Education

Wake County considers changing 12 schools to year-round calendar

Walnut Creek Elementary School students work in the technology classroom on Dec. 4, 2014. Walnut Creek is one of 12 Wake County schools that might switch to a year-round calendar.
Walnut Creek Elementary School students work in the technology classroom on Dec. 4, 2014. Walnut Creek is one of 12 Wake County schools that might switch to a year-round calendar. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Families and staff at 12 high-poverty, lower-performing Wake County elementary schools will find out in January if they’re switching to a year-round calendar in the summer of 2016.

Wake County school administrators will recommend in January whether any, or all, of the 12 schools will change calendars in an effort to try to raise student achievement. It’s a recommendation that could cause more than 5,000 traditional-calendar students to change schedules and produce a backlash among parents and staff who’ve warned they’ll leave if there’s a calendar change.

“We don’t know if they’re going to request a change from the traditional calendar, but I would not be shocked to see a request for a change,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said in an interview this week.

The 12 schools under consideration are in the Elementary Support Model Program, meaning they’re given extra resources to try to help improve their performance. Earlier this year, Wake began surveying families and staff at the schools about a possible calendar change.

Different types of year-round calendars are being considered. The models share reducing the length of summer vacation by having three-week breaks after every nine weeks of classes.

The continuous learning calendar would have students in class from late July to mid June. The single-track year-round calendar would schedule classes from late July to late June.

In contrast, traditional-calendar schools have classes from late August to up to June 11. Of the 7,314 students at the 12 schools, 5,153 are on a traditional calendar. Three schools already use a year-round calendar.

Critics say that child-care costs can be higher during the three-week breaks, called track outs, and that the calendar change can cause challenges for families who have older siblings at traditional-calendar middle and high schools.

I know a lot of people have been on that schedule and love it. It’s weird to me. It was not great to us, and I don’t want to go to something close that.

Jodi Reed, opponent of year-round schools

Jodi Reed moved her two youngest daughters from a year-round school to keep them on the same schedule as her oldest daughter in high school. But now she could be on two different schedules with Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina facing a calendar change.

“I know a lot of people have been on that schedule and love it,” Reed said of the year-round calendar. “It’s weird to me. It was not great to us, and I don’t want to go to something close that.”

But parents and teachers from Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh have spoken at school board meetings about how the three-week breaks can be used to give extra instruction to students. Speakers have also said that long summer breaks result in students falling behind academically and needing to get caught up when they return to class.

“To seek change, you must initiate change,” Terry Kokenes, an English-As-A-Second-Language teacher at Walnut Creek, said at the Dec. 1 board meeting. “If we want the students at Walnut Creek to achieve academic success, we must change what we are doing to help them.”

Talisha Cook, a Walnut Creek parent, told the board she realizes that as a full-time working parent that she’ll have to put her daughter in a childcare program during the breaks. But Cook said it’s worth the cost if the new calendar helps children meet their full academic potential.

If we want the students at Walnut Creek to achieve academic success, we must change what we are doing to help them.

Terry Kokenes, teacher at Walnut Creek Elementary School and fan of year-round schools

“She needs this calendar change,” Cook said. “Our kids need this calendar change.

“We’ve done our research and it just does not add up – the financial cost versus our children’s success. There’s no comparison.”

Walnut Creek has been the exception among parents at the 12 schools.

Among the nine traditional-calendar schools, only a majority of parents at four schools said in an online survey they’d support the switch. Reed said she loves Lincoln Heights Elementary so much she’ll stay even if the calendar changes, but others at the schools responded they’re likely to leave if there’s a switch.

Support has been stronger among staff across the 12 schools, where most teachers said they’d back the new calendar and would want to stay there if a change were made.

Benton, the school board chairman, said that any recommendation for calendar change would result in the board asking questions such as what low-cost daycare options would be available. He said they’d also want to know what kind of guarantee, if any, would be given to families who would want to leave those schools to stay on a traditional calendar.

“Time is an issue because families and staff need to make appropriate plans for the summer,” Benton said. “Secondly, we’ve got an opportunity to do something really unique.

“We’ll see if we can come up with something worthwhile for parents and students that works within their schedules.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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