July 30, 2008

Educators: Year-Round School May Be OK Idea

By Ronda Gregory, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Jul. 30--Local educators and education administrators say going to a yearround school calendar, though problematic, is worth checking out.

"I think it's a novel idea," Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Frank Devono said.

He said the concept makes sense, in part, to put buildings that remain "idle" throughout the summer break to good use.

"I certainly would like to entertain the idea," Devono said.

But, he said, several concerns an expanded schedule could create would have to be addressed, such as facilities' environmental issues and transportation.

Air-conditioning in the buildings and on buses would increase operating costs, he said.

A typical year-round school calendar gives students four three-week breaks, according to an Associated Press report, instead of the longer 2 1/2 months of traditional summer break.

Recently, Gov. Joe Manchin said the year-round schooling system could create a stronger work force by providing the skills necessary to compete in the upcoming years. He said state lawmakers need to study it.

According to Bob Calhoun, director of elementary education in Kanawha County, three year-round public schools exist in the state -- Piedmont, Glenwood and Chandler elementaries, all in Charleston.

Devono said going to the expanded system could cause a continuity problem if all schools didn't go yearround.

He said families with some children on a year-round calendar and others on the traditional schedule could experience problems in planning family time and other activities.

Tom Bloom, guidance counselor at University High School for 31 years, also said the concept is worthy of discussion because with all-year learning, students don't have "to review as much in the fall to catch up.

"For those students who have difficulty understanding concepts or need more time to understand the material, a year-round school could be very beneficial," he said, "because you could take longer to explain that material."

Another advantage: not as many winter absences due to bad weather.

But, at this time, Bloomsaid, he sees more negatives in schooling all year long.

A major issue, he said, is that buildings are not equipped for yearround usage and "would deteriorate at a faster rate."

He said scheduling big maintenance jobs -- waxing floors, redoing gym floors, and fixing major electrical and physical problems -- would be made more difficult with students on the premises.

Bloom also observed that air-conditioning buildings throughout the hot summer months would be a financial burden.

And expanding the calendar over a longer time period, even though the school year would still be about 180 days, will mean spending more money for salaries.

"Teachers now paid on a 200-day contract would have to go to a 265-day contract, which is a very substantial sum," Bloom said.

"It's going to cost more money," he said. "We don't have enough money now for education."

He said reducing a long summer break could hurt teachers who rely on a second or third job to supplement their incomes. Also, Bloom said, many teachers need the time the summer break affords to "go back to school as mandated to keep their certification" and to learn new teaching techniques.

Athletics would have to have a major reconfiguration to run on a year-long academic schedule, he said.

"This would cause a complete change in the state sports' programs and scheduling and hiring referees," Bloom said.

According to ScienceDaily -- an online magazine devoted to research news -- a study by Ohio State University sociologist and statistician Paul von Hippel found that year-round schools don't boost learning, because even though they're in session the same amount of time as traditional schools, the time is broken up more.

Advocates of the year-round schools believe they slow or eliminate the learning loss students experience over the summer, the ScienceDaily article said.

But, von Hippel said, "Yearround schools don't really solve the problem of summer learning setback -- they simply spread it out across the year.

"We found that students in yearround schools learn more during the summer, when others are on vacation, but they seem to learn less than other children during the rest of the year," von Hippel said.

He had looked at math and reading test scores over a full year. He found that the scores for children in year-round schools and for those in the traditional nine-month program improved about the same amount.

Bloom said he has a solution that would meet the needs of students who could benefit from yearround education but that wouldn't cost as much or create the scheduling and facilities problems possible with year-round schools.

"My recommendation is for the state to fund a complete summer school program with transportation for each county," Bloom said.

Students and parents can see the idea of year-round schooling differently.

Justin Click, 13, who is going into the eighth grade at South Middle School next term, said he likes the idea of a year-round schedule.

"We'd go a few weeks and have a break for a few weeks, we'd go a few weeks and have a break for a few weeks," Click said. "I think it'd be less stressful on kids, because we wouldn't be going for such long stretches."

But Justin's father, Danny Click, said he "kind of likes it the way it is" because he enjoys having a lot of time to spend with Justin in the summer.

"As for me, I look forward to that summer break," he said.

He said he likes to go to his native McDowell County in the summer and visit his brother and his family, but that it's already difficult even now to synchronize schedules because of slight differences in the counties' calendars.

He said he prefers vacationing in the summer in West Virginia, because in the winter, "It's so cold here."


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