Wake County school administrators want to delay switching nine elementary schools to a year-round calendar until 2017, but school board members still want to consider changing Walnut Creek Elementary for 2016-2017.
Administrators had initially proposed switching the calendars for all the schools for the 2016-17 school year, but on Tuesday they said waiting until the 2017-18 school year would allow them to work through issues such as finding and developing affordable child care options. But board members said they want to study switching Walnut Creek this summer because parents and teachers at the Southeast Raleigh school have been lobbying for a calendar change.
But even if Walnut Creek changes, school board members said a one-year delay for most, if not all schools, makes sense. The board could vote on any calendar changes Feb. 2.
“This will give everybody a chance to catch their breath and come up with more concrete ideas of what’s going on,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said.
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 year-round calendar called Track 4, which generally begins in late July and ends in late June. Traditional-calendar schools have classes from late August to early June.
More than 5,000 students affected
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. More than 5,000 students attend the nine schools.
Three other elementary schools in the school-improvement 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 4.
Traditional-calendar schools have summer breaks that last as long as 11 weeks. But at Track 4 year-round schools, three-week breaks are built in after every nine weeks of classes, with summer vacation reduced to one month.
Administrators say students will benefit from taking classes during part of the periodic breaks that are part of the existing schedule and that the year-round schedule will reduce summer learning loss. The calendar change would allow Wake to add 10 days of classes to those schools, offering 190 days compared with 180 days at other schools.
When the plan was unveiled to a school board committee last week, board members wanted to know what child care options would be available in the new calendar. It’s a concern because the majority of students at all the schools in the program come from low-income families.
Most students attend schools on the traditional calendar, so summer child care programs are not only more plentiful, but are also more likely to be subsidized to keep costs affordable. Families at the less numerous year-round schools face obstacles of fewer options with larger price tags.
Time to develop programs
By waiting a year, administrators say they can develop more summer school and track-out programs for students.
“We’re looking for students to be able to attend academic-based programs that are affordable,” James Overman, area superintendent for elementary support, told the school board.
Overman said that several of the principals at the schools have expressed interest in setting up their own programs.
An extra year of planning would allow administrators to deal with other issues, such as getting more feedback from parents and deciding how to handle requests from families who won’t want to stay at the schools after the calendar change.
Board members wrestled Tuesday with whether a delay would hurt more than it would help some of the schools. Board member Keith Sutton said the board needs to show its support for the principals by doing something this year.
But school board member Jim Martin argued the district should pull from consideration this year changing the calendars for Brentwood, Bugg, Fox Road and Smith. He said the potential calendar change has hurt efforts to recruit students to those four magnet schools.
As a compromise, the board asked staff to report back on Feb. 2 only on whether the principals at Barwell, Walnut Creek and Wilburn say they could make the switch to Track 4 this year to join Hodge Road.
“If they can convey to you a very convincing, persuasive case that they can make it work along with their communities, then I think it’s worth giving it a shot,” Sutton said.
School enrollment caps approved
In other action Tuesday, the Wake County school board approved putting enrollment restrictions on 15 schools for the 2016-17 school year.
New families who move into the attendance areas for those schools after Tuesday could be denied seats there. Instead, they’d be given seats at more distant schools that have more space. In addition:
▪ The board approved a policy that stiffens the consequences for making threats that lead to school evacuations.
Students could be required to make restitution for the disruption and cost of evacuations, either through payments or community service. Students could also receive long-term suspensions of more than 10 days from school for the offense.
▪ The board revised the student transfer policy to give student-assignment staff more authority to reject transfer requests, particularly if they’d have a negative impact on the sending schools.
The new policy also expands the number of crowded schools that would be closed for transfer requests. An additional change puts students who have already transferred on notice that they’re subject to being reassigned.