JEFFERSON-Could Ashe County students one day find themselves ditching summer break and attending classes “year round?”
Just maybe, according to Ashe County Superintendent of Schools Phyllis Yates, who told the Ashe County Board of Education on May 1 that the district should at least investigate a move to year round education.
In recent meetings with district personnel, including teachers and staff, Yates said she’d heard at least some support the idea moving the district from the traditional school calendar model – comprised of essentially nine months of weekday school instruction and a three month long summer break, to a non-traditional year round model.
“One of the things we’d like to look at is a year round school system and at least study it, how that would go across,” Yates told board members earlier this month. “Teachers were very receptive to that idea. We were quite surprised.”
Yates was referencing recent meetings by the district’s calendar committee, which is usually comprised of ACS personnel along with community members, like current and former parents of students.
“Even the parents who were there were very open and receptive to (the idea),” Yates said.
According to a February 2017 report authored by the North Carolina General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division, the traditional nine-month school calendar used by most school districts across the country originated in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
“During that era, state began to assume more authority over education policy, with school districts becoming more organized and localities beginning to tax citizens to support schools,” according to the report. “Some historians theorize that a blend of the longer urban school calendar and the six-month rural school calendar used at that time led to the development of today’s nine-month calendar with three months of summer break.”
According to the same report, among North Carolina’s more than 2,500 public schools, just 104 are identified as year round schools, with the majority, 52, in Wake County. The rest are scattered among 24 LEA’s across the rest of the state.
While there are no concrete definitions that a year round district would be required to abide by, what could such a model look like for Ashe County students? Imagine a calendar where students attended classes five days per week for a set number of weeks – perhaps nine – followed by a multi-week break for students, faculty and staff.
According to the National Education Association, the most popular current form of year-round education is the “45-15” plan where students attend school for 45 days and then get three weeks off, with the usual holidays built into the school calendar.
At least part of the proposed benefits of year-round schooling include the idea that students are more likely to retain information since they’re not handicapped by an extended summer break.
The year long model could also benefit students in need of remediation, Yates told board members, though Ashe County Schools Board Chairman C.B. Jones worried about the impact such a model would have on extracurricular activities like athletics or marching band.
Yates said that most schools that employ the year round model are part of larger districts, like Wake. She said Ashe’s size would mean the entire district – all five schools – would need to migrate to a year round model to make it work locally.
But she said schools that have moved to a year-round calendar have found it to be advantageous after a transitional period.
“They said when they first did it there was a lot of kickback, push back, but said after experiencing it, it’s been very successful,” Yates said.
One other benefit of a year round academic calendar? District officials could essentially side-step the state mandated school start and end times that they say plague most mountain counties.
Currently, the opening day of school for students cannot be earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and school must end no later than the Friday closest to June 11. Missed days of school during an average winter means mountain counties must usually make hard decisions about cutting into spring break to allow summer vacation to begin “on time.”
The school calendar law exempts year-round schools from the mandated school start and end dates but does not define a year-round school, according to the NCGA Program Evaluation Division’s report.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.