Wake to change 1 elementary to year-round, will consider 8 others

Ashley Morgan, 10, writes in her notebook during reading and writing time in her fourth grade class at Walnut Creek Elementary School on Monday, January 11, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
Ashley Morgan, 10, writes in her notebook during reading and writing time in her fourth grade class at Walnut Creek Elementary School on Monday, January 11, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.

One Wake County elementary school will convert to a year-round school in August and eight other schools could switch to that calendar in 2017.

Wake County school administrators told a school board committee Monday that Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh will switch to the year-round calendar for the 2016-17 school year. Eight other elementary schools – Brentwood, Bugg, Fox Road and Lynn Road in Raleigh; Creech Road, East Garner and Smith in Garner; and Lincoln Heights in Fuquay-Varina – are under consideration for a switch to year-round for the 2017-18 school year.

Administrators said they’re surveying staff and families at those eight schools about the change. But Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore also told board members Monday that administrators anticipate recommending converting those schools to year-round.

A recommendation could be made to the full school board as soon as next week.

“I’m a little concerned that I’m hearing a recommendation before I’m hearing we have the data from the families,” school board member Jim Martin said.

Those nine traditional-calendar schools and three existing year-round schools are part of the Elementary Support Model program, which provides assistance for schools with low test scores. All 12 schools have high concentrations of students receiving subsidized lunches.

Administrators want all 12 schools on the year-round calendar called Track 4, which has periodic three-week breaks and generally begins in late July and ends in late June. Traditional-calendar schools run from late August to early-to-mid June.

Administrators say the shorter one-month summer break in the Track 4 schedule will reduce learning loss that occurs when students are on vacation. Traditional-calendar students have summer breaks of more than two months.

But Martin said his review of the data indicated that Wake’s year-round schools had lower student achievement rates than the traditional-calendar schools, after the figures were normalized for the percentages of low-income students.

“I’m just a little concerned that we’re working on a perception that we minimize summer learning loss by the year-round calendar when I’m not sure that the data actually shows that,” Martin said.

James Overman, area superintendent for elementary support, responded that the schedule has other benefits, such as the possibility of adding extra school days during breaks. He also said that the breaks can reduce burnout for students and teachers.

“Being able to provide constant breaks for teachers is a benefit,” Overman said.

Board member Susan Evans asked about concerns that families could face high childcare costs during the breaks. Moore said that community groups are willing to step up to provide childcare programs and charge families on a sliding scale.

Even though staff want to have all 12 schools on the same calendar eventually, board members asked for reconsideration.

Board member Bill Fletcher suggested not converting Lincoln Heights because it’s the only traditional-calendar school in Fuquay-Varina without an enrollment cap that restricts newly arriving families from attending.

Board member Christine Kushner asked staff to consider leaving Lynn Road and the magnet schools in the program on the traditional calendar.

“I understand the push-pull of having the 12 schools aligned,” Kushner said. “But then they’re also 12 schools with individual needs.”

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