Wake County school administrators are proposing the largest expansion in the year-round school program in nearly a decade.
On Monday, they recommended making the calendar switch as soon as August at nine elementary schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.
School administrators want to put all the schools in the Elementary Support Model program, which provides extra help to schools with low test scores, on the track four year-round calendar, which generally begins in late July.
Under the plan, the traditional-calendar elementary schools to be converted are Brentwood, Bugg, Fox Road, Lynn Road and Walnut Creek in Raleigh; Creech Road, East Garner and Smith in Garner; and Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina.
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Three other elementary schools in the program – Barwell Road and Wilburn in Raleigh and Hodge Road in Knightdale – already operate on a year-round calendar. Barwell Road and Wilburn would switch to offering only track four.
Wake hasn’t converted this many schools to a year-round calendar since 2007, when 22 traditional-calendar schools made the switch. Those conversions were designed to accommodate a projected surge of attendance, while the new conversions would be carried out for academic reasons.
The calendar change would allow students at the 12 schools to receive 10 extra days of instruction during the periodic breaks that are built into the year-round calendar. School leaders also say that shortening summer vacation at those schools to one month will reduce how much students forget during the summer.
“Our year-round students are outperforming their counterparts,” James Overman, area superintendent for elementary support, told the school board’s student achievement committee. “We feel that can be attributed to the fact that they do not have as large of a summer break, or as large an opportunity to lose that information.”
The new round of proposed conversions has support from a majority of teachers at the schools, but some parents have threatened to leave if they lose the traditional calendar. School board members said Monday that they agreed in general with the change. However, they wanted more information on child care options for families during the breaks and more discussion on the situation of families who don’t want their children attending schools on different calendars.
Administrators will try to provide answers at next week’s board meeting, during which a recommendation will be made on whether to make the change for the 2016-17 school year or wait until 2017-18. The board could make a decision in February.
“I am 100 percent sold on the concept of a year-round calendar for student learning,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said. “But I also do know that, sitting here on the board, some of our biggest issues are families who have siblings on traditional calendars and who have horrendous day care problems.”
The majority of families in Wake are used to the traditional calendar, in which classes run from late August to early June. But in the year-round schedule, summer break is shortened to provide periodic three-week breaks during the year.
In one model, such as the one used in the 2007 conversions, a school is split into four groups, called tracks, with three in session throughout the year. This multitrack, year-round schedule can increase capacity by as much as 33 percent.
But the single-track calendar proposed for the Elementary Support Model schools puts all the students on the same schedule. For the 2016-17 school year, classes would start Aug. 1 and end June 30. That compares with Aug. 29 to June 9 for traditional-calendar schools.
In fall 2014, Wake identified 12 schools that needed additional support. At most of those schools, the passing rate is below 50 percent on state exams, and the percentage of students receiving federally subsidized lunches is more than 70 percent.
Since early last year, Wake has been surveying parents and staff at the 12 schools to see whether they would support a calendar change. School board members said Monday that they were impressed that principals at all 12 schools agreed with making the calendar switch.
One of the issues that would need to be resolved is how easy it should be for parents to leave the schools. One of the complaints made after the 2007 conversions was that Wake was trying to make year-round schools mandatory.
School board member Susan Evans said that her support would depend on the district’s being able to provide reasonable options for families who want out.
“When you start forcing people, particularly those who have older children on a different calendar, that does not work out well,” she said.
But school board member Bill Fletcher said that they need to keep the populations at the schools stable to get the most benefits of the calendar change.
“I’m concerned about the transition away from a program that’s been designed to meet the needs of these students,” Fletcher said. “We should not adopt a willy-nilly, open-door response to parents who say this won’t work for me.”
Benton, the school board chairman, said he wouldn’t support an open-door policy for leaving the 12 schools. He said he would back a system under which parents could leave if they document their reasons why they couldn’t stay if the school was on a year-round calendar.
School leaders agreed that they need to do a good job of communicating the changes to the community.
“We have to be very clear in our messaging to parents if we do this: Here is why. Here is what your options are,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler.