Robeson County Schools ready to reopen following Hurricane Matthew

LUMBERTON, N.C. (WNCN) – Robeson County Schools will reopen Monday for the first time since Hurricane Matthew hit.

They might not have to make up all of the missed days.

Some state legislators said they favor allowing some schools to receive a waiver for some of the days they were closed due to the storm and subsequent flooding. North Carolina public schools are supposed to be in session for 1,025 hours a year.

“You worry about missed instructional time, because you don’t want to shortchange the students in terms of giving them what they need in terms of preparing for an end of grade or end of course test,” Johnston County Schools superintendent Ross Renfrow said.

He supports making up the time, but “not at the expense of personal tragedy.”

Johnston County students missed more than a week, but Renfrow proposed a plan to add 10 minutes to each school day for the rest of the school year to make up the lost hours. He allowed parents in the district to vote on that option or another that would add days.

More than 30,000 parents voted, and nearly 80 percent of them supported the extended hours.

“With them being here, adding the 10 minutes, the kids are already in the mindset, in that learning environment, they’ve got a routine going, and they don’t notice it as much,” parent Kelly Uzzle said.

Uzzle is the president of the Parent-Teacher Association at East Clayton Elementary School, where she has children in kindergarten and fourth grade. She said her extra time on campus through PTA showed her how much teachers can accomplish with an extra 10 minutes.

She said she is glad Johnston County Schools are already making up lost time, rather than waiving time.

“Our kids might get a little behind,” she said.

It is unlikely for the state government to address potential waivers before the January legislative session. Although Johnston County does not plan to request any waivers even if the legislature allows for it, Superintendent Renfrow said the proposal might be beneficial to other school systems such as Robeson County.

“I’m more inclined to say that the time needs to be made up. In the grand scheme of things, instructional time is important, but when you have people further down east that are actually rebuilding their lives because they’ve been devastated, I can understand why some of those days could be waived,” Renfrow said.

“Their whole lives have been changed, and school is almost an afterthought compared to the devastation that they’re experiencing firsthand.”

First grade teacher Jenny Hudson said she and many of her fellow teachers had a week-by-week plan before school started. She said they are getting creative as to how they will make up for time lost while schools were closed due to flooding.

Hudson said her class is doing some extra small-group work at the end of the day, which allows her to spend additional time helping students in groups of three or four.

“Teachers by nature are very flexible people, so we’re used to change, we’re used to rolling with the punches,” she said.

“We’re working hard right now and diligently to make sure that they catch up.”

Hudson also said her first graders are unlikely to notice a difference in staying 10 minutes longer. The superintendent said high school students might be distracted at their desks looking at clocks, but he expects most extended classes to be successful.

Renfrow said that approach to making up time should benefit not only the students, but their families.

“We know our parents build their professional and personal lives around the school calendar, so anytime that we have the opportunity to preserve that calendar as it is, I think it just affords that sense of normalcy,” he said.

“It’s our charge to maintain the quality of instruction but also consider our parents and what their needs are as well.”

PTA president Uzzle agreed. She said her sons have commitments to sports teams on Saturdays so they don’t want to be in school on the weekend, and they are among many families who already have vacations planned that could be affected by class continuing into the summer.

Renfrow said another reason for not using potential make up days built into the calendar for snow or ice is because that would add additional days. He said the current plan will only work with no more inclement weather.

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