Hamilton County school board updates calendar for 2024-25 school year

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / The Hamilton County School Board meets on Thursday, January 18, 2024.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / The Hamilton County School Board meets on Thursday, January 18, 2024.

Parents may need to find child care on extra days next school year after the Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday to add four half-days to the 2024-25 academic year calendar.

The updated calendar, which is similar to the one the board approved in June, increases the number of half-days from three to seven in order to give teachers more planning time.

The school board voted 7-2 to approve the calendar. School board members Rhonda Thurman, R-Hixson, and Joe Wingate, R-Chattanooga, voted against the change. Board Chair Joe Smith, R-Hixson, and school board member Karitsa Jones, D-Chattanooga, were absent.

Thurman said she was against half-days because they create wasted time at school and are an inconvenience for parents who may need to find child care or take the day off work.

"I just have a problem with all these half-days," she said. "I know the teachers say they need planning time. I just wonder at what point do we consider that the parents need to be put into this equation somewhere."

The first semester, with 89 days, will run from Aug. 7 to Dec. 20. The second semester, with 91 days, will run from Jan. 8 to May 22. The added half-days are Aug. 28, Nov. 13, April 9 and May 22.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools superintendent calls on community to elevate teachers during State of the System)

The half-days, along with other breaks, were placed in four-week cycles to give teachers time to plan in a logical way, Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart said.

"It's really hard to do long-term planning in the 45 to 60 minutes that teachers have in a given day," she said. "This allows them to basically write out the scope and sequence for their four weeks, get some lesson planning done, which makes those next four weeks better instruction."

Superintendent Justin Robertson told board members at last month's meeting the intent is the extra half-days will be used at a teacher's discretion, not for professional development.

In Hamilton County, the typical school day is seven hours — 30 minutes more than the state's required 6.5 hours — in order to create a stockpile of 13 days each year. Of those, five will be used next year for professional development, two will be split to create the four half-days and the other six will be accumulated in case of inclement weather.

This year's calendar had eight inclement weather days stockpiled. Five have been used so far.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga-area parents weigh value of traditional snow days vs. return to remote learning)

State law also allows school districts to use two virtual learning days per semester in case of a weather or emergency event, said Shannon Moody, the district's chief strategy officer.

Robertson previously said the district wasn't prepared to use the virtual days when schools closed for a week in January, but district officials were confident they could use the days effectively in the future.

Kayla Butler, a representative of the Hamilton County Education Association, told board members ahead of the vote that the extra planning time would lead to improved instruction and better outcomes for students.

"As educators, we know that effective teaching requires careful planning and preparation; however, with the demands of a full teaching schedule finding time for planning can be challenging," she said. "By including half-days specifically for teacher planning in our district calendar, we can ensure that educators have the time they need to create engaging lessons, assess student progress and collaborate with their colleagues."

Contact Shannon Coan at scoan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

Upcoming Events