Bellefonte school district considers freezing graduation date

bmilazzo@centredaily.comMarch 6, 2014 

Bellefonte Area School District seniors could be graduating June 11 if the school board votes to freeze that date at its next meeting.

Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger said she recommended to the board to have a fixed graduation date for the second Wednesday in June — no matter how many more snow days the winter may bring.

Potteiger has no reason to believe the recommendation would be voted against at the board’s March 18 meeting.

“Even if there are more snow days, that can be the graduation date set in stone for these seniors,” Potteiger said.

The original graduation date was June 5, but it has been pushed back due to snow days that are extending the school year.

The freeze date was made after at least one parent complained to the school board about how snow days affect their children and future plans.

Ginny Newman, the mother of a Bellefonte senior, said the further the date gets pushed back, the more inconvenient it is for students to plan their futures, including some having to choose whether to attend high school graduation or move on with the next steps of their lives.

“We understand some of our seniors have military commitments or college commitments and want to be accommodating to other plans,” Potteiger said.

With seven snow days this year — and the possibility of more — Potteiger said the district is trying to find ways to make up for the lost class days.

The commonwealth requires all public school districts to have 180 days of class or 990 hours of education at the secondary school level and 900 hours at the elementary level.

Makeup days are in the works for Friday, which Potteiger said originally was scheduled as a vacation day, and April 21, which was as a teacher in-service day.

“I don’t think anyone is happy they have to go to school when they know they should have had off, but we’re making it work,” Potteiger said. “We’ll do our best to educate them to the fullest.”

This marks the second-most snow days for the district in about a decade, Potteiger said. About eight years ago, the school district had 11 snow days, she said.

“We’ve come up with a plan to fit in our required school days and have been getting good feedback from parents,” Potteiger said.

But snow days don’t just affect the graduation date and length of school year; Potteiger said upcoming state testing is also a factor.

“Luckily, the state allowed us to push the PSSAs back,” Potteiger said.

The Pennsylvania System of School Assessments measures third- through eighth-grade students. It’s the testing that helps the state determine if students are learning what they should be. It tests students’ math, reading, writing and science skills.

This year, PSSA testing will begin March 17 and last into the beginning of April.

The delay in PSSA testing is allowing the four elementary schools and one middle school to have enough time to prepare its students.

“Each school teaches with a common core that drives these tests and makes sure the students are ready,” Potteiger said. “The teaching is fit into everyday curriculum, and our teachers do a good job at driving home that education.”

Bellefonte Area Middle School Principal Sommer Garman said she’s not very concerned.

“It just means we do a little more,” Garman said. “We have a great group of teachers. This isn’t something that we prepare for a month in advance. We’re instilling this teaching every day … and maybe even the most important thing is that it’s not a matter of teaching to the test. We teach to the standards and the tests are aligned to those standards.”

For the district, it’s all a learning experience to help schedule for next year.

“I think the whole state is adjusting to this winter. I think we’re doing a lot better than other districts in the southeastern part of the state that already have snow days in the double digits,” Potteiger said. “This year was a good lesson for our future and what we need to do to plan appropriately for next year in case of another bad winter.”

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @M11azzo.

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