After years of rejecting the idea, the Wake County school system is now studying whether it can operate both traditional and year-round calendars at the same school.
If it becomes a reality, year-round schools that have the space could also offer the traditional calendar for some students. School administrators say it’s too soon to say whether operating both calendars on the same campus would work, but the proposal could result in more traditional-calendar seats in areas where they’re in short supply.
“It’s a response to the continued voice for traditional seats from our community,” said Christina Lighthall, Wake’s senior director for long-range planning. She’s been assigned to study the idea.
The study is welcome news for parents in the Haddon Hall community in Apex who had promoted the idea during the school board’s review of the student assignment plan for the 2015-16 school year. The families are concerned that it will be harder to get into overcrowded traditional-calendar schools such as Apex Middle.
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“It’s good to hear that they’re actually listening to us,” said Meg Dickinson, a Haddon Hall parent. “You’re not sure at times if you’re being heard.”
Wake is confronting the fact that even after 25 years of operating year-round schools, many families don’t want that schedule.
The schedule most families have known for generations is the traditional calendar, in which students get a two-month summer break. In the year-round calendar, students ditch the extended summer break in favor of three-week breaks at intervals during the school year.
Breaking it down
Wake uses two kinds of year-round schedules.
In single track, all students have the same schedule starting in late July.
In multitrack year-round, the students are split into four groups, or tracks, with three in session and one on break. If the school can enroll enough students, capacity can increase by 20 percent or even by a third.
During Wake’s expansion of the year-round program last decade, school leaders had rebuffed parental suggestions to offer the traditional calendar at multitrack schools.
“Back in 2005, we were slammed with students and were looking for conversions that would give us the most bang for our bucks,” Lighthall said. “A combination of year-round and traditional didn’t afford us that.”
But with growth slower than expected since 2006, Wake converted some multitrack schools to a single track or to the traditional calendar.
During the recent student assignment debate, parents suggested taking advantage of the empty seats at some multitrack schools to offer a fifth track for traditional-calendar students.
Lighthall said she’ll begin in January a countywide look at year-round elementary and middle schools. She said the earliest any changes could be made would be the 2016-17 school year.
Among the things Lighthall said she’ll examine is the experiences of other districts that operated both calendars at the same site.
Some school districts with single-track year-round schools, such as Durham and Orange counties, also used to offer the traditional calendar at those campuses.
But Charles Ballinger, executive director emeritus of the California-based National Association for Year-Round Education, said he’s never heard of any combination of multitrack and traditional programs on the same campus.
“The whole idea of multitracking is to reduce overcrowding in the first instance,” Ballinger said. “Providing a traditional schedule within an overcrowded campus would signify that some students are more special than others.”
Lighthall said she’ll have to see whether it’s operationally possible to combine multitrack and traditional. She said it would require a school to have enough available seats to accommodate six rooms of traditional-calendar students at elementary schools or 12 rooms at middle schools.
“I love the fact that they’re going to look into it to get more students into these underutilized schools and accommodate families,” said Dickinson, the parent.