Parents weigh in on year-round school

Published 7:08 am Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It wasn’t a concert that held everyone’s attention, but the seats were filled in Sumner Elementary School’s gymnasium and people lined the walls, ready to listen. Many Sumner parents now have a better picture of what an alternative calendar is and what it would look like at Sumner.

Austin Public School officials held parent meetings Monday night to inform parents about a proposal to switch Sumner to an alternative calendar, also known as a 45/15 calendar.

A 45/15 schedule means students would attend school for 45 school days, or about nine weeks, and then go on break for about 15 school days, or about three weeks. Students would have multiple breaks with the same amount of vacation days as other Austin kids. Sumner would have to start school earlier than other schools while ending the school year when the rest of the district does. This is to make sure moving students through the district goes smoothly, according to Sumner Principal Sheila Berger.

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Many parents didn’t know enough about Sumner’s proposal before the meeting began. Some felt if one school should do it, all the district’s schools should do it.

“I don’t feel one school should be targeted for this,” said Sarah Streiff, a parent who spoke before the meeting began. “I feel it should be all schools across the board that should be targeted for this.”

Others felt students should have the summer to play and be kids. Several parents were concerned about how family vacations were going to be scheduled.

“I don’t get vacation when I want,” said Zelska Krso. “We can’t pick, that’s what we got, that’s it.”

As the meeting went on, parents had a better feel for the calendar. The kids don’t go to school all-year round, as some thought; they go to school the same amount of days as everyone else.

Yet school officials didn’t have enough answers to satisfy everyone. Robin Krueger, who’s on Sumner’s Parent Teacher Committee, was initially optimistic about the change, but didn’t know if families would transition well. Her sentiments changed during the meeting.

“They’re unprepared to answer questions,” Krueger said of district officials. “They’re not giving parents time to emotionally prepare children. They are not ready.”

Several school officials spoke during the meeting and, without going into much detail, walked parents through their decision process and gave information and anecdotes on how Sumner staff decided to pursue an alternative calendar.

John Alberts, the district’s curriculum director took questions from parents as they came, speaking on how Sumner’s HVAC renovations would allow it to have cool air during the summer, a requirement for schools that are on a 45/15 schedule and one of the main reasons why not every school in Austin can be on an alternative calendar.

Sumner was chosen to try the alternative calendar approach for several other reasons, such as its low amount of transportation costs, as many students don’t ride the bus at Sumner. Sumner as a school has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress on state comprehensive exams under federal guidelines for the past three years, and if it fails during the next two or three years consecutively, the state could take control of Sumner and restructure the school as the state Department of Education sees fit.

While that’s one possibility, district officials also offered examples of elementary schools in Fremont, Neb., all of which are on 45/15 schedules after an elementary school piloted the program a couple years ago.

“What we’ve always said is if Sumner chooses to go down this road, we’d take a look at Sumner,” Alberts said. “And if … (officials) see the things that we believe we’re going to see … then there would be serious, serious talks at the other buildings to see why we wouldn’t want to move the rest of those buildings (to the alternative calendar).”

As parents left, many felt positive about the school district’s decision to pursue the calendar switch.

“I’m for it,” said Kari Lodahl. “I have concerns with my kids forgetting things they’ve learned over summer break.”

Constant Djossou felt strongly in favor of the switch.

“It’s good,” he said. “When they work hard, they’ll retain more information.”

Some parents had lingering concerns about vacation days and how many days students could miss class, such as Abang Gilo, but still felt in favor of the plan.

“I didn’t mind it,” Gilo said.

Sumner parents have a week to fill out a survey given by school officials, letting officials know parents are in support of the plan, are in support of the plan but need more information, or aren’t in support of the plan. Sumner’s proposed calendar switch will either move forward or be dropped based on the responses district officials receive.

“I like it,” said Ana Nkoghet.