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Union County school leaders greenlight earlier start for 2023-24 school year

Union County Public School students will start the next school year on Aug. 9, take exams prior to winter break and their last day of school will be May 22.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the Union County Board of Education met to discuss and vote on making changes to the 2023-2024 academic calendar. In the end, school leaders unanimously voted to start the coming school year earlier.

Under the new calendar, Union County students will return to the classroom on Aug. 9, 2023. Exams will also be taken prior to winter break. The school year will end on May 22, 2024.

During Tuesday's meeting, board member Gary Sides made the motion for the calendar change, which was then seconded by vice-chair Rev. Jimmy H. Bention Sr. Board chair Kathy Heintel then opened the floor for discussion.

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Sides shared his support, noting this would align school calendars with those of most colleges and universities. He also said this was a better move to allow exams to be taken before winter break.

"They end their semesters at the Christmas break," he said. "This allows students and staff to move on to the next semester's subjects and have all the testing and end-of-semester work completed and in the books."

Andrew Houlihan, the superintendent of Union County Public Schools, also chimed in offering his perspective as a high school parent. He said this also helps students who are earning credit through South Piedmont Community College by aligning with their academic programming.

"I would also say that in talking with principals and my teacher advisory council, this widely, if not unanimously, supported," he added. "From a stakeholder perspective, this is a calendar I think would definitely help with our academic progress and our continuous improvement."

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Heintel then asked W. Colon Moore, the assistant superintendent of administration and operations for the district, to discuss possible impacts on the athletic program's calendar. Moore said fall sports would still start based on the schedule laid out by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA). He said the band programs would also be in line with the NCHSAA calendar.

Board member Joseph Morreale asked if starting the school year on Aug. 14 or Aug. 16 had been considered as a way to help ease into the new schedule and that such a calendar could still see students handle exams before Christmas break. Bashawn Harris, the assistant superintendent of human resources, said that was considered and looked at other school calendars across the state.

"We even considered the 31st of July," Harris said, "so there were a lot of things that we considered with regards to the calendar. This was the one that sort of met some of the requirements, other requirements that the state has that we need to meet in regards to staff days and hours."

Rev. Bention said most parents he had spoken with also liked the new calendar but noted some parents still opposed it. Morreale, however, said there was still a likelihood many families already made summer vacation plans that could be disrupted since such plans were made under the assumption UCPS would align with the traditional calendar from the state.

“My husband is a Charlotte firefighter, so we have to plan out vacations you know like a year in advance," LuAnn Burke said. "It might be that I have to take them out of school for a couple of days to make it work for us.”

Houlihan, however, said principals would meet with him in January to discuss the possibility of students missing the first week of class under the new calendar per board policy and state law.

"We do expect children to come to school. However, understanding the change that will happen and as have done in the past, we will work with families on an individual basis to make sure work is caught up, absences are excused when possible, and that we do all that we can from a teacher and a principal perspective to accommodate any family with that issue."

Houlihan also noted staff members were in the same situation and that school leaders would work with them.

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