Wake County could increase instead of cut the number of multi-track year-round schools in the next few years as part of a new push to encourage more families to apply to the non-traditional schools.
School administrators had recommended an overall reduction in the number of multi-track schools, tied with a new marketing push to try to fill the remaining year-round schools. But the school board could approve next week a revised plan that would lead to a slight increase in the number of multi-track schools during the new marketing campaign.
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“I would love to see us promote the multi-track program robustly,” school board member Bill Fletcher said at last week’s board work session. “I hate the idea of giving up seats and causing families who are currently participating faithfully and fully in the multi-track program to lose that seat or feeder pattern.”
Under the new proposal that got initial approval last week, Lake Myra Elementary in Wendell and Timber Drive Elementary in Garner would switch from a single-track year-round schedule to a multi-track calendar in 2018. At the same time, Wake would convert Banks Road Elementary near Fuquay-Varina from a multi-track schedule to a traditional calendar in 2018.
School board Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler, who has raised concerns about converting Timber Drive, said more changes could come at the board table next week.
“I don’t think we’re at a place of making increases or decreasing multi track,” Johnson-Hostler said in an interview Monday. “We’re at a place of determining whether people have enough access to choices.”
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. In single-track schools all the year-round students follow the same schedule.
Wake expanded the number of multi-track 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.
A district study determined that the majority of multi-track schools have empty seats, some to the point that school officials said it’s costing Wake money to provide extra resources to help them. Additionally, administrators said there was a greater demand for traditional-calendar seats than year-round seats.
To address the situation, staff had recommended moving 10 multi-track, single-track and modified-calendar schools to a traditional calendar. Even with the conversion of Lake Myra and Timber Drive, the proposal would have led to a net drop of two multi-track schools.
But at least week’s work session, the board tentatively agreed to drop the proposed conversion of Salem Middle and Salem Elementary in Apex and Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary to a traditional calendar. For now they’ll remain multi-track schools.
Wake is now poised to see a net increase of one multi-track school in 2018. But plans still call for not opening any new schools on a multi-track schedule.
Board members cited concerns such as whether Salem Middle would be overcrowded on a traditional calendar and the uncertainty of whether state lawmakers will ease new elementary school class-size reductions that could require an additional 460 classrooms in Wake.
“We really don’t yet know where we’re going with the Senate, and I’d hesitate to take seats out of capacity right now,” said school board member Roxie Cash.
Board members said they want to see how well a new marketing approach works at filling year-round schools like Salem. Wake will resume the practice it used before 2013 of having people apply for year-round schools and magnet schools at the same time.
“We think this would be good to help the multi-track year-round schools because they’re able to utilize the magnet marketing and recruiting to help them gain the applicants they need to fill all these seats,” said Glenn Carrozza, director of student assignment.