The Dalton Board of Education voted 5-0 Monday night to change four days on the 2021-22 calendar to virtual days for students.
The school board members received "positive feedback from principals on the value of that time," as schools will use these student virtual days for enhanced professional development — particularly with teachers in their first and second years in Dalton Public Schools — and deeper dives into formative assessment data from students, said Matt Evans, chairman of the school board. "There are some win-win-wins available."
Due to COVID-19, Wednesdays were virtual days for students in grades 6-12 during the 2020-21 academic year, and student test results have trended positively, said Superintendent Tim Scott. "We got a lot of great feedback" from teachers and administrators regarding the productivity of those days, "and that's why we're doing this."
The four virtual days will be Sept. 7, Oct. 8, Jan. 18, 2022, and March 23, 2022.
Board member Jody McClurg appreciates that several of these days are attached to holidays, with Sept. 7 following Labor Day (already a holiday for Dalton Public Schools) and Jan. 18, 2022, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day (also a holiday for Dalton Public Schools), while Oct. 8 is the Friday preceding Monday, Oct. 11, which is the Columbus Day holiday for Dalton Public Schools.
"I'm good with it," she said.
Oct. 8 is also the Friday of Homecoming week for Dalton Public Schools, said Don Amonett, deputy superintendent. March 23 is a Wednesday not connected to a holiday or day off, but March was the only month without a day off for students in 2021-22.
With these four days, Dalton Public Schools hopes to provide professional development, especially for new teachers, without having to scramble for substitute teachers, Scott said. At City Park School, for example, more than half of this year's staff will be in year one or two, so that school would have needed to find substitutes for more than half of the rooms for professional development without these student virtual days.
Kim Rhyne will "be really grateful for" these days, said the City Park School principal. "We'll get some effective training done."
Blue Ridge School has "a lot of new teachers" this year, said Principal Christine Long. "If we do it (the old way), there's an issue trying to find subs."
Dalton High School will use the four days, at least in part, to plot the Fine Arts Academy the administration plans to debut in 2022-23, said Principal Stephanie Hungerpiller. "We could even do some site visits" to other schools for ideas regarding the Fine Arts Academy.
The Fine Arts Academy includes band, choir, drama, painting, drawing and pottery, and Hungerpiller sees it as an incubator for creative students. Ideally, it'll quickly grow to a point where students in the academy could, for example, write a play other students would then produce with the help of music from still other academy students.
At Blue Ridge School, "we're really emphasizing reviewing student work" this year, and these dates will further that process considerably, Long said. "We're working on common assessments across grade levels and analyzing data," so these four days will serve as "an extension of" the professional learning community efforts Blue Ridge already employs.
Having one of these days every nine weeks or so is ideal, as it helps break the year down into more manageable bits for new teachers, said Laura Orr, the school system's chief academic officer.
"They know this is what we're focusing on for these nine weeks, and (we can) get deep into the work that's about to happen."