New school calendar would shorten Frederick ‘Fair Day’ -- Gazette.Net


Public school students would get a half day off from school rather than the traditional full day to attend The Great Frederick Fair, under a proposal being considered by the Frederick County Board of Education.

That proposal was included in one of two suggested calendars for the 2013-14 instructional year presented to the seven-member school board on Jan. 2.

But both draft calendars would eliminate parent-teacher conferences for high schools and limit conferences for parents of elementary and middle school students to the fall.

In the calendar that proposes changing the so-called “Fair Day” from a full to a half day off, the school year would begin for students on Aug. 19 and end June 10.

The second option adheres to the more traditional model, with school beginning for students on Aug. 26 and ending June 18.

Both calendars include 180 instructional days for students, as required under state law, and 190 work days for teachers.

The board is expected to adopt a calendar for the next school year on Jan. 23.

School officials, who are continuing to seek feedback from the public on the proposals, said on Jan. 2 that the adopted calendar could be one of the two options presented or a hybrid version.

Fair Day, on which schools are closed and fair admission is free to those under 18, has been a controversial part of the school calendar for some parents who say the day would be better spent on in-class instruction.

The tradition of closing schools on Fair Day — scheduled for Sept. 20 this year — most recently was debated by the school board during the adoption of the 2011-12 school calendar.

“With nine days, I think students have plenty of time to go to the fair,” school board member Kathryn B. “Katie” Groth said on Jan. 2.

This year’s fair is scheduled from Sept. 13-21.

Although more than 4,000 Frederick County students attended last year’s fair as part of a school field trip, supporters of Fair Day say all students should have the opportunity to take advantage of the rich educational opportunities available at the fairgrounds.

Becky Brashear, general manager of The Great Frederick Fair, said she opposes the proposal to open schools for a half day on Fair Day, which has been in place since 1880.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said.

Brashear said she would be working to inform school board members about the educational value of the fair.

“We truly see it as Frederick County’s largest agricultural classroom,” she said.

At the International Association of Fairs and Expos’ annual convention, held last month in Las Vegas, Nev., Brashear said The Great Frederick Fair was honored for its agricultural education programs.

In addition to having educational programs in place throughout the week of the fair, she said officials also work to align fair programs with the school curriculum.

School board member James Reeder Jr. said the board should vote to protect Fair Day for students.

“I see it as an opportunity,” he said. “Whether we choose to take advantage of the opportunities or not, that’s everyone’s personal decision.”

Brashear said figures are not available on the number of students who attend the fair on Fair Day because admission is free.

Parent-teacher conferences

The proposed calendars also mark a shift in the way the school system would approach parent-teacher conferences.

Under the proposals, fewer designated days would be offered for in-person meetings in favor of more open lines of communication between teachers and parents that officials say already is occurring.

In many cases, teachers and parents call each other with updates or concerns about students, or use email to communicate, according to Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association.

Brennan served on a committee that drafted the calendars but said the union did not take a position on either proposal.

This was the first time a committee has been tasked with making the calendar proposal to the board. The group was praised on Jan. 2 for its work, which included solicitation of feedback from parents, teachers and others.

Brennan said many school systems no longer have separate parent-teacher conferences for high schools. With online grading that is available at the secondary level, parents have access to more information than ever about their children’s achievement, he said.

“Parents can access their child’s grade every day if they want,” he said. “They have instant knowledge of where their child is.”

At Middletown High School, officials said participation in parent-teacher conferences typically is low, with fewer than half of parents attending.

“I don’t think conferences are needed at the high-school level,” school board member Brad Young said.

Brennan said that debate over the school calendar is always difficult.

“In any calendar there is going to be something to like and dislike,” he said.