Wake proposes a smart shift in calendar for some schools

Give the Wake County school board credit on a couple of counts: One, for being willing to change calendars in schools with lots of high-needs students to a type of year-round schedule that would shorten breaks and use periodic breaks to give some students extra instruction. Two, for seeking input from parents as to what the challenges such changes might bring.

The board, should it make the changes to 12 schools – and there are more pluses than minuses to doing it – will not be vulnerable to claims that it didn’t care what parents thought. Because clearly, the members do care.

High-needs students include many from low-income families with few resources to provide outside educational opportunities during the long summer break on the traditional school calendar. The children can lose a lot of what they’ve learned in the school year over an 11-week summer break.

The “continuous learning calendar” that the school board is considering for 12 high-poverty schools would include periodic three-week breaks, during which students who needed help could get it in a more concentrated form.

That will help students keep up in real time. They won’t have to wait until after the long summer break to go to classes that will target their needs and also add some enrichment programs that students from more affluent families enjoy, such as visiting museums, taking educational trips or learning skills in camps. And outside of the school, the less-advantaged students would still be able to participate in programs sponsored by community groups.

This makes good sense. Extra help for some students, and a lesser chance that all of these students will forget what they’ve learned in a school with a traditional calendar. It’s also true that for students from low-income homes who need the nutrition that their free and reduced price-lunches provide, a more year-round calendar will mean fewer hungry days, when they simply have little or nothing to eat.

Parents at the affected schools will have chances to offer their views to board members. That’s good, because they’re going to have legitimate concerns that the board is going to have to address.

The first concern will likely be child care. Working parents have to ensure their kids are looked after while sometimes unpredictable work duties (often nonnegotiable) go on. Changing the students’ schools schedule will involve changing the schedule for caring for them outside of school.

One solution may be county-sponsored camps to provide the children of working parents a good, safe place to go. School buildings could be used, as they are now for school-run afterschool programs.

The public schools’ charge, to provide all children with a sound, basic education no matter their economic backgrounds or their family circumstances, is challenging. But now, with many children living with and in effect “commuting” between two parents, or facing behavioral challenges that in the past might have gone undiagnosed or kept them out of mainstream schools, the challenge is all the greater.

It’s appropriate, and wise, for the school board to look for ways to fulfill the educational mission in a way that gives all kids a fair chance at success. Being more flexible with calendars, recognizing they do have an impact on learning, is one important step toward that goal.