A puzzle with lots of pieces

A little candy, some handouts and an abundance of bright sticky notes were on hand at the first meeting for the 2019-2020 academic calendar on Jan. 30. Creating the CMS calendar is a complex process with a lot of requirements to fit into 215 days – holidays, test schedules, winter and spring breaks, 1,025 hours of instruction, teacher workdays and more. For committee members, the process can sometimes appear to be a math puzzle with too many pieces.

About 60 people – teachers, parents, community members, students, CMS administrators and the chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education – gathered at Spaugh Administrative Center auditorium for two hours to begin creating the calendar for year after next.

It's a ritual that is familiar as well as complex – and the committee members are dedicated to the work. "I'm here to do my duty!" joked Mary McCray, chair of the Board of Education, as she signed in. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools sets its calendars nearly a year and a half in advance, following a carefully choreographed protocol that takes several months.

Much of the calendar is dictated by rules promulgated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction and the General Assembly. Among the requirements: There are 11 holidays but only one that is required by law: Veterans Day. The state also requires that school start no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. In addition, the calendar must have 215 days with at least 1,025 hours of instruction included. Teachers must have 10 annual leave days.

The auditorium at Spaugh buzzed with discussion as the calendar committee broke into eight groups, each tasked with building a draft calendar for 2019-2020.

"You don't have to finish it today but we want you to begin a draft that will include holidays, annual-leave days and have 215 employment days in all," Angie Bartles told the groups. Bartles, who is the manager of district strategy for CMS, leads the committee with Stephanie McKinney, the executive coordinator in the Office of School Performance. The two women went over the general rules and then monitored the progress of the eight groups, checking in to clarify or explain a requirement as needed.

These groups' drafts included holidays, severe weather make-up days, Election Day, religious holidays and testing considerations. The draft calendars also had to include the end of each quarter. Many stakeholders, particularly teachers, want a balanced distribution of instructional days and workdays for each quarter. Make-up days are also identified (and the order in which they can be used), as well as the winter and spring breaks. The calendar groups will meet again Feb. 6 and, if needed, Feb. 13 to complete the drafts and then choose two to be presented to district leadership and leadership committees. Among the committees that will review the drafts are the Principals Leadership Advisory Team (PLAT), Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council (STAC), School Support Advisory Committee (SSAC) and executive staff. The feedback from these committees will be recorded and a small working committee will modify the two drafts as needed.

CMS will also conduct an online poll for community members to identify which draft they prefer and why. The poll results and all other feedback will be shared with the superintendent, who will then make a final recommendation to the Board of Education. The Board will then vote to choose the final 2019-2020 calendar in May of this year.

"There is a lot to consider in assembling the calendar," Bartles said. "But the committee works hard to pull it all together each year."