Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Year-round school: It's complicated

In theory,  it seems obvious that the summer-off school calendar is ripe for change.  But listening to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials talk about converting one elementary school to a year-round schedule shows how complicated the change can be.

Last year the board voted to turn First Ward Elementary into a year-round school starting in August 2012,  with University Park Elementary,  another arts magnet,  closing and becoming part of First Ward.  After a presentation on what that's going to take,  the board agreed to wait another year.

First Ward is slated to become a four-track year-round school.  That means students and their teachers will have 45 days of class followed by 15 days off  --  and at any given time,  three-quarters of the students and teachers will be in class and one-quarter will be on  "intersession,"  as the breaks have been dubbed.

There will still be schoolwide breaks in the winter and spring,  but no long summer break.  Part of the goal is to avoid the learning loss that often happens over the summer.  Officials said they're looking at options for the kids who are on break to keep learning.  They're hoping uptown arts groups might help.  Still unclear is whether CMS or families would pay for those opportunities.

The staggered  "tracks"  mean a building can hold more students.  But it also means teachers may be living out of boxes;  instead of having one classroom for a full school year,  they'll have it for one quarter,  then move out to let another teacher step in.

Choosing tracks will be part of the 2013 magnet lottery.  There will be measures to keep siblings on the same schedule,  but any year-round schedule will put students out of sync with siblings at other schools and/or parents who work for any other school  (of course, most working parents are used to school calendars that are out of step with their jobs).

The big round of changes that included the University Park/First Ward merger was driven partly by the prospect of a shrinking CMS budget.  But Tyler Ream,  the area superintendent in charge of First Ward,  told the school board that providing year-round busing to a school that takes students from across Mecklenburg County will add an estimated $400,000 to transportation costs.

Ream said so far reaction from First Ward and University Park families has been mixed.  One reason he and other leaders want another year is to hire a principal to lead the transition and try to get families on board with the new venture.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

go talk to the folks in Wake County / Raleigh - my kids went to 'year round' schools and they really benefited from it.... most of Wake County is now 'year round'.

It doesn't work for high schools, but for K-8 a lot of advantages - kids are fresher after 3 weeks off; retaching what was forgotton over the summer is no longer an issue, etc.

Anonymous said...

an extra $400,000 to transport the students of this new year round school?? Now the rest of us will have to endure more ridiculous bell changes and budget cuts to continue transporting magnet students around Meck county. Please charge or eliminate magnet school busing. It costs the rest of the district too much.

Anonymous said...

This works so well in the city we live in out of state. To work best, the entire school district has to adopt it. Therefore, any children in the same household are on the same schedule. For us, school starts late July, fall break of just over 2 weeks in Oct. almost 3 weeks between Dec and Jan and then 2.5 weeks in March, off at the first of June. My children did not forget so much during summer and the breaks allowed us to see the world at cheaper off seasons - great education. The after school care and city camps during break adopted the same schedule.

Anonymous said...

The cost of busing will probably end up being less...many parents already drive their children to school and with a year round schedule this should cause more carpooling. The really large cost comes from the cost incurred in revamping the physical plant at the existing First Ward. Additionally, if parents want their kids to attend the school they will in the end pay for the cost of care, programs, etc. That is something that the district can assist in identifying, but end parents must take care of.

therestofthestory said...

$400k for busing? I thought CMS discontinueed out of zone magnet busing. Or is this one of those "excepted" programs? I think they should give up the money through schoolhouse operations like with 10 staff members. But we know CMS does not treat everyone fairly.

Anonymous said...

Why not simply adopt a true "year-round" approach: one track, no long intersessions, etc.? How does the old adage go, "Keep it simple, stupid"?

All students should be there all year long, teachers keep their same classrooms, and parents can have a manageable life with the ability to schedule in advance.

Have a ten-day fall break; a ten-day Christmas holiday break; a ten-day Spring break; and finally, a ten day Summer break from July 1st - 10th. That will also enable families to make the oft-traveled July 4th holiday unfettered.

I am not saying this to satisfy some sort of vain pomposity, but yes, I did attend private schools, I prepped at a boarding school, and am an alum of Wake Forest. We never went through these absurd machinations that seem all to commonplace with CMS. Everything was consistent, year in and year out. If this school system is not the poster child for all that is wrong with public schools in this country, I do not know what is.

There is something virtuous about simplicity.

Anonymous said...

What is the REAL reason they want to do this - I've heard save money, which it does NOT and per "staff's" report last year - inprove the art program - How does it do that?!

CMS have enough to do without converting ONE school in a system of 159 to a TOTALLY different calendar. They tried with Burns Elem a while back and....

Year round HAVE to happen - make it one track - Wake County (which someone has referenced) is in fact converting their Multi-track to single - and they have about 60 schools on year round....

Wiley Coyote said...

Typical CMS Bullspeak...

Spending $400K on transportation shouldn't even make it from someone's brain onto paper.

The fact it did shows the continued ineptness of the people running CMS.

Yamo said...

This should have been done long ago. Do all of us in the workforce go to work then have two months off for the summer? Unless we go back to farming, I, as a teacher, would not mind switching over. Breaks are built into the schedule, but the tourism and realty sectors hate this idea. As far as busing goes, thank your city council for allowing so much development WITHOUT mass transit in mind.

jenifer daniels - the friendraiser said...

