Education

Wake County considering calendar change for 12 schools

A dozen high-poverty Wake County elementary schools could switch to a new type of year-round calendar that school administrators say can improve learning for the high-needs students in attendance.

Wake is surveying the families and staff at the 12 schools about switching to the “continuous learning calendar,” which would schedule classes from late July to mid-June. The calendar has periodic three-week breaks that can be used to give extra instruction to students, but those same breaks also can result in higher child-care costs for families, compared to care available during a long summer break.

Administrators will wait until August or September – instead of this month as originally proposed – to recommend to the school board whether any of the 12 schools should change calendars for the 2016-17 school year. The additional time will allow Wake to get more feedback from parents and to continue talks with groups about providing programs during the three-week breaks, called trackout periods.

“We are trying to reassure parents that we won’t move forward with a recommendation until we have viable options for trackout times,” said Meg Sheehan, Wake’s area superintendent for elementary support.

But before a recommendation is made, Louise Lee of North Raleigh says, Wake should ensure that parents get a fair assessment of the pros and cons of the new calendar. Lee is president of Save Our Summers NC, a group that helped persuade state lawmakers to pass the school calendar law that sets the opening and closing dates for traditional-calendar schools.

“Parents are not getting enough information to make the best decision for their children,” Lee said. “They need the honest pros and the honest cons to make a decision based on the true facts and not just based on what board members may want.”

Types of year-round

Wake County uses different forms of year-round calendars. One type, called multi-track, splits students into four groups – all on different calendars – to put a school building in constant use to increase capacity.

Wake’s other year-round models have all the students on the same calendar. Wake is looking at adapting one of those calendars to help the 12 schools in the new Elementary Support Model program. The program provides additional resources at schools which have among the district’s lowest passing rates on state exams.

The elementary schools in the program are Barwell Road, Brentwood, Bugg, Creech Road, East Garner, Fox Road, Hodge Road, Lincoln Heights, Lynn Road, Smith, Walnut Creek and Wilburn. Nearly all the schools are in the eastern part of the county. At all the schools, at least half of the student body receives federally subsidized lunches.

Nine of the schools are on the traditional calendar and the other three use different types of year-round calendars. They all could use the continuous learning calendar, which administrators say is a hybrid of the traditional and year-round calendars.

Like other year-round schools, students would have three-week breaks after every nine weeks of classes. The breaks would coincide with the winter and spring breaks for traditional-calendar schools to help families who have older siblings.

During the breaks, Sheehan said, Wake would provide remediation and enrichment programs for students instead of waiting until the summer to give them help. This would be in addition to the programs run by community groups that families could pay to attend.

“We wanted to take a look at what the best calendar would be instructionally,” Sheehan said.

Six weeks of summer

Summer break in the new calendar would last six weeks, instead of the 11 weeks provided in the traditional calendar. Administrators say this will lessen the summer learning loss that some students experience, especially those who don’t participate in educational activities during summer.

Lee, of Save Our Summers, said Wake needs to consider more than just academics as they explore this potential calendar change. She cited factors such as a risk the new calendar could lead to more latchkey children. In addition, she said, the schedule could cost students the chance to receive summer scholarships and other opportunities.

“The school board is charged with trying to provide the best academic opportunities for every child, and I believe that’s what they’re trying to do,” she said. “As a former teacher, I completely understand that. That’s what I tried to foster.

“But for parents, that’s just one piece of the pie. They also have to look at many other pieces and consider things such as child-care expenses.”

But school board member Keith Sutton, whose Southeast Raleigh district has several of the schools that could be affected, said there are some clear and obvious advantages to switching to the new calendar.

“When we were talking about the cost of child-care being a deterrent, that was years ago when you didn’t have many trackout opportunities in Southeast Raleigh,” he said. “Back then you only had the Y. But now you have several options that are more affordable.”

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Give your thoughts on the new calendar

The Wake County school system wants parents at the 12 elementary schools that could switch to the “continuous learning calendar” to take an online survey at svy.mk/1AXnMgj. View the presentation on the new calendar at bit.ly/1L5OUm4.

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