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Longer school days end in Gwinnett, teachers offer mixed reviews

If Michael Reilly’s hope comes true, the days of deciding how to make up snow days may be over, thanks to technology.

The Lanier High teacher, and one of the more well-known technology teachers in Gwinnett, has that idea the next time Gwinnett is hit by winter storms that cause school to close.

“No decision will ever make anyone happy, and I understand the school system and/or school makes the best decision to serve everyone. Any change is different, maybe inconvenient,” Reilly said. “I’m hoping we can begin to use technology and planning to our advantage for the future, and maybe just go online for future snow days, and avoid the makeup complications entirely.”

Schools like the Gwinnett Online Campus, and Greater Atlanta Christian continued classwork during the two winter storms this year as teachers and students communicated electronically.

Gwinnett County Public School’s plan to makeup four days missed because of snow and ice storms this winter by extending the school day 30 minutes for 48 days ends on Wednesday. On Thursday, high schools will return to the 7:10 a.m., 7:15 a.m. or 7:24 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. schedule, middle schools will return 9:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. and elementary schools will return to the 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. schedule.

Like this school year, GCPS officials built three days into the 2014-15 school calendar, yet added the caveat for next school year that any makeup dates would be accounted for by extending the school day or year.

District officials also noted the rarity of the seven total days missed, which was the most in at least 24 years.

When the plan to makeup the four days was announced, which included pushing back the last day of school one day to May 22, community reaction was mixed.

For teachers, it was important that spring break wasn’t lost because of makeup days, school wasn’t open on Saturdays and the school year didn’t stretch beyond Memorial Day. But some teachers struggled to find a plan for child care or after-school plans for their own children.

Some parents and teachers appreciate that CEO/Superintedent J. Alvin Wilbanks believes the district should preserve the 180-day school calendar. Others said the longer schedule caused problems with after-school jobs and extracurricular activities, such as much and dance lessons, for high school students.

“I really do think the 30 extra minutes was the best alternative for us to make up the snow days,” Riverside Elementary third-grade teacher Lynne Franks said. “It has been hard with young kids, but just like anything else, they get used to it and carry on. The people of Gwinnett County may gripe, but I am glad I live in a county where education is top priority. Decisions like that are not easy to make. They also should not be made by majority opinion. Sometimes the easiest thing isn’t the best thing.”

When Ron Hickman, a physical education teacher at Richards Middle, first heard the news, he thought the schedule would make for a long day, but since then he said everyone at his school has kept a positive attitude during the schedule change, like it “doesn’t even seem to exist.”