While the subject of school calendar changes often is controversial, a meeting Wednesday about converting year-round calendars at two Apex schools ended with opposing sides high-fiving and agreeing to disagree.
About 70 parents came to Salem Middle School to discuss the possibility of changing it and Salem Elementary School into traditional calendar schools in the 2016-17 school year. A similar meeting was held at Highcroft Elementary in Cary June 4.
Both are multi-track year-round schools, but they are under capacity, school officials say. Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance with the Wake County Public School System, said multi-track schools are efficient when fully used, but wasteful when they’re not.
There’s also supply and demand, she said.
“We have a deficit of traditional seats in this area of the county, and an abundance of year-round seats,” Moore said. The average year-round school in western Wake County is below capacity, whereas the average traditional calendar school is at 110 percent capacity, she said.
But Moore said the school system is wary of making changes because it could mean two calendar changes in two years for some families. And switching to a traditional calendar would eliminate seats in a fast-growing part of Wake County.
Parents at the meeting also came up with an extensive list of pros and cons for both options. And while many leaned toward one side or the other, few seemed steadfast in their support. Plans hatched before the meeting for one side to wear red and the other side to wear blue seemed to have barely materialized.
Parents Maria Johnson and Elizabeth Dunn said some of their children perform better in traditional settings while others did better in year-round schools.
Dunn, though, said she leaned toward keeping Salem Middle as a year-round school because if it switches to traditional, Lufkin Road would be the only remaining year-round middle school in Apex, and it already is crowded.
Johnson, on the other hand, said she wants a switch to traditional. She said the same under-capacity issue that Moore brought up is hurting her daughter, an advanced math student.
Because there aren’t enough advanced math students in her daughter’s track to form a whole class, Johnson said, her daughter will need to sit in another class and work on a computer by herself at the back of the room.
“Year-round has a good model,” she said. “Unfortunately for the current school, I don’t think we fit in that model anymore.”
School officials say Salem Elementary has a capacity of 779 but has an enrollment of 605 students, making it at 77.7% of its capacity.
Salem Middle has a capacity of 1,253 but has 1,141 students enrolled for a 91.1% utilization rate.
Todd Harrison, another parent, said he doesn’t think Salem will stay under-enrolled for very long.
“With our growth in western Wake ... it’s important to be planning for the future,” he said.
School officials cited research that shows year-round schools often have better student performance. They can also save families money by planning vacations during non-peak months and letting them avoid paying for day camps all summer long.
But on the other hand, multi-track year-round schedules are unpopular with teachers and parents involved in sports, clubs and classes such as band and drama. It can be hard to get a choir or theater cast together at the same time, for example.
On a website Wake schools set up to gather opinions on the proposed changes, one person identifying himself as Bobby Hinson, Salem Middle’s band director, voiced opposition to year-round schooling.
“Every three weeks we take two steps forward and one step backwards in order to catch the new tracked-in students up to where the rest of the band is,” Hinson wrote. “I taught on the traditional calendar for 14 years until Salem converted to year-round in ’07-’08. On the year-round calendar (students and the director) have to work harder only to achieve less than our potential.”
He was one of 130 people who had written on the website by Wednesday night. School officials said they are closely monitoring the posts and will take those into account along with the input from the Salem and Highcroft meetings.
The online forums will remain open until June 16. That’s when Wake County Schools will hold a workshop to discuss the input, before making a recommendation to the Wake County Board of Education.
If the recommendation is to change the calendars, the school board will vote at its July 21 meeting.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran