CHARLES TOWN – Should Jefferson County Schools switch to a school calendar with four short breaks rather than the whole summer off?
School board members are asking parents and community members to share their thoughts on the idea before Friday. The short online survey – five questions for parents or three for other interested residents – may be found at boe.jeff.k12.wv.us alternatively anyone can write directly to the Jefferson County Board of Education at 110 Mordington Ave. in Charles Town.
The central question for those who take either survey: Would you like to see your school system pursue the possibility of an extended school calendar?
Part of the push to consider the change in the school year’s structure is coming from Jorea Marple, the former Kanawha County elementary school principal who became state superintendent last year. “When children are off for extended periods of time, they lose ground,” Marple has said in interviews.
Working with Marple on the year-round initiative is Steve Knighton, the principal at Piedmont Elementary – a school in Charleston with a high number of low-income students that became West Virginia’s first-year school in 1995.
Students in school districts that adopt the non-traditional calendar get a shorter break in the summer and longer breaks through the year: at Thanksgiving, Christmas and in the spring. Students at Piedmont get a three-week break at the end of each grading period and then a break of four to five weeks each summer.
By eliminating an 11-week summer break, Piedmont has cut down on what Knighton calls “the season of forgetting,” where extended TV time and other mindless pursuits can leave students struggling to get back on track in reading and math come fall.
Besides the academic considerations of the extended school calendar, some education experts say the approach benefits financially struggling families who rely on schools for their children’s breakfasts and lunch each weekday.
For that reason, the move to a year-round calendar merits discussion in West Virginia, where some 60 percent of schoolchildren live in poverty, Marple has pointed out.
Another potential advantage: Year-round students attend class more in the summer and less during the winter when icy, snowy weather often forces school to be cancelled. Students will end up completing more days of instruction, state school officials have said.
Knighton has said that many parents reject the idea of year-round school because they fear they won’t be able to find child care during the breaks between grading periods. But, he said, many parents struggle to line up child care during the long summer break, too.
School officials say that anyone will questions on the school calendar is invited to contact Patrick Blanc, the county’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction (firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-728-9233).