ROGERSVILLE — It was decided at the Sept. 5, 2019, Hawkins Co. Board of Education meeting that Clinch School will have four-day weeks for the remainder of the semester due to ongoing construction on SR 70 and SR 66. This comes after massive landslides in February of this year completely destroyed portions of both SR 70 and SR 66. As the Review reported in, Work continues on SR70, SR66 with mid-to-late-fall re-opening expected, repairs to the roads that many teachers and students use to get to Clinch School are taking longer than expected.
Recent updates from the Tenn. Dept. of Transportation (TDOT) indicate that, barring any unforseen delays, SR 66 should be reopen by mid-to-late October, with a late-October to early-November re-opening eyed for SR 70.
Fewer days, same educationThough the idea never made it to the BOE to be voted on at the time, Director of Schools Matt Hixson explained that “there was an idea last spring that we may need to look at reducing the school schedule due to the length of the drive and the length of time it’s taking our staff to reach the school.”
Though students would be attending school fewer days than normal, they will not be receiving any less education.
“Students would make up minutes Monday through Thursday to account for that instructional time on Friday,” Hixson said. “Then, once the roads open, we would revert back to a five-day-per-week schedule.”
The State Dept. of Education has granted the option to the county for a maximum of one semester.
After receiving an update from TDOT explaining that these roads may not be accessible until October or November, Hixson approved Clinch School’s principal, Denise McKee, to survey area parents’ opinions on the four-day idea.
She also held a parent meeting last week to hear parents’ thoughts on the idea and to allow them to ask questions.
The Commissioner of Education has also approved the move.
“The way that it states in the law is that, if the Department of Education approves that for a school system, it does not need to come to the board, but I am not doing that,” Hixson said to the BOE members. “I made a choice — and Denise whole-heartedly agrees with this — that we are bringing it to you as a recommendation to ease the amount of travel our staff is incurring. But, it is completely your decision.”
Parents largely in favor of the decisionWhen BOE member Chris Christian asked McKee what her recommendation would be for the school, she agreed with Hixson on the four-day idea.
“I propose that Clinch go to a four-day schedule — Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.,” McKee told the BOE. “That would account for the instructional hours missed on Friday. The doors would open at 7:10 a.m. Our buses arrive already at 7:15 a.m., so there’s no difference in students getting up any earlier. The majority of our students are bus riders.”
She also explained that there had been no parental opposition to the idea.
“We did survey our parents, and we had zero percent opposed to it,” she said. “We had a parent meeting on Tuesday night, and only two parents showed up. I’ve also been doing calls home just to give them updates on what the schedule would look like.”
“I heard from one of the staff members that they live 15 minutes from the school, and it’s now taking them an hour to get to school because of the closure,” Chairman Bob Larkins added.
McKee explained that, because of the closures, Clinch teachers would have to take off an entire day for a doctor’s appointment, for example, because of the extended time it now takes to travel in the area.
All of the inner workingsHixson also explained that the idea has been explored from all angles.
“We also worked with Mandy (Kenner) and her nutrition staff to make sure that no employee at the school site — whether transportation, office staff, or nutrition staff — are impacted by the resulting schedule as far as their hourly wage or their salary,” Hixson told the board. “We are able to make accommodations for the extended day to make sure that no one is losing pay during this time.”
When Larkins asked whether or not school would revert back to the five-day schedule if only one lane of the roads in question are opened, Transportation Supervisor Roy Benavides explained that it would still be safe for buses to travel.
“In working with Roy and his team, we would offer opportunities for his staff that are being shorted a day to work in other locations within the county to make up that time period,” Hixson added. “He is working with his drivers to see, of the three that are driving in Clinch, which ones would be open to coming over and filling other routes or riding along with other bus drivers.”
This is important to note, as Hawkins Co. bus drivers are paid by the day.
Making history“We did research, and that’s what we submitted to the state (in order to seek approval),” McKee told the BOE. “There are over 500 districts in the country that do a four-day-week school schedule, and data has shown that achievement has either stayed the same or it improved — especially in math — and that teacher and student attendance improved. We feel pretty confident that this will not impact for our students.”
She went on to explain that there are 25 states in the country that offer a four-day-week.
“We would be the first public school in Tennessee to do this, so we are making history,” she said.
In the end, the BOE unanimously approved the motion to approve the four-day-week until the end of this semester, with the first day of the new schedule taking place on Monday, Sept. 9.