Will Rochester shift to year-round schools in the future, too?

A look at why some Mich. districts are adopting the new calendar

Pencils, erasers, new sneakers and a packed lunchbox in tow? Check. All things necessary for a great first week of school. And some elementary students across the state had their first day of class last Monday as more districts adopt year-round schedules.

“We’re very excited,” said Brian Walmsley, chief academic officer of Warren Consolidated Schools, a district piloting its first year-round program, which started Aug. 5.

In the story“It’s all about providing parents options—what’s the best learning environment for kids,” he said.

The new schedule still holds 180 days of class. Rather than a three-month summer vacation, the time is dispersed and students have a two-week break about every nine weeks.

With roughly a year and a half of research and planning for the new program, Warren Consolidated Schools weighed the benefits and concerns with input from staff, teachers and parents.

Perhaps the driving reason behind the new schedule is reducing learning loss over a 12-week summer vacation—especially in areas such as reading and writing.

“It’s critical that (students) are on-grade level by third grade for future success,” Walmsley said.

Tanya Christ, an assistant professor of teaching at Oakland University specializing in early literacy learning, agrees that continuous education yields better reading and writing results for students.

“In general, more minutes of instruction tend to be positively correlated with reading gains when the instruction provided aligns with students’ needs,” she said in an email response.

While we loved the traditional summer break as kids, Walmsley says, “to prepare kids for a 21st-century global economy, we’ve got to give them the best advantage possible and we need to rethink that summer vacation and I think that’s what they’re doing.”

Three of the 15 Warren elementary schools have switched to year-round, housing roughly 1,100 elementary students of the total 6,600 elementary population.

“That alone, to us, shows success in terms of this is something parents want,” Walmsley said.

And the teachers who are part of the new program volunteered to do so.

“They’re really thinking of teaching differently from the way they approach things and the way they structure their units,” he said.

Those teachers that were not in favor were absorbed into other schools within the district.

If parents opted out of the year-round program, the students are bussed to sister-schools within the district, too.

Regarding state funding, there is no change as count days are carried out the same.

Even with the educational benefits, some parents still have their reservations about the latest program.

Some concerns include rivaling sibling schedules and conflicting summer travel plans.

Since year-round school is currently only offered for elementary students, parents are concerned about having children at different grade levels with different school times.

“But most of the major breaks like spring break, winter break and the holiday break in December all line up,” Walmsley said.

And with August in Mich. being a popular vacation month, other parents were concerned the new program would conflict with family travel plans.

Although, many of the parents who originally were against the change, mulled it over this summer, he said and “many of them have chosen to switch to year-round.”

Will Rochester schools make the shift?

In the past, a year-round program has not been on the radar for Rochester schools, but it isn’t ruled out for the future.

“I think it’s a conversation that we have to have with the community,” said Debra Hartman, community relations director and media contact for Rochester Community Schools.

As fall approaches, schools are gearing up for a strategic planning process to look at where the district needs to be regarding standards, three years from now.

“It’s very possible that as a result of that dialogue, the suggestion would be that we look at year-round school,” Hartman said, “and that’s where the conversation would probably start.”

But for now, it is impossible to say how long it would take to implement the schedule shift, should parents and staff favor the change.

So far, so good

With the first week completed, Walmsley says Warren elementary teachers and parents are happy with the new program so far.

“There was a lot of excitement in the air,” he said of the family welcome barbeques held at all three elementary schools on the first day of class.

The district will measure year-round benefits with data from local, state and national educational testing.

Locally, the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA); statewide testing involves the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, more popularly known as the MEAP and nationally, the National Educational Assessment Program (NEAP).

Should scores improve, Walmsley says Warren Consolidated Schools will consider making the shift for all grade levels.

“We’re exploring options for secondary, but at this time, no decision has been made,” he said.

And for now, students are just excited to be there.

“You would never know anything is different,” he said, “(students and teachers) do everything like they normally do; so it’s cool.”

About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at JenBucciarelli@gmail.com.

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