CHARLESTON, W.Va. - One private school in Charleston is jumping ahead of the crowd on a popular item on the state's education reform agenda.
The Charleston Montessori School will switch to a year-round calendar in the fall of 2014, echoing efforts in the education community to give public schools more freedom to follow such a calendar.
"It's about time for us to take a step forward as a West Virginia school and not wait for anyone to pull us along," said Paige Payne, one of two directors at the school.
Charleston Montessori can do that because it's a private school - it's not subject to the restrictions in state code and Board of Education policy that force public schools to apply for a waiver to enact year-round calendars, also known as "balanced" calendars.
Moves to loosen those restrictions, giving local school boards more flexibility to plan their calendars, have been a major part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform package that is currently working its way through the state Senate.
In his State of the State address, Tomblin said he wouldn't force all schools to adopt a balanced calendar but would clear the way for them to consider it.
State education officials have been largely supportive of the plan, and Payne echoed their praise when she outlined the reasoning behind Charleston Montessori's switch. They want to minimize burnout among students and teachers, provide for a full 180 days of instruction and reduce "summer slide" - the academic losses students suffer after a three-month summer vacation.
"We hope that it makes it an even richer experience for our children than it is now," Payne said.
In fact, academic research on the subject shows mixed results, with reliable studies hard to come by. Generally in the education community, it's agreed that low-income and special education students garner some benefits from a year-round calendar, but those benefits may be nearly lost on their more advantaged peers.
Anecdotally, though, the balanced calendar is a hit in the local schools that use it.