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Longer LIFT year faces tough questions

Will some or all students in the nine Project LIFT schools have a 200-day, year-round calendar next year?

Denise Watts, who is in charge of the public-private quest to boost achievement at West Charlotte High and its feeder schools, had hoped to answer that question this week. It’s taking a bit more time for her to craft a recommendation, and the year-round project illustrates the challenge of juggling dramatic change, community buy-in and fiscal responsibility.

If you missed it, Watts proposed spending up to $4.7 million a year to add 20 days to the school year in hopes that the extra time, coupled with smart teaching strategies and academic enrichment during breaks, would yield academic benefits. The state legislature granted special permission, but specified that no state money could be spent for the extra days.

Project LIFT – for Leadership and Investment for Transformation – has $55 million in private donations pledged over the next five years. But co-chair Anna Nelson says the donors’ board has not signed off on covering the cost of extra days either.

Committing almost $25 million over the next five years would seriously crimp the money available for other aspects of the plan, from teacher recruiting bonuses to family engagement and student technology.

“We don’t know where the money would come from,” Nelson said. “It’s just a constant conversation.”

One possibility would be limiting the extended-year calendar to a few schools, which would cut costs.

Another would be working out a plan with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to find public money for part of the cost, Nelson said.

Meanwhile, Watts has said she’ll only move forward with the year-round plan if she gets “overwhelming support” from families and faculty.

She held several public forums in October, then tapped CMS’ agreement with K12 Insight to survey employees and families. The survey was offered online, but many parents used paper, which takes more time to tally. “Everyone on my team is entering as fast as we can go,” Watts said this week.

Her goal is to hold a community meeting to report on what she’s found – what level of support was voiced, what solutions she may have found to community concerns – before taking a proposal to the school board Dec. 11.

If a revised calendar is going to take effect in 2013-14, the board needs to approve it then so it will be in place for the January magnet lottery.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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