With school calendars being difficult to plan within the laws set forth by state legislators, Elkin school leaders took some time during the recent board retreat to discuss the topic of year-round schooling and what it entails.
While a speaker was set to share information on year-round scheduling with the school board during the retreat, she was unable to make the Friday session. So during the Saturday roundtable discussion period, Elkin school administrators and board members held their own discussion and informational time on the topic.
Elkin Elementary School Principal Pam Colbert experienced year-round schools while teaching in Wilkes County Schools, so she shared her experience at the retreat.
“Some schools in the state were doing year-round at the time. As a teacher, I taught year-round. Our school was half year-round and half on traditional schedule, and I don’t recommend that,” she said, noting it needs to be one way or the other, but not both. “As far as teaching, I loved having year-round. You had nine weeks of instruction and then three weeks of vacation.”
She said during the vacation periods, members of the community were brought in to do enrichment camps with the students of parents who may not have child care for them.
“There wasn’t a lag time in instruction. In the summer, they had five weeks’ vacation, so they still got a pretty good break. But you didn’t have as much loss of instruction and the need for review at the beginning of the year,” Colbert explained.
She said conducting a year-round school does mean a need to work closely with the community to be sure daycare providers and camps such as those at the recreation center have schedules that match the schools’ for students who need afterschool care.
“We only did it in the elementary school at Wilkes. It worked and was really successful,” she reported.
But Wilkes got a newly elected board of education, and she said those board members didn’t want anyone in the system on a different calendar.
“It grew each year with more students transitioning to year-round from traditional,” she said.
“How do you think your experience with year-round would fit in with Elkin?” asked Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe.
“The biggest obstacle I see is … calling it year-round, because people don’t think they get a break, but it is really the same amount of time students are getting off,” Colbert said, explaining there are nine weeks, then a three-week fall break; nine weeks, then a three-week break around Christmas; nine weeks, then three weeks around Easter; nine weeks, and then five off for summer.
“What about the middle school’s thought of the impact there?” he asked Elkin Middle School Principal Casey Morrison.
“I did look at the educational opportunities I’ve given families thus far,” she said of students whose families have asked for opportunities for students to go on family trips while school has been in session. “I’ve given 10 educational opportunities this year already to places like Alaska.
“[Families] are not just going somewhere in the summer, and they do take trips others times of the year and this might help them,” Morrison said.
At the high school level, Principal Joel Hoyle said he could see a couple of big issues, one of those being athletics schedules.
“If you are talking about year-round schedule, three weeks in October is in the middle of fall sports scheduled and that’s going to continue, so those students are going to have to present still during that time. Those families will not be able to take vacation,” Hoyle said. “The same in the spring, with three weeks in the middle of spring sports. So it’s not going to apply to them. Those students are going to essentially still be in school.”
Another concern for high-schoolers was the coordination with the community college schedules for students enrolled in those courses. “If we’re off three weeks in October, those students will still be in class, and then if they are in school in summer, those students taking college courses wouldn’t have class.
“I’m not saying those issues can’t be overcome, but those are issues we would have to address,” he said.
Colbert said if there are no rules that specifically constitute a year-round school to have a 9-3, 9-3, 9-3, 9-5 schedule, then the school system could play with the calendar to take into account those issues.
“The state does have a category for year-round school, and it has to be approved by the school board,” said Bledsoe. “If you look at alternate calendars, they are not entertaining any districts.”
“There is an alternate already set up for all early colleges, so they have free rein over their schedule,” noted school board member Dr. Jane Riley, who teaches at an early college in another county. “You don’t have to be a five-year program to be called an early college, because we are already sending kids to community college and enrolled in online college courses.”
One other area to consider is how teachers are paid, noted Jan Zachary, chief finance officer for the school system. At present, teachers are paid for 10 months, and for a year-round schedule, they may need to be paid for 10 months work over a 12-month period.
Also, it was brought up that some teachers, to make ends meet, need summer jobs, and with a year-round calendar, that would be more difficult.
Board member James Freeman said his wife taught in a year-round school when they lived in the Charlotte area. “From a teacher and family perspective it was great to have breaks, but the thing she said was you don’t have that big loss [in student’s knowledge]. Now, in a traditional schedule, basically the whole month of September is spent remediating them, with this type schedule you don’t have that, so I’ve got to say it is a better schedule for the kids.”
He also noted when the school schedule was originally set up, it was to work around the time children were needed in the fields and on the farm. “We’re hundred of years past that, and we need to look at making things better,” Freeman said.
“Maybe like Pam was saying, if we had shorter [breaks] between the nine weeks and did six weeks for the summer, so there is a good break still at the end of nine or 10 weeks to say we still fit in the category,” he said.
“With our system being so tight and small, I do feel like it would be maybe an all-go or none. Elkin is too small for the elementary to do one schedule and the others another,” said Colbert.
Board member Frank Beals said he agreed with Freeman on the possibility of having a week longer over the summer, with six weeks, and the starting school when sports is starting now to accommodate sports and it would also better match the college start date.
“And we could get exams in before Christmas,” said board Vice Chair Haley Sullivan of another concern the school officials have had with the state requiring schools to start on the Monday closest to Aug. 26 each year on the traditional schedule.
“And there’s nothing to say if we see a huge problem at the high school in a couple of years and it doesn’t work for our system, we can’t switch back,” she said. “I think our community is close, and they will be there to support their kids.”
Hoyle said if the decision is made to shift schedules to the year-round concept, it is going to take a lot of positive marketing. “It’s for the education,” he said.
“We’re going to have both sides of the issues and we have to be aware of those and point back to our strategic plan, the direction we’re all going,” Bledsoe said.
Another topic discussed was how maintenance will be scheduled that is normally done in the summer months, but Bledsoe said he and staff were talking and the year-round schedule “would allow a better chance to do infrastructure [for technology], because everyone is trying to get them in in the summer and that would disperse it. The same with trying to clean the floors, we could designate certain hallways at different breaks.
“It wouldn’t be such a big task.”
If there will be any additional costs, such as energy prices, is another area which needs to be researched, said school board Chair Dr. Richard Brinegar during the discussion.
No decisions were made on the topic during the retreat, which was just a starting point for discussions.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.