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4 CMS year-round schools OK’d

CMS board approves July start, aiming to avoid ‘summer learning loss’

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board unanimously approved year-round calendars for four schools Tuesday, launching plans to start their 2013-14 school year in July.

“The work starts now,” Denise Watts, Project LIFT zone superintendent, said in an interview. “This is a lifestyle change for teachers. This is a lifestyle change for families.”

The year-round calendars affect four preK-8 schools that are part of Project LIFT (for Leadership and Investment for Transformation), a public-private partnership to boost achievement at West Charlotte High and its eight feeder schools. Donors have pledged $55 million over the next five years; that will cover the $2.1 million cost of adding 19 school days at Druid Hills and Thomasboro.

The other two schools, Bruns and Byers, will spend 180 days in school like other students, but will have their breaks spread out to reduce the loss of academic skills during the summer. The year-round calendars affect about 2,700 students in the four schools.

Meanwhile, students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s other 155 schools will see a longer winter break next year under a revised 2013-14 calendar. The calendar approved last spring had 185 days of class for students, meeting a mandate from state legislators. But lawmakers later revised the law to allow districts to return to the current 180 days, as long as students attend at least 1,025 hours.

Leaders of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools say using the five days for teacher preparation will actually serve students better and give more options for bad-weather makeup days. But they acknowledge that what people get most excited about is the prospect of having two full weeks off at Christmas.

The 2013-14 calendar for most schools starts Aug. 26 and ends June 10. That doesn’t change. But instead of having to return to class on Thursday, Jan. 2, the new calendar gives students the full second week off.

Project LIFT got special permission from the state legislature to add days to the school year.

The new calendar for Druid Hills and Thomasboro runs from July 22, 2013, to June 20, 2014. Students will have two-week breaks in fall, winter and spring.

The calendar for Byers and Bruns runs from July 23 to June 13, with three-week breaks in fall and spring and two weeks in winter. At all four schools, Project LIFT plans to work with community groups to offer free educational and cultural activities during the breaks, with busing provided.

Watts proposed year-round schools to fight “summer learning loss,” the slippage that often happens when students go home for 2 1/2 months. After community meetings and polls of parents and staff, some LIFT schools were dropped from consideration because of concerns.

Watts said Tuesday that Druid Hills, Byers and Bruns are on a state “Race to the Top” list of schools that need to show significant academic improvement. At Thomasboro, she said, parent support for a year-round calendar was so strong it was a logical place to try the new system.

Trying different approaches at different LIFT schools will also help gauge whether extra time and/or shorter summer breaks make a difference in student performance. At the remaining schools, Project LIFT expects to continue providing free summer camps that focus on academic skills, as it did last summer.

If the year-round calendars show strong results, the approach could be expanded in later years, Watts said. The Project LIFT private money will run out in 2017, but she told the board she hopes the calendar is so successful the state might help pay to extend it.

“We are hoping to be a proof point for the district,” she told the school board.

Board member Eric Davis said he hopes this effort illustrates what he’s heard from such national education pioneers as Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone: “We simply need more time,” Davis said. “With effective teaching.”

Helms: 704-358-5033
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