The Senate Education committee met on Monday to discuss how the Legislature can aid districts who would like to move to a year-round school model.
Chairman Sen. Dennis DeBar said there will not be an attempt to mandate year-round school from his committee, but they would like to help facilitate that move if districts choose to do so.
Members heard from Dr. Lee Childress, Superintendent of the Corinth School District, which has implemented year-round school. Childress said they refer to their model as a “modified calendar.”
Corinth continues to operate on a 180 day school year, give or take, with two intercessions. One intercession is in October for three weeks, the other is in March for two weeks. Their summer is now reduced to seven weeks and they still maintain all major holidays.
When considering going to a modified calendar, Childress said they held conversations with members of the community to gauge the appetite for such a change. There were also new discussions on how to manage a school that would now be open for more of the summer months.
He added that sports continue as they normally would even with the new breaks installed in the year.
Childress said time is a major part of the equation, and simply put, some students require more time to learn than others. He also said there has been the implementation of deliberate instruction and practice in order to maintain sustained and focused learning through personalized instruction and effort.
During the new intercessions the district now offers other learning opportunities. Childress said this modification has been greatly beneficial to the students who choose to participate. They saw a rise in the spring test scores of those who participated in intercession activities from 2016 to 2018. This summer they will offer an online learning academy.
“If we tried to go back to the traditional calendar we would have a community that would fight us on that,” said Childress.
The modified calendar has also helped the district close the achievement gap, which they are particularly proud of.
The Columbus School District is currently talking about the possibility of a modified schedule one day. Cherie Antoinette Labat, Columbus’ Superintendent, said they believe it could benefit students to go to school more often due to economic disparities in the community.
“We are in the process of getting feedback from our teachers and principals about this schedule,” said Labat. She said the district is unique because they have school choice, as well as Magnet elementary schools. She added that teachers have greatly benefited from a hybrid schedule this year and that these types of wrap around services have been successful.
Dr. Steven Pruitt, President of the Southern Regional Education Board, said there has been a resurgence in the conversation on whether or not year-round school is a benefit for children. He said across the U.S. there are many ways in which schools have implemented the program with a 45/15 split (45 days in class, 15 days out) 60/20 or 90/30, which are based off of a 180-day calendar.
Dr. Pruitt added that simply spreading out the calendar does not seem to be what makes the difference; it’s the extracurricular opportunities afforded to students during those breaks.
Some that argue for a year-round school model often refer to the “summer slide,” or the dip in retaining information many students go through with the two month summer break. Dr. Pruitt said this is especially true for low income areas that do not have continued services into the summer. He added that shorter breaks can be good for student enrichment and also allow for more family vacation options.
Those against the idea of a modified calendar say that the 3-week break can have a similar “slide” as the summer break and that summer programs like camps and athletics might not be accessible to students in school year round. There are also concerns of cost when operating a school, especially in the south, during more of the summer months.
While opinions vary, Dr. Pruitt said there doesn’t seem to be enough data to support each theory.
“There is no conclusive academic improvements from this model in and of itself. The research is pretty thin,” said Dr. Pruitt.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said year-round school could offer some unique opportunities for students.
“Those are individual school district decisions that are made. We can’t legislate that from here, but what we want to do is make sure it is absolutely seamless for those that want to go to year-round school have that opportunity,” said Hosemann.
Hosemann said those he has talked about the idea with are supporters. He said these modified calendars not only add a few more days to the school year but can help students continue to develop social and academic skills, as well as keeping some kids fed.
State Superintendent Carey Wright also spoke at the hearing and began by giving compliments to the success that the Corinth School District has had implementing a modified calendar.
Wright said year-round school has been around a very long time. She said parents, teachers and students all seemed to love the flexibility of a modified calendar.
“There is not a lot of research out there. The research that is out there is limited, but where they are finding success are areas with low income children, children with disabilities and children who do not speak English,” said Wright. She said the data also supports more success with children who are in school closer to 200 days.
These schools often run multiple schedules that start and stop at different times of the year in order to allow overcrowded schools to serve all the students in their area.
“Community buy-in is critical,” said Wright. “Not everyone knows what this means. When some people hear year round school they think ‘365 days’ and that’s not what it means. It takes some time to educate the community and get them up and running.”
She said these models can also provide teachers with more income. For teachers that want to teach an intercession have the chance to do that for extra pay, and those that do not are not obligated to do so.
She seconded what Dr. Pruitt said, that only changing the calendar will not necessarily improve academics. She said quality teachers and quality instruction are vital.
Wright said the Department of Education is very supportive of modified calendars and that they currently see no state statutes that would prevent this from happening.