Sumner looks at year-long school calendar

Published 8:30 am Friday, November 19, 2010

Next year, some Austin children may not have a summer break like they’re used to.

Austin Public Schools is looking into changing Sumner Elementary School’s calendar to operate on a continuous calendar, or what’s known as a year-round or 45-15 calendar. District officials suggest the change could boost academic achievement at Sumner.

“As we studied several different things, the thing that kept coming back to the top was a continuous calendar,” Sumner Principal Sheila Berger said.

Sumner Elementary fifth-graders Ashley Huehn and Ojulu Cham work on a math problem in Eric Kossoris's math class. Administrators are looking at the possibility of implementing year-round school at the elementary. — Herald file photo

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Schools that operate on a continuous schedule spread school breaks around instead of holding a large summer break. However, students have the same number of days in each school year. The idea behind a continuous calendar revolves around getting students to retain more of what they’ve learned. With multiple but shorter breaks, students won’t forget as much.

District officials are still researching the calendar switch and a formal proposal has yet to be made. Sumner has looked at academic achievement solutions like a continuous calendar for about a year, but hadn’t seriously considered the idea until earlier this fall.

According to John Alberts, the district’s director of educational services, the traditional school calendar may have outlived its intended purpose. It allowed students to work on family farms over the summer, giving their families an extra hand to tend crops.

In many schools, few students actually spend their time helping on the family farm, according to Alberts.

“That particular need is no longer there,” Alberts said. “So for us to continue working off of a system that may not necessarily be built upon what we’re seeing today in 2010 is another reason why to rethink how we’re doing time in school.”

Many schools across the nation have adopted continuous calendars, and year-round education programs have been discussed and studied since the 1970s.

District officials have talked about the benefits of a continuous calendar for several years, looking at schools around the nation and in Minnesota that are on year-round plans.

In Rochester, Longfellow Choice Elementary School has operated on a 45-15 schedule since 1995. School is in session there for nine weeks at a time, followed by a three-week vacation, during which intercession, or remedial classes, are held. Summer vacation is about six weeks at Longfellow, according to Longfellow Principal Les Ernster.

“We did a lot of research for two years,” Ernster said on Longfellow’s decision to operate on a continuous calendar. “We had parent meetings, we told them what we were thinking, we told them what the advantages and what the possible disadvantages were.”

In many ways, Longfellow mirrors Sumner. Longfellow’s free and reduced lunch population was at 67 percent last year, something Ernster said has remained steady for years. Sumner has about 70 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches, according to Berger. Longfellow also has a diverse student population, with about 55 percent of the students coming from backgrounds of color. Students of color made up half of Sumner’s student population last year. Both schools have roughly the same student population, with Longfellow at about 300 students and Sumner at about 370 students enrolled this year.

Ernster, who’s been at Longfellow since 1990, is quick to play up the benefits of what he calls an alternative calendar. According to records Ernster has kept over the years, disciplinary actions decreased by 93 percent alone during the first year of 45-15 scheduling. Many parents wanted to enroll their kids at Longfellow after the switch, enough to make the Rochester Public School board turn Longfellow into a choice school, meaning parents must apply to enroll their kids first before the school accepts them.