SPS looks for feedback on potential pre-Labor Day start

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Suffolk Public Schools parents and students may have received a new survey regarding an earlier school year start. The division wants to hear from school division families on the possibility of a future school year starting before the Labor Day holiday. SPS students in Grades 8 through 12 are eligible to take the survey and will receive it in their English classes. The deadline for the survey is Thursday, February 1.

This follows the Virginia General Assembly’s 2019 legislation allowing school divisions to begin the school year up to 14 days before Labor Day. If implemented, the timeline change would be for the 2024-2025 or 2025-2026 school year. \Chief Academic Officer Dr. Okema Branch told the Suffolk News-Herald the survey has been sent out on multiple platforms thanks to SPS Coordinator of Data and Research Shawn Dickerson.


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“We submitted that via email internally, it was placed on all of our social media platforms, and reminders go out. They have until February 1. That’s when the survey closes,” Branch said. “If there are any technological challenges, they can contact Mr. Dickerson via email… or they can call here to our school administrative offices and speak to Mr. Dickerson and he will have the survey available for them.”

Branch says this follows a similar survey two years ago to receive feedback on having an earlier school year start before Labor Day, similar to their neighboring school districts. 

“It’s not uncommon for the region to put out a survey or to assess their constituents so that, as a region, we’re more aligned in our scheduling. We have people who live and work in our neighboring cities, and so we try as a region to be more aligned with our scheduling,” Branch said.

Branch says this is standard for the school’s calendar committee, which comprises teachers, parents, administration and staff members who are each requested based on their school and department leadership. 

“We start meeting usually in October and go through December. We have a series of meetings to plan our calendar for the upcoming school year,” Branch said. “That is a standard process. The survey we did not do it last year because the calendar is planned a year in advance.”

SPS says that the schedule change would help provide additional staff professional learning and planning days, additional instructional days and flexibility during inclement weather. Branch also noted other pre-Labor Day schedule benefits, such as aligning with other school divisions’ schedules and giving student-athletes more practice time during the year. 

“It really does benefit because athletes who are on a pre-Labor Day schedule, if it’s a fall sport, they actually have about three weeks extra practice time or earlier  practice time because of when their school division starts pre-Labor Day versus an after-Labor Day start where our practice time puts us in a deficit to start out with practice and workout,” Branch said.

Branch says that only the first summer of the schedule implementation would see a shorter break to get on the new schedule. Students would see a four-day earlier start compared to the after-Labor Day schedule.

“What that means is we would potentially start the week before Labor Day, but students only attend Monday through Thursday. That is part of the expectation from the Virginia Department of Education as we’re doing a pre-Labor Day start. That is required that the students are not there on Friday, so they actually receive a four day weekend,” she said. “They go to school for four days, have Friday off, they have Monday off for Labor Day, and then we return. So only during the first summer, because after the first summer it would right size. So they will be a part of the standard scheduling.”

Branch says this would guarantee the division’s full Fall and Winter breaks. She also emphasized that there would be no adverse impact to in-class learning, and the early start would benefit students and staff transitioning into a routine for the school year. Branch says testing will start four days sooner, but students will be able to plan their schedule as they do now.

“So we would still be on that schedule and any end-of-course testing that happens when we’re retesting students, that still will be on a similar schedule. So that doesn’t change and our schedule is somewhat guided as far as testing and assessments by the Virginia Department of Education and the scheduling window,” she said.

Also detailed was that the school year would end earlier in June. Branch likewise highlighted that the division has to adhere to Virginia’s code of having 180 days or 990 hours for their school year schedule. 

“That limits us because we have to follow that guidance on having more professional development days where staff just do planning or professional development. We kind of have to do it more on our half-day programming right now. This would give us more opportunity to [possibly have] full days, being mindful of the 180 days or 990 minimum hours, we would have more fast and professional learning days allowed,” Branch said. “It gives us greater flexibility for inclement weather, again, the Virginia code requires us to have 180 days or 990 hours and that varies by elementary or secondary as far as hours. However, if there’s inclement weather. We do have to account for every hour we were not in school – when students were not in the building. We have to account for that and calculate it and submit that to the state yearly.”

For more information, go to www.spsk12.net or call the School Administrative Office at 757-925-6750.