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Snow cuts W’md spring break short

Spring vacationers returning to part-time Westmoreland County homes are discovering it was a hard winter as they attempt to negotiate a path between the overflowing ditches and the pitted surfaces of the county’s narrow and winding secondary roads.
It’s spring vacation time in Westmoreland County and the traffic is heavier than it has been for many months, but vacationers are discovering they must share the roads with school bus traffic. The county school division’s spring break had been sharply abbreviated by weather events that occurred earlier this year.
Loss of a meaningful spring vacation was a discussion topic at last week’s county school board meeting. The holiday would be limited to April 2 and 5.
School Board members acted on the calendar revisions reluctantly. Days lost to snow events had to be restored and Standards of Learning (SOL) test performance was a big consideration.
Longer school day hours were a consideration that failed to take flight. Subjects needed to be taught before SOLs were administered or the exhausted students’ test scores would be low.
The school board members were advised that neighboring divisions were making school days longer in order to avoid disrupting spring vacation plans. It was stated that spring break is needed to preserve everyone’s morale.

“It came down to the instructional issue,” School Board Chair Dan Wallace explained.
“We have missed 13 days [and the state forgave] nine days that we don’t have to make up.
“The bottom line is we have to do what is best for the students. They would be out for 10 days with the two weekends and wouldn’t do as well on the SOLs when they return.”
Wallace went on to explain that the intention to change spring vacation plans was posted on the division’s Web site in order to provide everyone with advanced warning of the calendar change that would officially be made.
Board member Bryan Oliff concurred that the morale issue needed serious attention. He then conceded that longer days would be unlikely to boost learning.
“The continuity of instruction is important,” Wallace said.
Superintendent Elaine Fogliani expressed concern that keeping the spring vacation plans in place would cause the SOL scores to be compromised.
“We need to keep our eye on the ball,” Fogliani said. “Losing 13 days is very unusual.”
The county’s at-large School Board member, Rosemary Mahan, weighed in with recollections of her own childhood’s winter weather events and spring vacation disappointments.
“When I was a kid, all of us knew we’d lose spring break if we had snow,” Mahan commented.
“We used to have to go to school on Saturdays and lost our holidays. Everyone should be able to understand that when you have snow, you lose vacation.
“I can also understand how the teachers depend on spring vacation for morale, but adding extra hours to the day with a county a long as ours would create hardships. The days would be too long for the children who ride for 60 or 90 minutes on these buses.
“It causes me to wonder how effective the students can be when they’re exhausted,” Mahan continued. “We’re talking about making up 13 or 14 days of instruction in just four days. The other days have been forgiven by the state.
“In the end, everything comes down to what’s best for the children. I batted all this around in my head. The state could forgive all the days that were missed, but would the kids know what they need to know to do well on the SOLs?”
“We’ve lost a tremendous amount of instructional time and our students need to get verified credits. The SOLs are something by which our community is evaluated by industry and by any business that might be interested in establishing a new location.
“I listened and this is a very hard thing that I do not like. I feel like Mr. Grinch!”
The “grinches” prevailed in a 4-1 vote, with Bryan Oliff dissenting in order to leave the entire spring holiday intact.
“I guess it’s better if we do it this way,” he said of the school division’s amended calendar.

Betsy Ficklin
Staff reporter

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