Board member questions year-round schools calendar
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Less than two weeks after saying Kanawha County should consider a year-round calendar at a new elementary school, school board member Bill Raglin said he wonders if the policy is working at all.
In a year-round or "balanced" calendar, the traditional summer break is replaced by shorter breaks throughout the year.
Raglin said during a special meeting Monday that the county instituted the year-round calendar for two reasons: teachers would need to spend as much time reviewing material students had learned the year before, and the intersessions would offer a chance for additional tutoring.
The county's two year-round schools - Piedmont and Mary C. Snow West Side elementaries - have struggled to achieve proficient scores
on standardized tests, Raglin said.
Struggling students are not required to attend classes during an intercession, and that caused Raglin to question the system.
"If (students) don't use the intersession, then I begin to wonder, 'Is it worth even having a year-round school?' " he said.
Principals from both of the year-round schools and Superintendent Ron Duerring said there is no way to force any child to attend school beyond the required 180 days.
But Piedmont Principal Steve Knighton told Raglin during the meeting, "I was kind of shocked you would even consider going back . . ."
After the meeting Knighton said he thought Raglin "chose words that he didn't mean." He said 33 students, or about 15 percent of his school enrollment, attended academic sessions during the recent break between terms.
Many factors, including high poverty rates at both schools, affect academic success, Knighton said.
Mary C. Snow Principal Mellow Lee said there is a connection between poor performance and high truancy rates.
"Just like it's hard to get students to come to school on a daily basis . . . it's definitely hard to get them to school when they don't have to be there," Lee said.
While Knighton said the year-round calendar cuts down on those problems, he and Lee think encouraging local courts to incorporate truancy policies with intersession attendance could help.
By law, a parent must meet with school officials if his or her child has missed five days. Missing more days could lead to appearances in court or jail time.
If truancy courts could "leverage" attending the intersessions as part of the punishment for missing school, Knighton said it could be an "easy remedy" for low attendance during the breaks.
Duerring said he has spoken with Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom in the past about truancy issues and could continue to do so.
Lee admitted her school did not offer intersession programming last year. However, she found the cost of running the program didn't make sense: two years ago at Chandler Elementary School, she would pay several teachers to be at school all week and only five or six students would attend.
Chandler and Glenwood elementary schools were consolidated into Mary C. Snow two years ago.
She said the school now uses the money to keep teachers after school.
Many more students are already enrolled in after-school programs, Assistant Principal Beth Sturgill explained after the meeting.
"You can pretty much force them to go to tutoring because they're already in the building," Lee said.
If the school had the money to provide both after-school and intersession programs, Lee said they would reconsider the intersession offerings.
They also believe the large enrollment at Mary C. Snow - roughly 500 students - could mean more students would attend programs during the breaks.
After some discussion, Raglin said he wanted to let the board know it was not "effectively getting the benefit of the intersession."
At a Sept. 20 meeting, Raglin told the board it should re-examine the policy it uses to determine whether a school should use the year-round calendar.
The topic came up in connection with the new Edgewood elementary project: although community members voted against the year-round calendar, he said the board should reconsider the idea.
On Monday it seemed as though he wanted justification to keep it in the county at all.
He suggested allowing other schools to participate in intersession programming, but Lee pointed out those students would already be in class during those periods.
Then he said he just wanted to throw out some ideas.
"I would like for you all (who are) out in the fray every day . . . to maybe come up with some answers," Raglin said.
The year-round calendar has been in place at Piedmont for 17 years, Knighton said, and teachers, students and parents seem to like it.
He also mentioned a recent push by State Superintendent Jorea Marple to examine incorporation of the calendar at more schools across the state.