Wake Ed

Wake County won’t change eight schools to year-round schedule

Angela Harris reviews reading and writing goals with her fourth grade class at Walnut Creek Elementary School on Monday, January 11, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
Angela Harris reviews reading and writing goals with her fourth grade class at Walnut Creek Elementary School on Monday, January 11, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. jhknight@newsobserver.com

The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to convert Walnut Creek Elementary School to a year-round calendar but won’t switch eight other elementary schools to that schedule after receiving strong parental opposition.

Wake recently surveyed parents at staff at eight 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 – about a calendar change for 2017-18 school year.

The results showed a majority of staff at all eight schools felt switching to a year-round calendar called Track 4 would meet the instructional needs of their students. But only at East Garner Elementary did a majority of parents say they were likely to remain if the calendar was changed to 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.

The response caused school administrators and board members to say they can’t recommend going ahead with a calendar change at those eight schools.

“If we’ve got less than half of the parents supporting it, we would need strong evidence to go against that,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton. “With less than half, I can’t see what would push us to change.”

But the board went ahead Tuesday with converting Walnut Creek Elementary in Southeast Raleigh to track 4 for the 2016-17 school year after getting strong parental support for the change. The board also turned Barwell Road Elementary in Southeast Raleigh from a multi-track year-round school to track 4 only.

The negative parental response at the other eight schools derailed efforts by administrators who’d initially wanted to change their calendars as early as the 2016-17 school year. As recently as a board committee meeting last week, staff said they still expected to recommend converting the eight schools for the 2017-18 school year.

But on Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said the survey responses showed she couldn’t recommend the calendar changes at this time. The board had wanted a recommendation by this month so that the community would have a year to adjust if the conversions were approved.

James Overman, area superintendent for elementary support, said parents are feeling calendar fatigue and are experiencing animosity that the issue hasn’t been resolved yet. He said families and staff at the schools just want to move on with their lives.

“This is about a two-year conversation,” Overman said. “Maybe we had a window of opportunity early. Now it’s about education.”

Board members and staff said they’d focus on other ways to try to improve education at the eight schools in lieu of a calendar change.

The eight traditional-calendar schools, Walnut Creek, Barwell Road and two other 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 had wanted all 12 schools on track 4 for multiple reasons, including having common training time for staff.

In addition, administrators said the shorter one-month summer break in the Track 4 schedule would reduce learning loss that occurs when students are on vacation. Traditional-calendar students have summer breaks of more than two months.

Administrators said the periodic breaks will help prevent student and staff burnout. In addition, Wake has been looking at offering classes during part of those breaks to lengthen the school year for students.

Walnut Creek and Barwell Road will pilot a program to have 190 days of classes for the 2016-17 school year. Other schools have 180 days of classes.

But parents at some other schools had been lobbying school board members to oppose a calendar change.

During last week’s student achievement committee meeting, some board members asked staff to consider not changing the calendars at Lincoln Heights, Lynn Road and the magnet schools in the program.