Parents’ reactions have been mixed about a Wake County proposal to reduce the number of multi-track year-round schools that officials say have gone from saving money to costing taxpayers extra dollars.
School administrators are recommending Salem Middle and Salem Elementary in Apex and Banks Road Elementary near Fuquay-Varina convert to a traditional calendar in 2018. They propose changing Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary in 2019.
School officials say the majority of Wake’s multi-track schools have empty seats, with some so under-enrolled that they’re getting additional funding to have enough teachers.
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“Across the county, there is greater demand for traditional calendar seats than there is for year-round calendar seats,” school officials say on an online forum (bit.ly/2pyBPd8) for parents to comment on the proposal. “Having an under-utilized multi-track school brings with it the need for additional resources to ensure that all tracks are equitable.”
Some parents are strongly against the change, saying the year-round calendar is superior because of the much shorter summer vacation and periodic breaks.
“Year round takes a bit to get used to, but once you do it really is a much better option both for the children and the parents,” Randal Willis, a Salem Elementary parent, said on Wake’s forum.
But some parents, particularly those whose children will be going to traditional-calendar high schools, say Wake should make the calendar changes to help keep families on the same schedule.
“While we loved the year round calendar when all 3 of our kids were on it, it certainly becomes difficult as the older ones enter high school on a traditional calendar,” Cheryl Boss, a Salem Middle parent, said on the forum.
The school board will review the comments Tuesday before voting May 2. School board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler said that whatever the board decides, some people will be unhappy.
“For the last five months, we’ve been very thoughtful about our decision even if we’re making a decision that not everybody can agree with,” 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.
“We are new to the school, and year round calendars, but I have already noticed a huge change in my kids,” Elissa Hays, a Banks Road parent, wrote on Wake’s forum. “They don’t seem to get as burned out on this schedule since their breaks are more frequent than traditional calendar options.”
Studies have shown that students, particularly if they’re from low-income families, suffer summer learning loss when they’re not in school. But there are also conflicting studies on whether attending a year-round school boosts student achievement.
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.
Wake expanded the number of multi-track year-round schools between 2007 and 2010 by opening new schools and converting some traditional-calendar schools. But when fewer-than-expected students enrolled in Wake schools, the district reduced the number of multi-track schools from 51 in 2010 to 36 this fall.
All the new schools in Wake’s school building program would follow the traditional calendar.
Some parents, and at least one school board member, are questioning cutting back on multi-track schools at a time when planners project 25,781 new students by 2025.
“With the amount of families moving into the area, the need for year round schools will most likely increase again to avoid having to build more schools,” Beth Blount, a parent at Salem Middle, said on the forum.
But school officials say a lot of extra seats gained from the multi-track calendar are empty. They say Banks Road and the Salem schools are significantly under-enrolled with 752 combined unused seats.
Some parents who want to keep the multi-track calendar have suggested Wake reassign more students to the schools. But other parents say that’s not a realistic option.
“It’s clear that the surrounding population for the Salem Schools favors a traditional calendar given the under enrollment in both schools,” Michael Keefe, a Salem Middle parent, said on the forum. “Unless WCPSS is ready to force families to attend their base school, the best way to maximize enrollment in the Salem Schools is to revert to traditional.”
At Alston Ridge Elementary, empty seats are not an issue. But administrators want the school to match the traditional calendar that will be used by the adjoining Alston Ridge Middle School that will open in 2019.
“We know so many families at Alston Ridge who love being on the year-round calendar,” said Pam Markley, a Cary mother who wants to enroll her son at a year-round school. “Why take one of the few options that we have?”
School board member Bill Fletcher said he agrees that under-enrolled year-round schools cost more to operate. But he says Wake should be doing more to encourage families to attend multi-track schools instead of switching them to a traditional calendar.
“The program hasn’t attracted enough students because the district didn’t do everything it needed to do to ensure that there was a supply of students to keep the program robust,” Fletcher said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have discussions about strategies that we might be able to take to increase the demand for the multi-track program.
“I don’t want to lose the seats that we have gained there.”