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Year-Round PE Schools?

PRINCE EDWARD — Could Prince Edward County School children be going to school year-round?

That is still to be determined, but the board discussed the issue at length last week, before opting to ask that the superintendent pursue funding for a rigorous mandatory summer school this year.

The current summer school is focused on remediation and spans three weeks.

“We don’t want our summer school program just to be remediation,” clarified school board member Susan Lawman in the discussion. “We want to open the door.”

The specifics of what would be offered, duration (there was some discussion of a six-week option), and other aspects would be worked out by the superintendent in the form of a recommendation to be brought back to the full school board for consideration.

But there was some direction.

“Lengthen and strengthen,” summed school board member Sherry Honeycutt, who made the motion.

According to Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith, there are about 16 school divisions that have some form of year-round schooling. While the aim tends to be improving test scores, the results of a JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission) study find a mixed bag. For some subgroups, Dr. Smith cited, it can help student achievement, but it’s not a guarantee.

“It does have some challenges inherent in the planning stages,” he said. “If, for example, it’s just one school [within the division], then there’s an impact on transportation, food service, classified staff, for example, at the other schools.”

If it was all three schools, then there’s an impact at the high school level, he said, on athletics and after school activities.

“It’s definitely not something that you would do to save money. (It) might be something you would do to possibly increase student achievement in some areas,” Dr. Smith said.

Schools that have year-round schedules don’t necessarily add more days to a school year. Rather, they have extended breaks (intermissions) interspersed around the 180 pupil days. While in intermissions, schools can offer remediation or optional course work.

Dr. Smith explained of the benefit for those in the student subgroups, according to a JLARC study, came from shortening the summer break, reducing the lost instructional time and cutting down the re-teaching time at the beginning of the school year to get students back up to speed.

What the JLARC study found was that test scores of the general student population were similar between year-round schools and traditional calendar counterparts; SOL test scores of some student groups were more likely to increase at a faster rate at year-round schools over a nine-year period (2001-09); school expenditures increased on average by about three percent (excluding transportation and food service costs); and that school divisions with high percentages of student groups that appear to benefit from the switch may want to consider implementing year-round calendars.

The board (on a 6-1 vote) opted to go forward with asking the superintendent to look for funding and plan for a mandatory rigorous summer school program. But the idea of year-round school may still have life. Honeycutt offered in the discussion of the motion that it’s a “precursor to a possible year-around school study.”

She noted, ”I want to do the study if we find that this is not gonna work.”