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Wittwer favors extending school days to make up for cancellations

Chris Oaks spoke with Dean Wittwer, superintendent of Findlay City Schools.
Q: There has been talk that, with the brutal winter we’ve had, the state Legislature is considering granting districts around the state extra calamity days. What is your opinion on that idea?
A: House Bill 416 would allow up to four extra calamity days on an emergency basis this year. But what I think is an even better idea, which this measure would also do, is to restore a school board’s authority to make up time by extending the school day in half-hour increments.
Q: Why do you feel that’s the better option?
A: Allowing more calamity days means more time away from the classroom that isn’t being made up, and educators are never in favor of less classroom time for students.
But, at the same time, adding days in June really doesn’t provide much of a benefit when there are so many student assessments being done in March and April.
Those assessments may be only a small part of what we do, but they are an increasingly important part, not just with respect to a student’s academic advancement, but because teachers are also being assessed on the results, and they are starting to fear they aren’t going to have the necessary time to reach the goals they have set for themselves in that regard.
When school schedules have been as inconsistent as we’ve seen since Christmas, not only with cancellations but with compressed schedules due to school delays, it’s difficult for teachers to get their students into the type of routine that maximizes their ability to do well, and it has an impact in so many ways, both on regular coursework and the assessment tests.
Q: Why not move the assessments back a few weeks to allow more time to prepare?
A: We’d like to do that, but it’s not up to us. The Ohio Department of Education contracts with testing companies for the distribution and grading of these tests. So normally, the dates are fixed well in advance.
The ODE is actually examining the possibility of changing the dates on those contracts, but we’ve not heard any news on that as of yet.
Q: Many schools have turned to using online coursework, or sending home so-called “blizzard bags” with assignments to be completed during missed days. Do those options provide something of a compromise?
A: To a point, but what you’re still not getting is that face-to-face time between teacher and student. You’re also missing out on the opportunity for group learning and group discussion. Things like that are hard to replicate outside of the classroom.
That being said, if we were in the situation like many of the county schools, with 12 or 15 days missed already, we’d have to look at those alternatives because it’s certainly better than having no learning going on at all.
Fortunately, we’re not to that point since we’ve not missed as many days.
Q: On a different subject, the school board named your successor earlier this week. Have you spoken to Edward Kurt about the job he will be taking over when you retire at the end of July?
A: I did have the opportunity to congratulate him and his family. Now that the process is over, we can sit down together and plan the transition so that it’s as smooth and professional as possible.
I do know Ed, as we’ve worked together on committees and such in the past, and I’m happy for him. I can tell you that with this announcement, the idea of retirement is starting to sink in a little bit, and I’m sure in June and July the reality will hit me even more.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at chrisoaks@wfin.com, or at 419-422-4545.

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