Saturday, December 08, 2001

Year-round school has foes

Some teachers, parents express reservations

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        ALEXANDRIA — High school teacher Nicole Tucker is getting used to the idea of starting the school year in high summer next year. The Campbell County school board is considering a change in its calendar for the 2002-2003 school year. A sample calendar calls for a shorter summer vacation and several longer breaks throughout the year.

  Here is a sample, partial calendar for the 2002-03 school year in the Campbell County School District that appears on the district Web site, Changes might be made at the Dec. 17 board meeting.
  Aug. 1: First day for students
  Oct. 7-18: Fall break
  Nov. 28-29: Thanksgiving break
  Dec. 23-Jan. 3, 2003: winter break.

  Jan. 6: Classes resume
  March 10-21: spring break
  May 30: Last day for students
  June 1: High school graduation
  June 4: Closing day
        Classes would begin in early August, with two-week breaks in October, December and March and the end of classes on May 31, 2003.

        The “alternate calendar” or “year-round school” proposal, is tentatively scheduled for a vote at the board's Dec. 17 meeting at 7 p.m. at the district central office, 101 Orchard Lane in Alexandria.

        “It's not a bad deal,” said Ms. Tucker, a business teacher at Campbell County High School.

        But Ms. Tucker and some other teachers and parents are nonetheless concerned.

        Opponents criticize the district for poor communication with parents. Some teachers worry about how they'll find time for required college classes they need to earn their master's degrees. Both parents and teachers are worried about having to pay for child care when they don't need it during the breaks.

        For Lisa Turner of Grants Lick, who has a sixth-grade daughter at Campbell County Middle School and a son at Grant's Lick Elementary, there are too many unanswered questions.

        “I feel that the board is pushing hard to implement this quickly to avoid obtaining parental feedback that may alter their decision,” said Ms. Turner.

        Information about the calendar is available on the district Web site, District spokesman Chris Gramke said the main concern at a workshop held Tuesday centered around the start of school and the length of the breaks.

        The new calendar Campbell County is considering would be deemed a “year-round arrangement.”

        Harrodsburg Schools Superintendent H.M. Snodgrass, president of the Kentucky Association of Year-round Education said that's because it calls for fewer than eight weeks of summer vacation.

        Mr. Snodgrass said nearly 30 districts in Kentucky have gone to alternative calendars. Silver Grove is the lone Northern Kentucky district that has it, but Dayton, Ky. voted for it in October for next year, and Covington Independent is considering it.

        Silver Grove is in its second year. Superintendent Bill Brown said discipline referrals have drastically decreased, and he wonders why schools didn't convert to it from the traditional nine months-on, three months-off setup years ago. “I think change is hard regardless of where it is,” Mr. Brown said. Alternate calendar supporters think the frequent breaks in the year are a way to provide extra instruction for children who need it.

        “I see (it) as an opportunity to help reduce our students' failures ... which ultimately will reduce our dropout rate,” said Campbell County High principal Anthony Strong.

        Campbell County's Web site cites nine reasons the alternate calendar is a good idea. Among them:

        • Students, parents and teachers will enjoy the alternate calendar once the transition is made from the traditional one with three months off in the summer. With the mid-year breaks, the district claims there is more variety for family-vacation times.

        Ms. Turner said children involved in extracurricular activities might not see any benefit in mid-year breaks. Mr. Strong said arrangements would be made with coaches and faculty.

        • A reduction in absenteeism and truancy. Mr. Snodgrass said discipline referrals in Harrodsburg have decreased since his district adopted an alternate calendar six years ago.

        • A reduction in the number of children held back in a given grade. The district also claims less time would be needed at the beginning of the year to review the previous year's material.

        Ms. Tucker is also concerned that a two-week spring break in March would leave just three weeks to prepare for state achievement tests in April.

        “It's hard to get those kids and teachers motivated,” she said.

        The site also lists three possible disadvantages: Increased problems with scheduling and maintenance; a temporary loss of staff professional growth opportunities; and possible altered lifestyles.

        “Any new change is uncomfortable,” the site states.

        But Ms. Tucker and Ms. Turner think uncomfortable is an understatement.

        “They want us to go to school, and we have to pay for it,” Ms. Tucker said. “And we don't have the time.”

        Mr. Brown said Northern Kentucky University is offering more evening classes during the school year and short-session classes in the summer.

        Ms. Tucker said there are major disruptions for teachers who live outside Campbell County and have children. She said they will have to pay for daycare during the breaks even though they are home.

        Diana Hightchew, director of Basic Trust Child Development Center on Alexandria Pike in Alexandria, said three teachers in the Campbell County district are among her customers. She said the new calendar would affect schedules and after school programs in which elementary education students from Northern Kentucky University participate.

        “I'm sure we're going to work something out,” Ms. Hightchew said. “(Parents are) not going to lose their spots.

        “I think (the new calendar) is a great idea; I've not had any negative comments (from parents). They think the kids get bored in the summer.”

        Mr. Strong said daycare centers would charge parents to hold a spot regardless of what kind of calendar is in place, though he said he doesn't know if centers will adjust their expenses.

        Ms. Tucker is too busy to prepare for next year now. She said she could learn to like the new calendar.

        “It's not a bad calendar,” she said. “It's starting to grow on me.”


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