this study committee will diligently evaluate how local districts across our state can best align each system’s school calendar with their community’s unique needs, while ensuring that every student has access to a world-class education.”

The impact of moving the start date of school closer to or after Labor Day could be significant for Gainesville City Schools.

The city’s elementary, middle and high school students returned for the 2018-19 academic year on Aug. 8, which is actually about one week later than the previous school year.

Jeremy Williams --NEW
Gainesville City School System Superintendent Jeremy Williams

“Any time you’re building a calendar, you’re trying to maximize your instructional days,” Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.

Gainesville City Schools has 180 days of student instruction and 190 teacher days for planning purposes.

This calendar allows students to complete final exams before the Christmas break and conclude the school year shortly after testing in May.

Williams said it also helps closely balance the number of days in each semester.

“You don’t want to have like 80 days and 100 days,” he added.

John Kennedy, head of Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, joked about the early start of school in some places when his private institution opened on Aug. 21.

Though Lakeview can set its own schedule independent of the wishes of state officials, Kennedy said he understands the desire to push back the start of school.

“When I came here I thought the same thing,” he said, adding that Lakeview used to align its schedules with local public schools.

But moving back the start date has some advantages Kennedy appreciates.

For example, August is one of the hottest months of the year in Georgia, and this can limit recess, especially for lower school students.

And for Lakeview’s high schoolers, the summer is an opportunity to gain important experience working, Kennedy said.

Earlier start dates don’t “give a high school kid a chance to have a summer job,” he added. 

Kennedy also admits that he enjoys his own summer vacations.

“I don’t want to give up my summer,” he said.

Pushing back school start dates could benefit families like Kennedy’s, who has relatives spread across the country where school districts typically begin around Labor Day in September and end around Memorial Day in May.

Some school districts in Georgia, however, begin with teachers returning in mid-July. And others don’t schedule a full 180-day instructional calendar.

Still other school systems are approaching a year-round calendar by mixing in additional fall and winter breaks beyond the traditional Christmas and spring holidays.

“Schedules are all over the place right now and having a little more guidance is not necessarily a bad thing,” Williams said. 

Will Schofield
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said he prefers a school calendar (Hall students returned on Aug. 7 this year) that limits long breaks between student instructional days, particularly for young learners.

Reducing gaps between school days by adding smaller two- to three-week breaks can assist families unable or struggling to pay for child care during the long summer break, Schofield said, and also help students from low-income homes better retain their reading and writing comprehension. 

“It’s a tough sell because so many things are related to a school calendar,” Schofield said, adding that the school district, which serves about 28,000 students, affects businesses, parents and the community with its scheduling.

But, Schofield said, “We know long breaks in time are not good in terms of teaching young children.”

Allowing each school district to choose what schedules work best for their needs and goals is also a big priority, Schofield said.

Any standardization of school calendars across the state “flies in the face of everything we’ve talked about – and that’s local control,” he said.