February 3, 2011

School kids: Welcome to the Ever-Shrinking Summer

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With yesteryday's snowstorm marking the fifth school cancellation for Londonderry this year, district officials are considering following in the footsteps of the Kearsarge School District, where virtual classrooms remain “open” regardless of the weather.
Using “blizzard bags,” or packets of school assignments teachers assemble in advance, students can learn the day’s lessons, both at home and online. Once schools reopen, teachers assess the students’ work, and a “snow day” becomes a “school day.”
“I believe it may be too late to do anything for this year, but it’s a meaningful option to consider for next,” School Board Chairman Ron Campo said.
After contacting Kearsarge Superintendent Jerome Frew, Londonderry Superintendent Nathan Greenberg expressed great interest in the blizzard bags this week, though agreed it might be a bit late to begin such a program this
 school year. 

Frew said the Kearsarge district began piloting the program during the 2009-2010 school year after obtaining permission from the state Department of Education. 
The Kearsarge school district serves the towns of Newbury, New London, Springfield, Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Wilmot. 
“We were only able to try it once (last year) and the feedback overall was very positive,” Frew said in an e-mail. “As in any new thing, there were some suggestions made for improvement that we incorporated into this year’s plan.” 
Wednesday marked the third time “blizzard bags” were used in the Kearsarge district this school year. Some parents have criticized the program for its high expectations for student work, and the challenges it might present to households with multiple schoolchildren. 
“The positive comments included the choices that students had to complete work, the self-pacing of that work and the fact that we wouldn’t have to make up the time in June,” Frew said. 
In Bedford, School Superintendent Timothy Mayes said school officials aren’t considering blizzard bags now, but haven’t ruled them out for the future. 
He said Bedford has no plans to eliminate winter or spring vacations, another option being considered by some Granite State districts. 
“Today is our fourth day out with weather, so we plan to add these four days to the end of our school year,” Mayes said on Wednesday. 
“We think the Kearsarge idea is one we would like to discuss,” SAU 15 Superintendent Phil Littlefield said Wednesday night. To date, SAU 15 school district, which encompasses Hooksett, Auburn and Candia, has missed four school days. 
“Since our students started early this year, we do have a number of snow days available in June,” Littlefield said. “There’s a lot more winter, so we will monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary.” 
In the Windham and Pelham districts, Superintendent Dr. Frank Bass said a number of options are being considered, with blizzard bags among the possibilities. Wednesday was the fifth day Pelham and Windham students missed year. 
He said omitting winter or spring vacation would be a last resort. Another option, he noted, would be a reduction in teacher workshop days. 
“Right now, we’ve got half of the winter to go,” Bass said. 
School boards do have the option of applying for a emergency State Department of Education waiver from the 180-day minimum. 
A number of waivers were granted after the spring floods of 2006 and the winter ice storm of 2008. 
A call to the state Department of Education confirmed that none of New Hampshire’s school districts has requested snow waivers yet. 

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