Parents, businesses give mixed reaction to Gwinnett schools snow make-up plan

One Gwinnett parent’s response to the snow day makeup plan announced this week by Gwinnett County Public Schools is to check her daughter out of school early twice a week.

June Townsend’s eighth-grade daughter will miss 30 minutes of math class at Couch Middle in Grayson on those days in order to make a piano lesson in Lilburn and a flute lesson in Snellville.

“This is also part of her education, as far as we’re concerned,” Townsend said. “I don’t think it will bother her record, but I also can’t ask a teacher to only have a test on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The schools get to decide how they’re going to use this time. What I want is the schools to say the last 30 minutes will be a study period.”

On Monday, school district leaders announced that to make up four school days missed because of recent winter storms that the school day would be extended by 30 minutes for 48 days. The district made up one snow day on Feb. 17, and has scheduled two other makeup dates for March 14 and May 22. The seven days are the most the district has missed since at least 1990.

“We’ve heard a mixed reaction to the plan,” district spokesman Jorge Quintana said. “There are some parents who are very thankful, and appreciate that the district is honoring the 180 days of instruction, and other parents have a different reaction. We obviously know we can’t make everyone happy.”

In a statement on Monday, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said, “The proposed plan is a logical, responsible one that we feel will best serve our students, teachers, and staff.”

All schools will dismiss a half-hour later than their regular time, from Monday through May 14.

“We’ve got to adjust our lives daily,” Townsend said. “Instead having to adjust over four days at the end of school.”

The decision caused Aaron Brown, owner of Town Center Music in Suwanee where he teachers guitar, drums and bass, to lose four students on Monday.

“Uh oh,” Brown said when he heard about the announcement. “We’re going to lose a bunch of kids on this one. That totally caught us unaware yesterday. It seems like the most disruptive way to make up these things. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Schedule changes are already underway for Brown and his staff, and he’s considering staying open until 9 p.m. to accomodate students’ schedules.

“We’re trying to gauge customer interest for staying open from 8 (p.m.) to 9 (p.m),” Brown said. “Now we’re thinking about sending my staff home and me manning the post until 9 p.m. But kids have homework, and have to eat. I can’t imagine anybody is going to want to do an 8 or 8:30 (p.m.) drum lesson.”

The decision also affected the daily schedule of Sugarloaf Performing Arts, a ballet and modern dance studio in Duluth. The studio is typically open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., but Danielle Butler, the director of marketing and communications, said that may change.

“It does affect so many of our students, but our staff as well,” Butler said. “Every member of our staff has their own family and schedules are carefully balanced. We’re really looking at the overall domino effect of it, and making decisions that serve our students.”

Carol Williams, who teaches sixth-grade accelerated math at Summerour Middle in Norcross, said she surveyed her students, and 90 percent were unhappy about the decision, but glad to not have school in June.

“The consensus for the teachers is that they are glad we did not lose spring break, do not have to attend school on Saturdays and the school year does not go beyond Memorial Day,” said Williams, named a district Teacher of the Year finalist this school year. “However, teachers with small children are worried about the pickup time for after-school care and the distance they need to travel since the hours of the day-care or after-school programs remain unchanged.”

Williams added that teachers would use the extra time to continue to teach the rigorous Common Core curriculum, and encouraged students and parents to review each subject for 30 minutes each day.

North Gwinnett High visual arts teacher Debi West said there isn’t one “right” answer to the challenge, but teachers should be creative with the 30-minute extension and allow for more hands-on work to help students authentically learn and master objectives.

“I think it is also challenging to make everyone happy,” West said. “So certainly there will be complaints from everyone involved, but when we realize that GCPS is ultimately all about the success of our students, the community should stand by the decision and make it work.”

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairman Dan Seckinger said leaders took into account graduation dates, possibly interrupting spring break, and how no matter the outcome, a group would not like the decision.

“We made a deliberate effort to be least intrusive,” Seckinger said. “But still get the education the kids deserve and teachers the time to impart that instruction.”

Other districts around metro Atlanta have made some decisions about the days missed because of the winter storms.

Fulton County Schools is not requiring make-up days for the school and work days missed during Jan. 29-31, while they haven’t announced a decision about schools being closed Feb. 11-13.

Marietta City Schools decided to add an hour to each school day in March; 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and 45 minutes at the end.

In Cobb County Schools, district leaders decided against making up snow days, and instead will, “address the snow days by utilizing all available resources to maximize remaining instructional time. Each school will present a plan that outlines how it will supplement the instructional deficit caused by the loss of instructional days,” spokesman Doug Goodwin said.

Cobb also will put a specific emphasis on minimizing any disruption to instruction, such as assemblies, long recesses, and would restrict scheduling new field trips and postpone all non-critical teacher professional learning.

The Hall County School District missed eight days, and also made up one day on Feb. 17. Superintendent Will Schofield suggested at Monday’s school board meeting that the district consider ways for students to make up the time digitally, The Gainesville Times reported.