Public Schools Start Today with Changes to Calendar, Bell Schedules

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James Blair administrative offices
James Blair administrative offices

Students in Williamsburg-James City County Schools and the York County School Division are returning to class today after a summer of changes in their school divisions.

The Sept. 8 start is nearly a week later than the 2014-15 school year because of a state law, popularly known as the Kings Dominion Law, that requires school divisions to begin the day after Labor Day.

The two school divisions will end their school years a day apart. YCSD students will wrap up classes June 16, with high school graduation scheduled for June 17. WJCC students will not finish the school year until June 17, with graduation slated for June 18.

Both school divisions incorporated a full 10-school-day winter break into their calendars.

State law requires school divisions to convene class for 180 days and include at least 990 hours of instructional time in their academic calendars.

The school day will also be longer for certain students. In June, the WJCC School Board voted to extend the school day for elementary school students in the division. Beginning this school year, the elementary school day will be 11 minutes longer than it was for the 2014-2015 school year.

The adjusted elementary hours will now be 8:30 a.m. to 3:16 p.m. for Tier 2 schools — D.J. Montague, James River and Stonehouse elementary schools — and 9:15 a.m. to 4:01 p.m. for Tier 3 schools — all other elementary schools.

The change was motivated by the second year of heavy winter weather causing numerous snow days for area schools. WJCC saw a total of eight snow days and three delayed starts for the 2014-2015 school year, and added the 11 minutes on a temporary basis in March.

The YCSD School Board also extended the elementary school day by five minutes. The new start and dismissal times for Bethel Manor, Magruder, Mount Vernon and Tabb elementary schools are 8:41 a.m. and 3:21 p.m., respectively. The start and dismissal times at Coventry, Dare, Grafton Bethel, Seaford, Waller Mill and Yorktown elementary schools are 8:56 a.m. and 3:36 p.m., respectively.

Stemming from that discussion, YCSD School Board member Cindy Kirschke encouraged the school division to revisit the possibility of pushing back start times for YCSD high school students. The School Board last visited the subject during the 2013-2014 school year, but did not make any changes to start times.

Kirschke has advocated for later start times for high school students for much of her time on the School Board, citing studies suggesting adolescent students perform better in school with more sleep.

The WJCC School Board has also discussed the possibility.

Students returning to classes may also notice improvements in several buildings. Jamestown High School and Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School both underwent more than $2.8 million in renovations over the summer. The process is known as a refurbish, and involves repainting the building, upgrading interior fixtures, and heating and air conditioning upgrades.

The work at Jamestown is scheduled to continue in the summer of 2016.

Jamestown’s track and tennis courts are also being upgraded, and will be finished in time for both sports’ seasons.

Three YCSD schools also received minor improvements over the summer. Grafton Bethel and Magruder elementary schools both received upgrades to their heating and air conditioning systems, along with partial roof replacements.

The Grafton middle and high school complex also received improvements to its roof to improve drainage.

YCSD now turns its construction attention to a new elementary school. The school division is eyeing two locations – one near Yorktown Middle School and one near the Marquis at Williamsburg shopping center – for the school division’s next elementary school.

YCSD administrators say the new school will be necessary as Magruder and Yorktown elementary schools are currently experiencing overcrowding problems. A series of new housing developments in York County are likely to increase the student population as well.

WJCC is also in the process of adding a new school. The school division is in the early design stages of a fourth middle school at the site of the James Blair administrative offices. The process of identifying the site was contentious, but the School Board approved the James Blair site in March.

Design work on the new middle school is slated to be completed early next year, and the school is scheduled to be completed by 2024.