Snow days an expected part of the school calendar

More than 100 residents converged on "Catholic Hill" at St. Paul Church in Pocahontas Feb. 9, 2011, for an evening of sledding. Schools were closed for a record number of days in 2011.
More than 100 residents converged on "Catholic Hill" at St. Paul Church in Pocahontas Feb. 9, 2011, for an evening of sledding. Schools were closed for a record number of days in 2011.

Catholic school children in Arkansas are looking out the windows more this month wondering when they will get finally get a snow day.
Compared to the high number of snowy and icy days in 2011, this school year so far has been a winter weather drought.
“Last year was the most the schools were closed in the 10 years that I have been here,” said Vernell Bowen, Catholic school superintendent.
Most Catholic schools leaders are prepared for the fact that schools will be closed at least twice a year for inclement weather and build those days into the school year. If those days aren’t used by April, then the principals decide to close their school for an extra day, such as Easter Monday, or close a day earlier in May.
The calendars for the seven elementary schools in Pulaski County are set by Bowen in consultation with the principals. Traditionally, those schools have two snow days built in. If more days are needed, the schools choose to remain open on a holiday, such as President’s Day, reschedule a parent-teacher conference day to the evening and, if needed, extend the school calendar.
Mount St. Mary Academy and Catholic High School also build in two days into their calendars.
For the 2012-2013 school calendar, Bowen said only one snow day will be built into the calendar for Pulaski County schools. Several factors went into making the decision to only have one day, she said.
First, “we have to go 178 days. That is the state law for private and public schools,” she said.
Second, “everybody wants to be out before Memorial Day,” Bowen said.
In order to get the 178 teaching days in, Bowen and the principals negotiate how early in August to start school and how many days the schools are closed for parent-teacher conferences and holidays.
Schools, however, in northern Arkansas expect more snow and ice and build in more days. St. Raphael School in Springdale has 10 days, the most for any Catholic school in the state. Second is St. Vincent de Paul School in Rogers with seven days.
St. Mary School in Paragould has four days and Sacred Heart School in Morrilton has five days built into the calendar.
“At this time we have not used any, which is highly unusual,” said Sharon Warren, principal in Paragould.
St. Raphael and St. Vincent Paul also have not had to close because of snow yet.
“It is hard to add days to the calendar so I just load the calendar with 188 days of school and then can always take away. That seems easier,” said Karen LaMendola in Springdale.
The schools in Fort Smith, however, take a different approach. Principals at Christ the King School, St. Boniface, and Immaculate Conception schools and Trinity Junior High School didn’t build in any days this school year. Shared Blentlinger, principal at Immaculate Conception School, said if snow days are needed, then the school will remain open on March 16, a parent-teacher conference day and the Friday before spring break, and Easter Monday, April 9. An explanation was already given to parents so they know what to expect.
“It is like having two snow days but a bit of reverse thinking,” she said.

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Malea Hargett

Malea Hargett has guided the diocesan newspaper as editor since 1994. She finds strength in her faith through attending Walking with Purpose Bible studies at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

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