Four Wake County multi-track year-round schools could switch to a traditional calendar over the next two years, and changes could be made to the attendance zones for the district’s other year-round schools.
Wake school administrators recommended Tuesday that Salem Middle School and Salem Elementary School in Apex and Banks Road Elementary School near Fuquay-Varina convert to a traditional calendar in 2018. In 2019, staff recommend converting Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary to a traditional calendar and opening the nearby Alston Ridge Middle on a traditional schedule.
In addition, staff say they will in the future recommend changes to the attendance maps and feeder patterns at year-round schools and will look at changing the way families apply to attend those non-traditional schools.
School officials said the changes would help fill the remaining multi-track schools and increase transportation efficiency for the district while still providing parental choice. Additionally, they said multi-track schools, which can hold more students than traditional-calendar schools, save money only when they’re full.
“When a multi-track school is under-enrolled, it is costing us additional resources,” Laura Evans, senior director of student assignment, told the school board.
If approved by the board, it would result in the latest reduction in the number of multi-track schools. There were 51 multi-track schools in 2009. There will be 36 this fall.
Julia Rudy, a longtime year-round parent from Cary, urged the school board to bolster and promote the program instead of cutting back.
“This is a publicity issue, not an enrollment issue,” she said.
The majority of Wake’s 159,000 students attend traditional-calendar schools, which open in late August and end by early June. Students have summer breaks of 10 or more weeks.
In year-round schools, the summer vacation is reduced to a month or less, and students have three-week breaks throughout the school year.
At multi-track schools, students are split into four groups, or tracks, that follow their own schedules and can increase a building’s capacity by as much as 33 percent. At the single-track year-round schools, all the students follow the same schedule.
Wake had a mass expansion of multi-track schools between 2007 and 2009 because the district was projected to continue growing by 5,000 or more students a year. But slower-than-expected growth during the economic downturn, opposition from parents and a lawsuit kept many of the multi-track schools below their projected enrollments.
School officials say the supply of multi-track seats exceeds the demand. Staff’s goal is to get multi-track schools to 110 percent of their capacity, but they are only at 100 percent in elementary schools and 85 percent in middle schools.
“Traditional is the greater demand,” Evans said.
Some board members asked whether the district should consider cutting back on the number of multi-track schools at a time when elementary school class sizes could drop sharply. Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said Wake would have problems if the state’s lower class sizes are implemented, but she said there are ways to handle the situation.
“It’s about where we have space,” Moore said. “We do have schools that have space, and does reassignment become a part of that discussion so that students are moved to where we have space?”
In addition to the calendar changes, staff are also considering for the 2018-19 school year:
▪ Increasing the base attendance area for East Cary Middle and Adams Elementary, both in Cary;
▪ Reviewing and adjusting which multi-track elementary schools feed into which year-round middle schools;
▪ Reviewing and adjusting the calendar options for the affected schools.
Changes are also being considered to the application process for year-round schools. But Evans said student assignment staff still expect to continue to provide families assigned to a year-round school the option to apply to attend a traditional-calendar school.
Staff want the board to vote on the multi-track changes on May 2 along with proposed changes at seven single-track and one modified-calendar school in Garner and eastern Wake. This would allow the changes to be included in the student assignment plan being developed for the 2018-19 school year.
Also Tuesday, staff said there’s no recommendation to change the modified calendar used at four Raleigh magnet schools: Southeast Raleigh High School, Centennial Campus and Moore Square middle schools and Partnership Elementary School.