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Winter storm: Schools start looking for make-up days

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

School principals were due to meet last week to figure out how to make up three days of school that were cancelled in January by ice and snow. They never got the chance.

Last week’s storm added another three days that have to be made up. Although there is legislation pending in the General Assembly that would forgive up to five days from the 180-days of school required by law, Georgetown County Superintendent Randy Dozier said he wants schools to make up as much of the missed time as possible before the start of standardized tests at the end of March.

“I’m much more interested in the core academic time than in seat time,” he said.

He said March 21, which had been a teacher work day, will become a day for students. Students will also have full days on June 5 and 6. “My concern is it really doesn’t help us academically” to add days at the end of the year, Dozier said.

He asked principals to devise ways to add instructional time to their days. At Waccamaw Intermediate School, a morning show for students was cut. Over a week, that creates an extra hour of instruction.

Out of 17 district schools, 11 lost power in last week’s storm. Nine of those were still without electricity at the end of the week, causing classes to be cancelled across the district.

Dozier said it wasn’t feasible to allow those schools that weren’t affected by the storm to open. “We’re a unitary district, one district. Kids cross all kinds of lines,” he said.

Students from the western part of the county attend Waccamaw Neck schools through an option available in areas where state test scores are below average.

“If it was one or two schools, I would suggest that,” Dozier said. But even in that case, he said those days aren’t productive.

“What are you really accomplishing except that mandate that you go 180 days,” he said.

Schools reopened Tuesday after the Monday holiday for Presidents Day. Attendance was a little below average, but Dozier said most students he saw were pleased to be back in school with their friends after six days at home.

School board members said they were told by parents that the full-day closings were easier to plan for than delayed openings. There was one of those last month and a couple of others in December when overnight temperatures were in the teens.

“The two-hour delays really don’t go well with people. They have more impact than losing the whole day,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said.

“I can’t think of a harder decision to make than whether to close school,” Dozier said. “I’m sick of watching the Weather Channel.”

The cost of the storms hasn’t been tallied, said Lisa Johnson, the district finance director. Utility bills won’t come in for a couple of weeks.

“We had some pretty extensive cleanup costs,” Dozier said. “Tree damage was pretty extensive.” The facilities department is trying to schedule debris removal to avoid overtime for staff, he said.

Staff at schools without power were able to save food supplies from spoiling by transferring them to schools with power, Johnson said. “There was a lot going on behind the scenes,” Dozier said.

Board Member Richard Kerr asked for an update on the storm costs. The district’s quarterly financial report shows revenues and expenses are on track with the budget and he is concerned that may change. Dozier said some costs may be covered by insurance.

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