Anon 9:21 AM, bravo!

Anonymous said...

To Anon.8:55am - the earlier post is correct. The busing will cost the district MORE money, not less. And this is just for ONE school. Even if parents choose to drive their kids, they will still provide bus service all over the county for those few kids whose parents don't drive them to school. Even right now they provide bus service for Magnet elem students on full size, practically empty buses for a few Magnet students. The BOE and CMS need to figure this out right now before the next school year. What a waste of money.

Ann Doss Helms said...

10:49, those are interesting questions that I can't answer, even having sat through the presentation (you can watch it by going to the video archives at www.cms.k12.nc.us). Multi-track lets you squeeze more kids into a building, but overcrowding doesn't seem to be such a dire issue now, and it's far from clear how many students will apply next year. They did mention that Bruns was single-track back when it was year-round.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:30--Pros or cons aside, I don't think it is true that most of Wake County is on year round. In fact there was lots of dissension when Wake attempted to implement it. They've backed off at many schools.

Anonymous said...

This is because the multi-track school allows for more students to be able to attend over the course of the school year. This is a concern because CMS is actually closing a school and the students that are presently at University Park are guaranteed seats at the new combined First Ward. Additionally, new families will want access to the program as well.

Anonymous said...

The reason they are proposing multi-track instead of just year-round is that they have to accommodate the students at BOTH schools and the facility at First Ward simply cannot handle them all at once.

Whatever happened to the old adage, if it's not broke, don't fix it? University Park has made or exceeded its testing goals for the past 14 years. Before this announcement, they consistently had a waiting list. The arts program and staff are phenomenal. Why close a school that is doing so well and is loved by its families?

The one thing no one has mentioned is how difficult it will be to have a performing arts magnet on a multi-track schedule. Do you put on productions based on tracks? How do all those productions rehearse at the same time if they are all in different places within their production prep?

And, finally, what do you do with the 5th grader who finishes their track in May? They actually have a LONGER period of time to wait until they begin 6th grade at whatever school they are going to which will be on a traditional calendar?

Just a few things to consider...

Anonymous said...

Who in thier right mind would spend all this time, resources and money to convert one school to a year round schedule? CMS is who.

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind would spend all this time, resources and money to convert one school to a year round schedule? CMS is who.

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind would spend all this time, resources and money to convert one school to a year round schedule? CMS is who.

Anonymous said...

Year round schools is an answer to improved performance.The idea makes way to much sence for CMesS to implement it.

WAIT, They want to do this with ONE school. GENIUS absolutely GENIUS

Anonymous said...

I would love to teach at a year-round school and think an arts magnet would attract an engaged group of like-minded parents and educators who value the opportunities a non-traditional bell schedule can offer. For one, the flexibility to travel off-season sounds exciting. If CMS can figure out a way to reduce transportation costs, I think the concept has the potential to be highly successful. Education shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all endeavor. This has been part of the problem - trying to make every school the same. CMS is huge. Why not offer students, parents and educators some viable alternatives to a traditional neighborhood school? The central location of the school is perfect for parents who work uptown and ideal for engaging students in a variety of cultural opportunities within easy walking or public transportation distance. If my children were still in elementary school, I would consider a program like the one being proposed. CMS is actually doing something right by not hastily slapping together a new program without carefully considering possible drawbacks. I'm not sure how a PTA/PTO would work here but a school community that places a high value on creativity would most likely come up with some creative solutions. Research suggests students retain more information and perform better in a year-round school setting. Again, if the transportation cost issue can be resolved, I think the school could be a win-win in educational reform efforts.

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Anonymous said...

Also...
Research suggests middle-class parents will enroll their children in successful magnet schools that offer concentrated studies in the arts. Specialized foreign language and IB programs are also popular magnet school choices for families in higher socio-economic brackets. For families who want their children to receive a quality education but also value diversity, the location of the school in First Ward provides an opportunity to realize this philosophy. Smith (Waddell) Language Academy is a highly successful and sought after K - 8 magnet school with a dedicated and committed group of parents and educators. If CMS doesn't do something stupid (don't count on it), ONE combined K-5 arts school could be a successful addition to Charlotte's public school offerings. I don't think having two elementary art magnet schools in CMS is the best way to achieve excellence in education.

Anonymous said...

My "Moo" for the day...

Anonymous said...

Re: student productions.

I've directed thousands of kids in productions over the past 26 years. Literally thousands. At the elementary school level, rehearsing and presenting productions is doable on a track schedule. In fact, it would be easier to present productions since the school would have 3-4 dance teachers (or theatre, music) co-directing a concert instead of one. Each teacher is assigned parts of the production for their classes to work on. Productions can be scheduled twice a year during all school breaks. At the elementary school level, students aren't presenting full-length productions of King Lear anyway. They're presenting modified and "Jr." versions of shows that can be broken down and assigned to different teachers who then rehearse material in their classes before combining the whole cast. At the elementary school level, large group pieces are the norm since students have to work up to auditioning for solos. Most elementary students aren't developmentally ready to memorize an entire play while they're still learning to read "Go Dog, Go!". Band students can learn the same pieces lead by different band directors. A track schedule offers some creative and flexible ways to do things while utilizing more specialty area teachers. Productions and concerts would have to be strategically planned like D-Day but it's certainly possible to present them on a year round schedule.

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