School starts Monday for 2,800 Charlotte students

Summer break has come to an end for about 2,800 K-8 students in four Charlotte year-round schools.

Monday starts the 2014-15 school year at Bruns Academy, Walter G. Byers School, Druid Hills Academy and Thomasboro Academy. The schools are part of Project LIFT, a public-private partnership between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and donors who pledged $55 million to improve academics and graduation rates at nine westside schools. The private money helps cover the cost of extra teacher time and busing.

Most N.C. public schools start Aug. 25, following a state law that restricts when schools can open and close. But CMS got special permission to alter the calendar for Project LIFT schools.

By shortening summer vacation and spreading breaks throughout the year, educators hope to keep the kids focused on academics.

This year will be the second on the year-round schedule.

“There was a lot of learning,” Bruns principal Mary Weston said of the first year. The year-round schedule has a shorter summer, but it packs in two- to three-week breaks throughout the school year.

During those breaks, the Arts and Science Council provides learning programs at the schools. At first, Weston said, only about half of the students at her school attended the programs. By the end of the year, it was up to 95 percent.

“Some of the kids were saying, ‘We have to go back to school already?’ ” Weston said. “But there’s still an air of excitement.”

Bruns students and their parents packed the school Sunday afternoon to meet their teachers. For most of the students, it’s been only five weeks since their last class. Bruns let out for break June 13.

“It keeps the kids busy with learning,” said Wanda Glenn, whose 6-year-old daughter, Jayla Ann Glenn, is starting first grade. Jayla, who has never known a full summer break, said she was excited to be back starting school so soon. “That’s the good part – they don’t know any better,” Glenn said.

Teachers said they see benefits, too. Chris Law, an eighth-grade math teacher, said the shorter breaks help teachers learn from their mistakes and implement changes more quickly. And students come in knowing what to expect.

“It just gives the kids a bit more structure,” said Nicole Milford, a first-grade teacher. “They’re able to go from the last school year right into the new school year.”

This year, back-to-school season is something of a rolling event in the Charlotte region. Charter schools, which are expanding rapidly, don’t have to follow the state calendar law. More than 30 charter schools in the region will have opening dates ranging from early August to September. Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.